Although it’s probably unintentional, there’s a small dose of irony in the title of Penfold’s first full-length release. While Our First Taste of Escape is the band’s debut long-player, one of the first places their music surfaced was on the Deep Elm collection, The Emo Diaries Chapter 3: The Moment of Truth. And while Penfold’s brand of indie rock could certainly be labeled “emo” and sit nicely alongside any of the other Deep Elm bands, it would really be an injustice to the complexity of their sound. So there’s almost a double meaning to this “escape” as the band’s debut on Milligram will hopefully allow it to avoid being pigeonholed.
Penfold certainly brings a scope that is uncommon to bands normally pegged as emo. Their music is alternately loud and raucous and sweetly solemn, moving adroitly between emotional extremes and setting up sonic textures to enhance moods. There’s also a simple musicality to Penfold that escapes many of their brethren. Although each member of the band is skilled enough to take note of, Michael Jones’s drumming truly holds this album together with varied beats that sound just as good at the forefront as they do when supporting the wailing guitars. And while the vocals waver into the all-too-familiar keening wails of emo-dom from time to time, there’s equal emphasis on actual singing of melodies. Vocal duties (and songwriting credits) are split between Brian Carley and Stephan Jones, but unfortunately there’s no indication of which songs belong to whom or else I’d give more specific credit.
Our First Taste of Escape lets you know that this will be a unique indie rock listening experience from the get-go with “The Opportune Moment”,, a track of spacey electronic keyboards that blends into “Fate, Confidence and an Encounter” (the “two” songs actually share a combined title but separate track numbers), a melodic slow-jam that features beautiful rising tempos and glides on Stephan Jones’s reverberating double bass lines. However, there are plenty of all-out rockers that will fulfill the guitar lover’s desires in songs like “The Secret Nine”, “Sea of Crisis”, and “May I Have This Dance”.
But it’s on songs like “Human Drama”, the title track “Our First Taste of Escape”, and “Brilliance” that Penfold really stretches its wings to show the various dimensions the band is capable of. “Human Drama” forefronts the combination of Michael and Stephan Jones’s drums and bass (none of their press info states whether or not they’re brothers, but it wouldn’t surprise me) and shows Penfold to possess some of the majesty and power of metal, but tempered by an artistry and sensitivity that makes their “rocking out” seem warranted rather than gratuitous. Likewise, “Our First Taste of Escape” nods towards the metal spectrum, but this time to the art-metal of Tool. A tense, dense song that drifts under the heavy bass line in a way extremely reminiscent of “Sober”, even the vocals are delivered in a manner that obviously draws on Maynard Keenan’s particular style. Probably the most memorable song on the disc, “Our First Taste of Escape’s” main rival is “Brilliance” and it’s sad-core reference of Billie Holliday.
Closing with the piano-only “Early Morning, Maudlin Street”, Our First Taste of Escape is not the typical indie rock album. Penfold shows that it is as comfortable working within the wall-of-guitar sound as it is with the subtle spaces of melody, producing an album that continually grows on you as you unearth new hooks with repeated listens. Thematically, the poetry of isolation and loss runs throughout the disc, staying within the safe borders of the emo side of indie rock, but musically this is an album that actually manages to transcend its genre, and hopefully will make the rest of the world take note.