Friend/Enemy Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Immediately after the 2016 presidential election, Tim Kinsella and a coterie of collaborators gathered at Chicago’s Minbal studios to work through their feelings about America’s new nightmare. It took them two days to record an album of solemn, fretful indie rock, and then it took them more than three years to release it. HIH NO/ON (Joyful Noise) came out late last month under the name Friend/Enemy, which Kinsella and HIH NO/ON synth player Todd Mattei used for 2002’s Ten Songs. Kinsella juggles a lot of projects, which partly explains the gap between the session and the release. In the intervening years, he’s released two Joan of Arc albums (2017’s He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands and 2018’s 1984), reunited Cap’n Jazz again for a spate of 2017 shows, published a novel (last year’s Sunshine on an Open Tomb), and formed postindustrial duo Good Fuck with Jenny Pulse of Spa Moans (they’ve released two albums and an EP so far). Kinsella and Pulse, who are recently married, moved to Italy in mid-January, and in early March they boarded the last plane out of the country as it shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Before they left, they’d both gotten sick—possibly with COVID-19—and recovered. HIH NO/ON arrived a few weeks after they got back to the U.S. The fears that Kinsella, Pulse, and the collective express on the album gain horrifying new dimensions from the suffering unfolding here due to the Trump administration’s denial, lying, bullying, and profiteering. Kinsella and Pulse half-sing about everyday fascism and creeping totalitarianism, their sparse lyrics and dehydrated duets evoking dread, helplessness, and grief. The rest of the ensemble—Mattei, pianist Jamey Robinson, guitarist Bill MacKay, Sam Wagster and Skyler Rowe of Mute Duo, and Kinsella’s younger cousin Nate from American Football—supports the vocals with looping melodies that gallop and drone. Kinsella has written that HIH NO/ON is his answer to his music-business pals who’ve long pushed him to try making a “simple ‘guitar rock’ record,” which is to say that these skewed jams are as straightforward as he can get, outlining the surreal and disastrous present through the curtain of a fugue state.   v