This mini-album from Leicester-based quartet Ictus, is five tracks of run-of-the-mill, buoyant pop-punk, plus one track of run-of-the-mill, buoyant pop-punk with a few added extras that'll have you taking Ictus just that little bit more seriously.
Ictus frontman Aaron Murray has the sort of shiny-smooth voice that was made to sing this kind of music (and his ability to hit the occasional, quirky, Patrick-Stump-esque high note is no bad thing either, when you consider Ictus' obvious target market.) However, he doesn't have a particularly strong voice. This means that, particularly during the shout-along choruses, he has a tendency to reach for those high notes, and back out at the last minute. This is the case with mini-album opener, 'Run.'
This song starts off on shaky ground, as Murray lays his sleek vocals over a brooding backdrop, and 'Run' seems to be on the verge of developing split-personality disorder. But, fear not, a few seconds in and Ictus drop us into a chorus of dizzying guitars and tooth-rotting pop lyrics ("we better run! / Run! / Run! / Run!" etc) and Murray's voice suddenly makes sense. 'Run' does nothing new - and there are no shortage of established pop-punk bands - but this is enjoyable enough.
Ictus continue to tread lukewarm water with 'Whilst the World Burns.' The sassy, foot-stomping chorus spearheaded by an energetic main vocal, will get your feet well and truly tapping, but the verses are a glimmering, half-hearted, biding-their-time meander. 'Whilst the World Burns' does boast a great chorus, it's just that the rest of the song feels like a vehicle for said chorus.
Ictus couldn't be courting the emo crowd anymore aggressively with 'Car Crash,' which actually features the lyric "I'm just picking up the pieces / of your car crash heart." A Facebook status update in the making, to be sure. But, overlook that cheddar-tastic lyric (somehow) and this is sticky, guilty-pleasure pop for younger music fans with a penchant for politely-packaged teenage angst. Lyrical content is also a niggling annoyance on 'Call Me On,' where some of the lines jar unpleasantly ("I hope that's okay / because it's all I've got for you today.") 'Call Me On' is also occasionally a little barebones, in terms of music, but Ictus redeem themselves by sharpening up their guitars for this song's closing moments, going out on a surprisingly emotionally-charged high.
But, mini-album highlight is undoubtedly 'Papers & Pens,' the song where Ictus finally begin to inch out of the done-to-death, pop-punk comfort zone. This song is built on a slide-guitar line that draws beautiful, slippery-sleek patterns in the background, against spasms of military drum rolls. There's even a crashing, emotional end-section that sounds mature, classy, and might even tweak at your heart strings. The build-up to this dramatic finale could have been executed with a lighter touch (a quick tinkle of a piano that really has appeared out of nowhere, does not a smooth transition make) but 'Paper & Pens' is the song that defines Ictus as a band with something new to offer.
'Homemade & Handgrown' is, for the most part, solid but standard pop-punk. However, 'Papers & Pens' has that flash of originality and expansive end-section, that'll have you taking a mental note of the band's name. Hopefully, we'll see more songs like this from Ictus in the future.