Brighton quartet smudges the lines of post-punk on its debut album.
It's no surprise that young musicians can possess remarkable clarity and insight as lyricists and songwriters. There is something about being 20ish that blesses certain people with the ability to see the brilliance of the mundane or to question their role in the larger scheme of things. Maybe it has to do with a fear of aging or even the fear that any opportunities you might've had are behind you, but whatever it is, it can inform some truly brilliant songcraft. Whether it's Mike Skinner rapping about achieving "absolutely naught" or Win Butler trying to rally everyone to wake up and experience life, simple observations can be emotionally complex.
Certainly Charlottefield ponders the same sort of questions that obsess people its age. "Financial instability, saying yes to most gigs, crap job/no job, 'education', short tempered public servants, small town conservatism vs. big town pretension, encountering random lost, unstable people, [and] the inconvenience of living all over the place and having to rely on public transport all the time" are, according to the press release, just some of the concerns the band attempts to address on How Long Are You Staying.
Whether or not they achieve that goal, and to what degree, is hard to ascertain. The "album" is surprisingly short, with eight songs not even lasting half an hour. But the real point of contention for most listeners will be lead singer and guitarist Thomas House's vocals. Directly inspired by the unchecked efforts of hardcore punk bands, House's scream -- thankfully kept low in the mix -- stands completely at odds with the band's post-punk songs. What exactly he's ranting about, we can't quite be sure of, but the one thing we do know is that he's pissed off. And that's about it. Nuances or shades of gray won't be found here. On other tracks like "Clipper" and "Paper Dart", House's attempts to rein in his vocals and employ a sort of speak/sing delivery fall flat, as he doesn't quite know how to fit his voice around the band's serpentine tracks.
Opener "Nine Tails", with its shifting, patterned song structure, is indicative of most of the album. Sharp and potent, the band's distinct brand of basement punk rock is certainly alive. Axe wielders House and Adam Hansford manage to find some intriguing shapes within the familiar playbook, while the band's secret weapon, bassist Chris Butler, manages some small miracles of his own that keep this from being just another post-punk revival meeting. However, the inspired performances don't equate to memorable tunes, and the songs breeze by without quite leaving their mark. But on the two instrumental tracks, "How Long" and "Weevils", Charlottefield point to a band that is already expanding its horizons.
"How Long" finds the band experimenting with mood. The dark, understated guitars, punctuated by the death toll of pointed bass and drums, point toward the post-rock musings of bands like June Of '44 or Rex. "Weevils", on the other hand, stands somewhere between Sonic Youth's noisy squall and Shellac's carefully timed attacks. Stretching to over six minutes, the song mutates from a wall-of-sound hurricane to a drunkenly rhythmic roundabout with surprising ease. This is a band that is truly in control of its talents, but unfortunately both tracks more than overstay their welcome. "How Long" wears out its own progression after about a minute, and "Weevils"' length detracts from its power and comes dangerously close to filler material.
While Charlottefield is thankfully not just content on writing three minute post-punk tunes, How Long Are You Staying is the flawed work of a band in transition. Whether it realizes it or not, Charlottefield is maturing from young kids, screaming about the world's inequities, into something a bit more sophisticated. While the album's willfully dirty production and awkward mix (the vocals sound like they're coming in from a far off cave) will win accolades from fans of authentic sounding punk rock, it does a disservice to the more contemplative tracks. It remains to be seen if Charlottefield will grow out of this awkward stage and harness its influences into something more cohesive.