Moments of calm within the hurricane rush of massed vocals and guitars, from a young York, England, punk trio.
This band's name conjures up freak folk, or gently plucked melodies in spring meadows. Recorded and engineered by this York, England, trio in abandoned sheds in a Georgian garden just outside that city, this album may suggest ballads to the uninitiated. Instead, From Safer Place, the band's first full-length album, unleashes an assault of hardcore and post-punk, as if rather from New York (or at least Brooklyn these trendy days). "New Sense" roars straight at you, opening this short, intense album (less than 25 minutes), with anthemic back-and-forth vocals barked by songwriter Jonathan Meager. Joined on guitars and vocals by Oliver Grabowski, the pair capture the early '80s delivery of sharp, tuneful power.
The pace sustains itself into "I'm Not a Man". The band's recording and engineering allows some space into the production. This allows the closing echo of Paddy Carley's drums to resound a moment. Such touches demonstrate how the trio has listened to their forebears, and learned lessons. Hammering away like a Rites of Spring single from 30 years ago, "A Certain Pleasure" shifts between a loud punch and a catchy jangle. Textural shifts enrich the effect of what could have been a monolithic tribute to aggression. Meager has credited Guy Debord and the French Situationists as influences for his lyrics.
Given the band covered Joy Division's "Twenty-Four Hours" on an earlier single, "Black Water" recalls the apocalyptic doom of that seminal group, before it lurches into hardcore, and then back and forth. Vocals remind me of Dischord Records' acts from the '80s onward, and again, these keep the listener alert. The breakneck pace of such movements keeps the tracks fresher, and less predictable. As if a lost track from the Huskers' New Day Rising, "Natural Vision" churns a guitar riff into tight drum slams, crunching down the howling into the two singers joining to shout down whatever darkness endures.
The title track lightens the severe sonic mood a bit, although the voices keep harsh. Shuffled guitars above the nimble percussion enable the listener to appreciate this subtly textured arrangement. Like many tracks on this, it ends suddenly, and the density of this recording works best in such bursts. Repeated listening brings out contrasts that audiences of this genre may appreciate. "Remains" chooses a telegraphic pattern for its main structure, but it opens up moments of calm within the hurricane rush of massed vocals and guitars, quite a knack for only three musicians to create.
I wondered if an Orwellian homage might account for the title of "In Front of the Chestnut Tree". Winston Smith's haunting betrayal as memorialized in another song about such a tree may or may not be appropriate. After all, this song remains an instrumental, as Mission of Burma might have penned. The gentler strains opening "Recurring Face" don't last long. Another race against time, as Fawn Spots crams in a penultimate blast. "Basque Knife" wraps it up with great slabs of sound trundling back and forth, as the guitars chime over the pounding but adroit percussion. Finally, a voice enters.
This call and response, the delay and the satisfaction, comprises the appeal of this genre. It will please those who welcome the frenzy of loud music conveyed with attention to instrumentation and layers of vocals not quite buried in the thick mix. Fawn Spots' debut promises not only an homage to past masters of this intelligent music, but indicates a worthy heir to those passionate '80s punk bands.