I like to find new bands. One of the challenges as I get older is exactly that. I listen to a lot of music, but a lot of it follows a certain artistic lineage. I want to keep up with what old favorites are doing, but with new groups too. There are always a few labels I can count on to make that quest easier. Personality Cult’s New Arrows is their first record on the ever-reliable Dirtnap. Oh, and it was recorded by Jeff Burke (Marked Men/Radioactivity), so it bears another stamp of approval that gives some extra street cred (and that lineage that helps pull me in).
Between Burke’s name and Dirtnap there are already assumptions coming into the record. The label usually releases garagey, punky rock with fierce melodies, fast tempos, and a production that balances the shiny veneer of a beautiful melody with the raw emotion of the genres named. Personality Cult checks those boxes. They are “at home” on the label. But they’re also quite distinct from Burke’s work and with their own unique tangents from “typical” Dirtnap. The melodies on here shine when featured, but overall New Arrows is more aggressive, angry and distraught.
The band takes 1980’s West Coast punk’s energy and alternately balances it between Ramones-esque melodic lead vocals (most notably in “Figure”), adding snotty and vulgar sing-shout vocals in songs like “Pressure Point” and “5:30.” It’s frantic and claustrophobic at times, but comfortingly melodic at others, and then flat out angry at others. Luckily, those are basically the feelings I dig in the music I listen to.
While I’ve mentioned some relatively formulaic influences in garage and Ramones-core, the songs here are unpredictable and pointed. They build, rumble, plot, stew, and seethe. The record blasts through 9 songs quickly, but I’ll use closing number “5:30” as an example, even if it is one of the longest tracks by far. The lead guitars wind with a complementary rhythm that gives it momentum. Ben Carr’s lyrics and belted out in that same rhythm – punchy but with an air of frustration. Breakdowns throughout the song bring that frustration to the forefront. When you’d expect it to build into crescendo and a wall of sound, it instead wallows in ominous, repetitive, yet meaningful (and enjoyable to listen to) pain.
New Arrows is pointed, fierce, and direct. In the end, it goes with a fight, but not with an in-your-face aggression. It’s a shifty, emotional, and potent record that’s just predictable enough to make it cathartic, but without being dragged down by convention. The melodic touches are frequent, from the refrains of “Sharp Edges” to the harmonies in “Telephone.” At times it’s unique melodic bop like Bad Sports, but at other times its wheel-spinning anxious punk.
7.8 / 10
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