Some hold him with tremendous regard, his label call him “Bristol’s Godfather of guitar and vocals”, but Barry Dolan – also known as Non Canon to many – just see’s himself as his humble, albeit busy self. Even just months after hanging up his electric guitar and taking a temporary step back from his metal project Oxygen Thief, Dolan is back with his second Non Canon release. The sophomore release can be a tricky incentive for some, but with Non Canon II, Dolan navigates such pitfalls with introspective wit and charismatic warmth.
Much like his 2016 debut as Non Canon, this second encounter is a deeply honest, intimate and meditative release, with none of the scathing riffs synonymous with his Oxygen Thief project being present. But still, intensity is prevalent but presented in a fashion that’s more emotional as opposed to sonically punishing.
The profound heart in hand honesty becomes forefront with record opener ‘Never Say Never Again’, a track that see’s Non Canon unflinchingly ponder the relationship between mental health, medication and the increasingly chaotic greater picture at hand. It’s a poetic stream of refined consciousness that some may find alarming, but Non Canon spiels such a narrative with delicacy, allowing the listener to draw their own individual parallels. The respective follow up of ‘The Cavalier Years’ and ‘Dark Force Rising’ - a track crying out for self-love and acceptance - continues to prove this in a manner most brilliant. Regardless of such existentialism, these are tracks crying out to be massive singalongs in the hopefully near future.
In truth, part of this record’s brilliance is Non Canon’s skill as a vibrant storyteller and author. Such a skill has always been crucial within the alt-folk game, but this record see’s Dolan step up as narrator. It’s impossible not be drawn in to the dead-eyed Parisian folk of ‘The Sayings Of The Seers’ as Dolan documents the mentally eroding banality of spending the only daylight hours of winter sat in an office. Or similarly, the clarity that the quiet ‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ brings as it reminds you that it’s fine to disengage from media for the sake of your own mental health – a reminder many may require right now.
Improved lyricism isn’t the only major step up from Non Canon’s original debut. Whilst this in theory is very much a singer-songwriter record, Non-Canon II plays out like a modestly grandiose collaborate effort. Across this record, past members of Oxygen Thief offer their talents, members of The Leylines, Left Side Brain and Big Loss can be heard helping create orchestral pieces and even Pete Fraser of infamous hardcore act Down I Go can be heard ripping the saxophone on the aforementioned ‘The Sayings Of The Seers’. Even Dolan’s cat Monty makes a surprise appearance.
Such labours of collaborative love adds tremendous levels of warmth to the more musically rich and expansive movements within the record. The multilayered chamber-pop of ‘Self-Untitled’ and the masterfully emotive and textured instrumental that is ‘MMXIX’ are fantastic examples of what musical lavishness is possible when creatives are working on the same wavelength. However, the more simplistic, strictly solo content within this record - such as quiet acoustic intensity of ‘A Teapot And An Open Mind’ - firmly holds their own against such movements due to Dolan’s nuanced emotion serving as the record’s bedrock.
As a single piece of work, this is very much Non Canon’s most rich and esteemed work thus far. The fervent emotion and characteristic warmth that blankets all of this musician's work has been exaggerated without being overbearing and the inclusion of the more orchestral work allows such ideals to take life in a fashion highly animated. This may be a record for summertime gatherings – something we may not be able to currently partake in – but regardless, Non Canon II is a fantastic alt-folk offering full of honesty and heart.
Non Canon II is released May 15th via Xtra Mile Records. Pre-order the album here