If packaging decided best of year choices UK quartet Headsticks will have top honour sealed with new album Kept In The Dark. The surround to its music is simply glorious, easily the best art and presentation seen in many a year by these hungry eyes and embracing music just as mouth-watering it all makes for one irresistibly thrilling offering.
Checking out their previous album, Feather and Flame, three years back we suggested that Headsticks had confirmed themselves “as one of Britain’s most irresistible and essential punk ‘n’ roll adventures.” Well, while assuring you that nothing has changed, the band has revealed that previous success was just the beginning of bigger things; bold triumphs now presented by its successor. Parading their folk ‘n’ punk instinctive sound in all its glory, the new release is Headsticks at their boldest and most boisterous but equally with its richer kaleidoscope of styles and flavours it has equally nurtured its most defined character and individual adventure yet for the biggest pleasure.
Emerging late 2012, Stoke on Trent hailing Headsticks had built and earned a potent reputation through a rousing live presence and acclaimed debut album Muster in 2014; success only accelerated by the following Feather and Flame. That growth will only be escalated again by Kept In The Dark; the band’s finest moment to date as their socially and politically charged songs relish another striking spurt in diversity, imagination, and dramatic adventure.
The new release opens its bumper load of songs, with no filler in sight, with When. From its first breath, the punk ferocity and infectious incursion of the track gripped ears with vocalist Andrew Tranter masterfully steering the rousing trespass. Devious hooks and manipulative rhythms do their persuasive deeds with relish within a song which has echoes of bands such as The Vibrators and Angelic Upstarts to it.
The impressive start is immediately matched by I Love You and its ska natured saunter. As mentioned variety in the Headsticks sound is enjoyably no new thing but it is certainly at its most eager, bold, and fluidly unpredictable within Kept In The Dark. With a Ruts-esque lilt to its stroll, the song had little trouble in getting under the skin and luring participation from body and voice before Peace Or War erupts in a roar of punk ‘n’ roll carousing where the forceful but virulent swings of drummer Tom Carter collude hungrily with the brooding tones of Nick Bayes’ bass as the wiry melodic tendrils of guitar from Steven Dunn align with his rapacious riffs.
The following pair of Cynical and Mushrooms reinforce the album’s instant adventure and prowess; the first a seducing of acoustic punk with irritation fuelling its breath and its successor a mischievous ska pop swinging incitement easily leading hips and vocal chords into action. Both easily got under the skin but still are eclipsed by the superb Mr ‘I’m Alright Jack’. Bred on classic fifties rock ‘n roll, the track is a lure of swerving rhythmic hips and melody enriched rockabilly chords around riveting vocal incitement.
Through the rock driven reflection of My Own War, an easily relatable declaration, and It’s a Matter of Time with its equally melancholic intimacy and Americana twang, enjoyment only built while the hard rock flavouring of Smoke and Mirrors proceeded to add further diversity to Kept In The Dark.
Both aspects continued to blossom as classic metal and street poetry respectively shape the temptation and strength of What If They’re Right and Out of Fashion before Family Tree pounced on social and political unfairness and exploitation upon a reggae borne canter and All of the Trees captivated with its acoustic/punk rock dexterity.
The final trio of The Song For Songs Sake, When the Sun Turns Black, and Baboon Shepherd close the album out as masterfully as it began. The first is a contagion of folk rock irresistible to ear and body, the second a compelling apocalyptic rumble of voice and insinuation; each as magnetic as the other leaving the third to sign off the album with its eleven minute dub infused homage to the career and life of South African footballer Sam Shabangu and the aligning times and experiences of Tranter. It is a track which brings grin and reflection amidst nostalgia across a lengthy landscape which never outstays its welcome.
Headsticks continue to be one mightily engrossing and thrilling proposition which, as Kept In The Dark proves, just get better and better.
Pete RingMaster 05/03/2019
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