Band: Narrow Head
Release: 12th House Rock
Label: Holy Roar
Words: Harry Higginson
On Narrow Head’s second full length studio record, we see a band paying homage to the very best of the nineties in such fashion that if the record was attributed to a lesser known offshoot of the Seattle grunge scene, you wouldn’t be too surprised.
Chunky, soaked in gain, and propelled forward by huge riffs, the band are an amalgam of everything from The Smashing Pumpkins and Slint, with even a flavour of Deftones and Helmet when they veer into more aggressive territory. The Houston five-piece, joined by producer-turned-new bassist, Ryan Chavez, and new guitarist Kora Puckett, built a reputation on previous releases as an energetic and raw outfit, touring with the likes of Higher Power, Vein, and Fucked Up.
their lax vibe allows the listener to just soak in the brilliantly executed soundscapes the band create
Their debut, Satisfaction, was a hazy and unpolished, but compelling blend of shoegaze, grunge, and true 90s emo, and in many ways, 12th House Rock is a simple expansion of this basic idea, tightened in some areas, and a little more feral in others. Textural variety is far greater than on previous releases, for instance, with a sonic palate spanning all the way from the noisy and intense ‘12th House’, through to the delicate and tender ‘Wastrel’, a mournful acoustic cut that breaks up the latter half of the track listing with a memorably stripped back interlude. This is not, however, a record that has seen the band go soft: ‘Hard to Swallow’ is a rollicking, rolling track, driven by a slugging riff that would feel totally at home on Around the Fur. ‘Delano Door’ is another interesting cut, the band engaging in pure Spiderland worship as Slint’s trademark atmospheric dissonance comes through. Odd and tense, this is a track constantly at the brink of explosion, which it surely does as the song nears the five-minute mark, settling into a grim and brittle wall of noise that closes the song out.
It’s not all darkness and gloom, either. This record is a testament to the poppier inclinations of the band, and their ability to carry them off excellently. ‘Yer Song’ and ‘Bulma’ are sugary sweet slabs of sound, whilst ‘Stuttering Stanley’ takes the band’s dense fuzziness to as summery place as you could imagine, all three being odes to the US culture of college radio that would’ve loved this record if it had dropped in ’94. The arguable highlight track ‘Evangeline Dream’ is the purest distillation of this idea, throwing in dream pop to the equation as the band’s shoegaze-y blur weaves through an eight-plus minute closer, gliding effortlessly through another of the record’s slightly more restrained moments. Given time to expand over longer track lengths, Narrow Head really shine, as their lax vibe allows the listener to just soak in the brilliantly executed soundscapes the band create, and though a 50-minute run time might seem a little long, tracks like the closer show how well the band can utilise long form compositions.
there is value in nostalgia, and on their sophomore release, Narrow Head truly breathe life into old sounds.
This isn’t a flawless record, it has to be said. The vocals may feel grating to some, and the slacker-rock execution across the album makes it far from a perfectly polished package. To others, though, these are features, not bugs, and the rawness of an album like ‘12th House Rock’ adds to the general feel of the record. Though the component parts are little more than a cohesive and deftly executed collection of fairly well-trodden ideas, dug up out of the 90s, there is value in nostalgia, and on their sophomore release, Narrow Head truly breathes life into old sounds. Not necessarily through innovation, for sure, but by executing their basic ideas outstandingly, an ethereal yet intense piece of music history has been resurrected, and pretty damn well at that.
12th House Rock is out now.