Within the hordes of emails and notices we receive each day there are those which instinctively stand out and draw our attention like moths to the flame. Among them is any from or about UK punksters Headsticks. Due to the striking and irresistible provocation and sounds of previous releases, the Stoke on Trent hailing quartet has regularly got under the skin and quite simply they have done so again with their new album, C.O.W.
As with all artists, indeed every one of us, the Covid pandemic brought a halt to their physical endeavours, the band destined to further triumph their reputation as one of the most stirring live acts across a growing host of festivals and shows. The foursome have flourished nonetheless across the time in and between lockdowns, playing ‘Live Session’ on social media to increasing attention and working on this their fourth album; a collection of tracks which swiftly had us uttering the words, Headsticks’ finest moment yet.
By the release the Headsticks fusion of folk and punk rock has got bigger and bolder with a lyrical bite which perpetually digs deep. C.O.W reaps this trend with hunger whilst arousing the listener in matching escalation of reaction and pleasure. The album is their most creatively diverse and musically esurient yet still breathes and roars with the distinctive inimitable sound the band has bred over releases and years. Unsurprisingly, its songs takes no prisoners with its barbed lyrical reflection and provocation, each theme passionately driven by the ever compelling vocals and attack of Andrew Tranter.
Red Is The Colour sets things off, the song instantly winding a wiry hook around ears as rhythms fly. It is a rapacious enticement quickly escalating as the guitar of Stephen ‘Doon’ Dunn almost taunts ears while the bass of Nick Bayes broodily canters within the dextrous assail of drummer Tom Carter. At the time, the track is springing rousing contagion, the anthemic roar in its heart unstoppable as it provokes thoughts to contemplate those giving the ultimate for all.
An old school punk breeding brings Peace And Quiet to ears next, though its Stiff Little Fingers-esque entrance is soon embroiled in the band’s folk punk enterprise. It too is imposingly catchy, contemplating our spoiling of this earth within a landscape increasingly embracing metal and alt rock hues before Miles and Miles weaves a punk ‘n’ roll invitation which becomes more feral and addictive by the second. Featuring the equally wild and irresistible roaring of Carol Hodge, the track is a furore of temptation and physical manipulation.
A Tear For Yesterday is next up, another powerfully evocative reflection from Tranter bound in creative trespass which refuses to be ignored. It is an emotive powerhouse within a discord of emotion and sound which ebbs and flows in intensity without ever leaving a second void of that emotive gravity while Tyger, Tyger is a melancholic ballad which transports to different situations with passion. Inspired by the William Blake poem, The Tyger, the song is haunting and mesmeric with the strings of Clare Smith beguiling.
There is a touch of The Wonder Stuff to the opening and pop swing of This Ain’t Politics, Trantor soon inside the infectious lure with his lyrical prowess and earnestness. As always, the rhythmic tempting of Bayes and Carter is part infection part trespass while Dunn weaves a web of melodic flavour and crafty hookery, a country rock essence coating the song’s wiring.
The raw punk instincts of Naked spring at ears next, rapier beats and nagging riffs fuelling attention as too the ravening vocals escaping Trantor’s throat and heart. A wakening for thoughts and apathy, the track snarls and tantalises in equal measure, gripping attention from first to last breath; a trait the following Red Sky repeats in its own unique style. Melodically humid with an almost mariachi lilt to its invention and Midnight Oil like drama to its air, the track is superb. It is hard to pick a favourite track amongst the twelve but this certainly has one hand on that prize.
The apocalyptically coloured Burn roused rich enjoyment and emotions next, Hodge again a fiery pleasure alongside Trantor with Opium sparking similar high satisfaction with its poetic content and melodic jangle. Even so both were eclipsed in the passions by Speak Out, an aberrant beast of alternative twists and post punk turns in a volatile punk rock body. Every second is an unpredictable moment of discord and invention, a carnal body of sound prowling the senses and devouring the passions for another major moment within the album.
Just as momentous is the album’s closing track Sing Danny Boy. The track epitomises the lyrical prowess of Trantor, the heart which fuels every syllable he shares and the creative adventure of the band which aligns with them. It is a haunting at times harrowing piece of drama which as we found, even if one cannot intimately relate to its tale, will inspire a lump in the throat at some point such its power,
It is a compelling end to one seriously striking release, an album which gripped and enthralled from its first to last second. Headsticks just get better and more inspiriting by the record, C.O.W undeniable proof, a creative and emotive can of worms indeed.
C.O.W is out through Chapter 22 Records on March 31st, available on CD, vinyl and digitally.
Pete RingMaster 25/03/2021
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