UK sister duo 2:54 explore a strange synergy between the churning sludge rock of bands like Kyuss and early Queens of the Stone Age and the kind of retro shoe-gazing shimmer that colors a range of contemporary indie acts. The name 2:54 derives from a climactic juncture in a Melvins’ song, and while their hazy, ruddy-eyed compositions never quite explode with the fury of their namesake’s distorted dirges, they definitely pack more grungy punch than many of their likeminded peers. 2:54 is produced by Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey) and mixed by Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), two studio legends of the ‘90s alt rock era, and though there are hints of nostalgia here for a time when indie truly rocked, these songs sound right at home alongside the work of current buzz-worthy acts such as Frankie Rose and Chromatics.
Collette and Hannah Thurlow split songwriting duties with Hannah composing all of the instrumental parts and Collette writing the vocals. Hannah’s arrangements are built from dense layers of fuzzy, reverberating guitars, propelled by quaking drums and thick, driving bass. Her melodic guitar refrains are never too flashy, but their perfectly placed notes really work their way inside your head on song after song. Collette’s vocals recall early PJ Harvey’s deep and confident delivery, mixed with her own distinctive R&B flourishes and languid way with words.
Album opener “Revolving” builds towards a slow burning climax with a choir of trembling guitars that would feel right at home on a Smiths’ record until they burst into overdrive at the chorus, saturated with howling synths and Collette’s chanting, dramatic vocals. Then on “You’re Early”, drums and guitars weave intricate rhythmic patterns that flow over into a crescendo of thicker and thicker distortion, only to pull it all out from under you just when you think they’re going to really start rocking out. This tendency to build suspense through unresolved tension carries throughout the album in ways that often defy listener expectations, but could at times benefit from digging in a little heavier. The first half of the album blends together into a haze of blissfully sedated stoner rock that feels kind of like catching a mild buzz when you really just want to get ripped.
Fortunately, “Scarlet” comes along at mid point and cranks things up a few notches both in terms of the heavy factor with sections of cavernous, buzzing guitars, pummeling drums and Collette’s suddenly soulful vocals add a refreshing dimension of pop accessibility. Then on “Sugar” things get downright danceable with a crunchy, undulating bass line, snaking disco punk guitars and an uptempo four on the floor beat. Other highlights include the feedback laden power chord tumult that closes out “Circuitry”, and the final track “Creeping” with its incessantly spiraling lead guitars and Collette’s subtle, oscillating melody.
2:54 is a promising debut that blends a range of trending contemporary reference points with guitar based elements of metal, punk and alt rock, providing the music with a welcome rough edge that is missing from many of today’s shoe-gazing up-and-comers. These songs could benefit at times from a bit more variation, but there are plenty of inspired moments on this album that make 2:54 an emerging band to watch as they further develop their sound.