By The Wind-up Birds
'Good Shop Shuts' hits the listener from the start with a barrage upon the ears. Punk-ridden teen angst is present in the form of Libertine-esque lo-fi production, and while energetic, the song on the whole barely surpasses a fairly generic punk tune. However, the highlight of the track comes towards the end through the introduction of a fantastically fluent bass riff, showing that the band do have a distinctive edge.
'Cross Country' shows off shuffling rhythms and retains the brisk cheekiness of the opener, while infusing in a funky feel through the main riff. Lyrical stylings are reminiscent of Mike Skinner's bluntness and daily-life ranting, which compliment the driving flow of the song. The great riff is complimented by a jumpy guitar lead melody in the middle section, but on the whole, the track is a little monotonous, and perhaps lasts a little longer than it should.
The next song, 'There Will Always Be an England', involves a welcome change in dynamic. A relaxed guitar arpeggio is a stark contrast to the immediate openings of the prior two tracks. The awkward, rigid waltz rhythm is followed by snarling bitter vocals, halting the flow and giving a stuttering, tense atmosphere. However, it works so well, with emotion pouring out of the song. Lyrics strike home to the general masses by pin-pointedly depicting post-watershed pub violence, ending with "Is England evolved into something brand new?"
'Being Dramatic' makes no hesitation in returning to the punk roots at the start, with a growling bass riff driving through with a thump, giving a great start. A gritty lead guitar melody flows over the chorus, and despite lyrics being a bit stagnant and repetitive, the song remains forceful throughout and is the epitome of the band's punky endeavors so far.
The highlight of the album by a long way is next track 'Nostalgic For...' which opens with drums and bass in great rhythmic synchronisation. Spoken word in a broad Yorkshire dialect tells of sensually powerful observation with a fantastically blase attitude, and the first two minutes, despite hints of gritty vocals, show all the key features of a classic pop song.
Then, in an instant, the band matures. The song drops down to a minimalistic volume. Vocals start as no more than a whisper. As it progresses, a slow and steady crescendo accompanies the growing emotion. Lyrics grow starker and more shocking. Glimmering arpeggiated guitars entwine with howling backing vocal and a haunting basic drum beat. Smooth, flowing instrumentation compliments the harsh tone of the vocal, and without a doubt, this is one of the most memorable, distinctive and poignant tracks I have heard in a long time, and quite simply, this track is utterly fantastic.
'Wonder Street' is a reprise back to the upbeat punky bounce from the earlier tracks. However, an ominous distinction is immediately noticeable in the verses, implemented by quieter dynamics and the minor tonality. This sets it apart from the openers, and shows great potential of the band. The outro section is brazen and forceful, with a gruelling deformation of the guitar tone that works brilliantly in forging a harsh setting to end the track
Driving bass and drums kick underpin muttering conversational vocals in next track 'No People, Just Cutouts', where minimalism is again present in the guitar, painting a glossy shine over the coarse verse. The chorus features grumblingly low vocals, and more force from the guitars tops off another fine track.
'Escape From New Yorkshire' is another fantastic example of the band's attempt at post-punk and simplicity, with a bouncing bass riff flowing around tom-tom fills on the drum kit. Gently strummed chords create a reminiscent ambiance, and the glorious choral harmony in the chorus once again shows that this is more than just another punk band, adding something truly warm and beautiful to this brilliant track.
In 'Pop Man', upbeat punk power and vigour twists around tongue-in-cheek naive bravado throughout, from the playful yelping in the backing vocals to the bouncing drum fills filled with youthful vivacity. A lively tune made purely for energetic gigging, but again, a bit tedious on record.
'Tyre Fire' features a more progressively fading intro, giving a disparity to the seemingly commonplace procedure of bursting straight in with all they can muster, and the contrast is very welcome. Guitar tones range from a distorted trill melody to gentle muted arpeggios. The chorus does not lack in force, with cymbal-heavy percussion and strong distortion. A great climax is built, and strong lyrics end the track with 'Your history means nothing, consumed by the flames.'
Closing track 'The Land' is another relaxed effort, with a smooth legato guitar riff initiating proceedings. A heavy punchy bass line joins, amidst cymbal rolls. The vocals are taken down a notch, and melodic tone is heard for the first time. The song on a whole is much gentler and easier on the ear. The calming tones give a lovely outro to the album, and its lilting indie beauty makes for a fantastic closer.
Looking back, the finest songs from this album occur when the band turns off the distortion, ditch the youthful boldness and mellow down. This is due to the raw emotion pouring out and the song-writing finesse can be truly admired for what it is. Punk is the kind of genre that can be so easily recreated, and I feel the punky aspects of this album detract from the band's real song-writing talent. Because of this, it is impeccably difficult to score this album, as it has low points, as well as downright incredible ones. This band has fantastic potential, but in a certain direction, and I feel that if they focus more on ambiance rather than replicating sheer noise, they will be able to display their capabilities much more effectively, and end up making a real name for themselves.