When We Succumb To Fear, Chaos Reigns: NØMADS’ 'PHØBIAC,' Part 2
This spring I reviewed the first three singles from NØMADS, a.k.a Nathan Lithgow and Garth Macaleavey, a post-punk duo from New York. These singles are part of a twelve-song cycle known as PHØBIAC, in which each track is devoted to a particular phobia. So far we’ve heard “Traumatophobia,” “Achluphobia,” and “Acrophobia.”
April saw the release of “Ataxophobia,” known colloquially as the fear of chaos and disorder. The song features weird time signatures that make it difficult to get a grip on the melody. Such an anxiety-inducing quality is perfect for its subject matter. With Big Data singer Lizy Ryan on backing vocals, the song feels somewhat like a more experimental piece from Queens of the Stone Age. Despite the uncomfortable atmosphere, singer Nathan Lithgow repeats the phrase “I made it through,” which makes it seem as if all is not lost. However, when the ending fades out on an uneven note, it leaves that confidence up in the air.
“Chronometrophobia,” the fear of clocks, watches, and time, was May’s single, an instrumental track whose exceptionally atmospheric vibe gives the impression of haunted music. One of the many downsides to having anxiety disorders, especially those marked by OCD, means that ticking clocks and repetitive sounds can cause insomnia and panic attack. From that perspective, a fear of clocks feels perfectly rational.
The end of the tune is almost uncomfortably repetitive, with the metallic sheen of cymbals setting one’s teeth on edge.
While people often joke about losing their minds, the clinical condition associated with that fear is known as “Dementophobia;” it’s also the name of NØMADS’ single released in June.
The track feels like being stuck in a panic spiral, its echoing vocals promoting an unstable sensation. Lyrics like, “Something wrong is always happening; just a prayer for a partial lobotomy. Excuse me I'm all out of me” are exactly appropriate for this sensation. After all, the feeling of losing one’s self is intextricably tied up with the fear of losing one’s mind.
With July came “Megalophobia,” a song dedicated to the fear of large objects. While the band explains that “the world of the megalophobe is one that constantly reminds them of their own insignificance and fragility in the universe,” it’s worth noting that large objects are also scary because they can crush us. Being trapped in a traffic jam with 18-wheelers or the sight of endless giant windmills next to a highway would give anyone a sense of fear. Indeed, the opening instrumentation on this track gives the sense of a massive object looming closer and ever encroaching.
This tune features the drum skills of Brian Wolfe, who has played with The Dap Kings, David Byrne & St. Vincent, and Sufjan Stevens. Such percussion adds a genuinely frightening element “Megalophobia.”
Shifting from the tangible to the intangible, August’s release, “Phasmophobia,” “tells the story of an ex-lover, haunting the streets of the paranoid narrator's daily world.” Although the music doesn’t sound stereotypically ghostly, it does come across like a creature flitting in and out of one’s consciousness. Lyrics like “you are always with me, you are always waiting” drive the point home.
The fear of isolation is what September’s track, “Autophobia,” seeks to elucidate. Grinding synth sounds open the tune, eventually giving way to an almost haunted house organ melody and booming drums, courtesy of Brian Wolfe. “You can see through right to the bottom of me / I can see right through to you,” wails Lithgow, an intriguing perspective of what autophobia might feel like to the one suffering from this ailment.
Continuing the sonic vibe of being trapped in a haunted house, “Thassophobia” looks at the fear of boredom or idleness. “Nothing happens” is repeated over and over, while the line “we all fall out of touch” could speak to the dangers of being too invested in a social life comprised mostly of social media. There’s a fantastic drum breakdown about halfway through the song which undercuts the worry that nothing will happen, but on the other hand, the song’s overall minimalism helps evoke the concern that nothing WILL happen.
"Traumatophobia" opens with some heavy bass from Lithgow and crashing drums from Wolfe before transforming into some inspired chord progressions. The synths are less prominent here; this is a fully percussive instrumental that definitely elicits the fear of injury that defines traumatophobia.
Perhaps the most significant phobia addressed so far is found in the final track, “Xenophobia,” defined as the fear of strangers or foreigners, or anything that is strange or foreign. The band notes that this fear “has developed in the modern climate into a behavior that is all too common and unacceptable.” Interestingly, this was actually the first track written for the album, and was revived when the term became such a hot button topic in the US. This is one of the album’s catchiest tracks, ironic given the phobia it analyzes.
No doubt listeners can relate to at least one of these fears, if not all of them. Follow NØMADS on Facebook; the full PHØBIAC album will be released in February.