It’s 2029 and 10 years later kids are still pouring one out for Ne-Hi in basement venues all over Chicago. Pushing from the back of the crowd to the front of the stage Jason Balla (guitar/vocals), Mikey Wells (guitar/vocals), James Weir (bass), and Alex Otake (drums) went from their humble beginnings at the infamous Animal Kingdom in 2013 to playing Pitchfork Fest 4 years later. Mourning their death and celebrating the life of the iconic group that shook up scenes across the country for almost 6 years, Ne-Hi’s parting gift is their final EP XYZ.
A snapshot of their years spent touring, XYZ captures the restless energy of long nights playing stages in states they’ve never been to, of strangers and brief interactions as fates align all beer soaked and sweaty. Cramming in all night drives to different cities and post-show parties into a 3 song EP, Ne-Hi still manages to pay homage to the boys they were before they made it big. Keeping some of their scuzzy lo-fi in tracks like “Money,” they prove that they’re still those young dudes that grinded out anthems like “Since I’ve Been Thinking” and “Turncoat.” Still the same guys that weren’t afraid to crowd surf despite low ceilings and playing so loud the whole house would shake.
The beginning of the end, “Exit Station,” is the split second escape as your ‘backs against the wall.’ Driven by Balla’s plunky guitars and quavering vocals, it’s a frantic jangle that retains the reverb obsession and energy of their earlier days while leaning into the structure and polished recording of their more recent releases. Disintegrating into frenzied tambourines and some psych slides despite never performing it live, you know exactly how it would play out all impromptu mosh pits complete with elbows and slamming bodies. Featuring a strong groove from Weir’s bassline and the steady punchy percussion provided by Otake, “Money” is one of those iconic Ne-Hi songs that seem to be straight from the Offers era. Picking up the pace with each repetition of ‘you want money,’ it shows them once again circling back and giving fans the mantra-like anthems the band was founded on.
The last Ne-Hi song ever to be released, “Highways,” feels more like a transition than the end of an era. Proclaiming ‘just another day just another highway...just another place just another time just another day gonna pass you by,’ there’s a searching feeling to find something other than ‘just another why just another answer,’ this need to seek a meaning that has previously alluded them. Still, even as they bow out, there’s no mistaking Ne-Hi for just another anything, bringing with them an enthusiasm and innovation that became a staple in the Chicago scene.
While Ne-Hi might be gone they will never be forgotten, in the band tees that have become a wardrobe essential for so many people, in their infectious vinyl that will continue to spin in living rooms as soundtracks to nights with friends moving the table out of the way to dance and road trips that go on for hours. Ne-Hi created something that will continue on in people's hearts and minds forever, music that got under people's skin and stuck in their heads. While they may no longer be working together you can still keep up with the guys James, Alex and Mikey at Spun Out and Jason with Dehd.