Spotty, Not Shoddy
Some bands seem to wear their influences on their sleeve more than others. Antipodes, the debut album by this New Zealand-based four piece, shows that Popstrangers are one of those bands. Often throughout the record, one gets the feeling that, not only has the band listened to its fair share of the music that bridged the part of American punk’s second wave with the advent of grunge, they seem to have set out to make a record that would have fit on the shelves along with Nirvana and The Pixies. There is the same sense of intentional energy displacement as with those bands, being that the production—which sounds like it was engineered by Steve Albini or SST’s go-to-man, Spot—often takes much of the edge off the musical attack. You feel like there might be a layer of packing foam over the amps. That’s the sound, though, and for what it’s worth, the band really do have a good grip on it.
Perhaps the best case in point is (as it should be) the first sounds on the record. “Jane” kicks up an incredible racket exactly a minute in, and really bleeds a Sister-era Sonic Youth vibe. It’s a decent and energetic opener, but the in-between parts separating these flurries almost evoke the feeling of ‘let’s kill a minute before repeating this part again.’ This is the most apparent issue with the album. Admittedly, for a debuting band, Popstrangers surely want to show the range they are capable of, and they do. However, overwhelming the best parts of this album are when the band does what it is clear they love: pound out dusky, simple riffs and let loose a nasally wail.
Thus songs like “Heaven” and the overlong whine of “Occasion” merely don’t seem to work as well. In the case of the former, the inherent bounciness of the cut does speak to an emotional range for the band and is even well intentioned, but it just comes off a bit out of place versus the rest of the album. “Occasion” has a bit of the opposite side of the same problem, as the sloth-like tempo comes off a bit too melodramatic—and similarly out of character for the band. From a narrative standpoint, as well, the placement of “Occasion” does the album no favors, leaving the listener less than inspired.
There are some definite good moments on Antipodes, though, such as the de-tuned groove of “In Some Ways” and the moody “404,” which is probably what “Occasion” should have been (including half the length). And though the album is indeed spotty, the good moments are an indicator this band is only capable of better things going forward—if they can continue to apply their own color to the grainy and gritty sounds that clearly drive them.