Narrows – Painted
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Record Label: Deathwish Inc.
One of my favorite contemporary writers is Nitsuh Abebe, and more specifically, his column for Pitchfork, Why We Fight. If you've never read one of them, do yourself a favor, as soon as you get done reading this review, go read as many of those as possible. More specifically, his latest column, "Embarrassment Rock," really held my attention and articulated all the half-assed thoughts I generally have and never quite regurgitate on screen about my love of rock music and what rock music should be and really any genre in general for that matter. It can be hard to put into words how excited you are about a record without either (a) completely embellishing your initial thoughts without giving time for a record to sink in or (b) recommending something without comparing it to its past or a past similar to it. There's a fine line that music critics walk of not being an overly excited fan and giving justice and dues where they're deserved without some sort of hyperbolic statement that turns us into, well, "hype machines" as it is known as these days throughout our web based lifestyles.
It doesn't make it easier to tell someone how gripping an album is when the music is made from past members of cult-like bands. We generally deem these "supergroups" to the public, but for anyone who knows anything about the punk and hardcore scene - most everyone has played with everyone depending on the areas of the Midwest, New York and California specifically, but not "limited to" as well - community can be anywhere. For Narrows, many will recognize former Botch vocalist Dave Verellen's growl still sounding guttural almost a decade later. There's Unbroken's Rob Moran on bass and These Arms Are Snakes' guitarist Ryan Frederiksen on one half of the guitars. Along with Tropic's Jodie Cox and Quarantine's Sam Stothers - this is less a "supergroup" and more a new start for each members' talents. (side note: Cox resides in London and the rest of the members are split between Seattle and San Diego on the west coast, which makes their collaboration of music that much more interesting.)
The band's debut full length carried a sharp razor cut, but its ebb and flow left some (read: myself) wanting more force and less experimentation. On 2009's New Distances, it was like Narrows was still trying to figure out who they wanted to be as a band. After hearing the tracks off the band's split with Heiress (specifically "Recurring"), it certainly seemed like they were getting closer to carving their sound into something a bit more specific, and more importantly, a straighter cut to the jugular of metal and hardcore. With Painted, Narrows sophomore release isn't just a bunch of vets attempting a comeback, they're showing listeners why their names are already synonymous within the scene to begin with.
"Under the Guillotine" opens up the album forcefully, and in a little under four minutes, there are times when the song shifts and you already think you're on a different track. That's the point I've been wanting to make about all these make-up induced, breakdown heavy, waiting for the drop for the pit to open up, "wall-of-bleh" bands: the bands Narrows' members were once part of have made their past music stick for so long because they made songs that shifted, raised tension and kept the listener guessing the next move. I personally don't see that happening in a lot of bands that have become big in the last five years. It's the difference in watching a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and one where you've figured out the ending before the film even reaches its intended climax. "Face Paint" sounds like metal written with A.D.D. standards - a few vocal and instrumental lines repeat, but for the most part the music is constantly shifting and moves in an upsetting frequency from beginning to end.
Tension and tone are two other specifics that Painted drastically calls other warranted acts out on. The rhythm sections hold some sort of sanity while Verellen's vocals and high guitar frequencies scream out against it. There are times on Painted when you feel like it's life or death or the walls are coming down around you in the last minute of "Final Mass." There's a constant bout of anxiety that runs through the guitar workings of "TB Positive" that is the soundtrack to an Armageddon. Then there's the mid-album "Greenland," a track that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of Painted's insanity, but showcases the band's best tonal work and post-rock tendencies to date. The track is about harnessing noise and crafting it into an audible visualization or specific movement. It's having control over greater chaos.
This is only one case in 2012 thus far. There's also Cloud Nothing's epic "Wasted Days" and the ending in Caravels' "Bone Voyage," and even the choral line in fun.'s "We Are Young" captures a nerve in its tempo and stride. The feeling of urgency in rock music knows no boundaries when it comes to genres - each case is different whether it's a pop gem or post-hardcore thrasher; a folk masterpiece or harsh noise catastrophe. I'm over the fact of knowing that a beat will drop out or a breakdown is coming every couple of minutes in an attempt to grasp listeners' attentions when they already subconsciously know the one-trick pony is coming anyway. Spoiler alert: these massive crowds of popularity will move on when they find a new drug to induce into their loathing, mediocre lifestyles. Painted is the first full display of how attention can be held within the layers that work as a whole. Narrows have found a footing for their sound, where they take it from here will only keep me as anxious as their music is keeping me now.