By Steve McGillivray
Sauna Youth have released their debut album Dreamlands via a joint venture between Brighton-based label, Faux Discx and Gringo Records. After self-releasing a few records, the London-based band have gone with the micro-label based in the flat of Cold Pumas member Dan Reeves. Previously, the band had released a split 7″ on Faux Discx with Ale Mania. Their debut album promises to be more of their brand of visceral, edgy and smart punk rock.
The album opens with what is for me a really brave move for a debut release. The first track, ‘Town Called Distraction’, weighs in at a whopping ten minutes and four seconds. It’s more a story than a song. With a spoken word short-story written by Patrick Fisher of Faux Discx label mates Cold Pumas and Harper Ecke of Sauna Youth, it’s a curious opener. The story is read by Martha Orchard and Bobby Krlic of Edible Arrangements and The Haxan Cloak respectively. It’s intended to serve as an introduction to the world in which Sauna Youth live. Over an instrumental that never lets up its relentless energy, it’s like a version of The Velvet Undeground’s ‘The Gift’ on steroids. It’s a bold move, occupying the entire A side of the record with one track. For me it works though. The music is fast and intense, never letting up until a brief lull around the seven minute mark.
The remainder of the album falls into a more traditional structure, starting with ‘Planned Designs’. There’s a burst of static before the music kicks in. The bass, which is a rumbling beast on the first track, is more subdued here, humming alongside the drums. The tempo is a little bit fractured on the chorus, almost seeming to fall apart, but it’s an interesting change to the pace of the track. It’s a sharp, punchy track after the behemoth of an opener. ‘Snapback’ is similarly in your face and sharp. Again, there are some nice key changes that break up the tempo. The vocal sit lower in the mix, giving everything a bit of a DIY feel but this really suits the music. There are punk elements in here but it doesn’t feel like it will sit comfortably in any genre or label I could throw at it. The DIY feel to the music and production is as close to punk as anything else, so that will have to do.
There bass is back in dominant form on the rocking ‘PSI Girls’. The rhythm section drive the song forward and it’s a really infectious tempo they create. The track has a cocky, self-assured swagger that’s impossible to ignore. That bass is just great. The tempo is speedy again on ‘Hairstyles’. The rhythm section once more to the fore, there’s a cracking guitar line throughout that adds a splash of colour alongside the booming bass and drums. Vocals are again down in the mix, but it just feels so right. There’s a nice anthemic feel to the repeating female vocal as the song closes to the sound of crashing cymbals, sharp guitar and rumbling bass before ultimately descending into the screech of distortion and feedback.
‘Viscount Discount’ seems to come around all too soon. Another confident guitar part opens the track before the rhythm section put the meat on the bones. The vocals give it another dimension, with the backing vocals in particular adding another interesting layer. That guitar is fantastic though. Really gives the song that ingredient that makes it seriously cool and catchy. I must confess that when I put this album on, that ten minute opener looked pretty daunting, but it’s a good opening track. The rest of the album is sharp, punchy, confident music that strays into the realms of art-rock, punk, pop-punk and whatever the current genre labels are for the unheralded guitar bands of the nation. I’d have them alongside the likes of Sex Hands, PAWS, Waiters, Eagulls and bands of that ilk. They overlap with these bands without easily sitting alongside them. What they do share though is a DIY ethos that is very appealing and a good amount of downright great tunes.