Outsiders, the new album from Brighton skate-punk outfit Gnarwolves, is quite a hit and miss affair. The album starts off well with Straightjacket, one of the lead singles, a classic Gnarwolves tune with lots of destructive sentiments. This includes the seemingly self-loathing refrain “I was born in a straightjacket”, which is energetically growled over catchy riffs and crashing drums. The other single Wires is also decent, again dealing with dark themes of illness, loneliness and self-destruction, with the line “you don’t need to be a martyr draw blood / you need a heart to fall in love / I ain’t chosen to be vacant but it just fits me like a glove” standing out and making the song very poignant.
The album also ends very well, with a track named Channelling Brian Molko. The penultimate song has a quiet bassline in the background that creates an air of darkness matching well with the lyrics, a series of clever metaphors that amount to isolation, confusion and a sense of losing touch with oneself; such as Thom Weeks (vocalist) finding the key to his ribcage and setting his lungs to self-destruct and repeatedly asking the question: “how can I possibly avoid going insane? when I leave all the maths to my prosthetic brain”. These lyrics, however, contrast Weeks’ tone as he sings with little emotion in his voice. To me this made it seem like he’d lost all hope but didn’t care, recasting the lyrics in the perhaps even darker direction of nihilism, total dispassion, apathy and insanity. Shut Up, the final track, follows on from this nicely by kicking some more passion back into the music, again with calmer and more subtle instrumentation than the rest of the album. It provides an emotional canvas so that the lyrics and vocal tone can convey the finer details of the picture. At 6 minutes 55 seconds it is the longest track on the album but they make good use of the time, varying the pace, volume, and complexity of the track to portray a wide range of emotions in an ebbing and flowing pattern. At one point the previously timid drums and guitars swell up as Weeks despairs that the subject of his anger “won’t fuck off”, before begging repeatedly for her to shut up. Later in the song the opposite happens and the instruments fall away, aside from the odd strum of the lead guitar as Weeks sings softly, this time blaming himself for how he feels.
However, for all these positives there are a lot of sub-par, filler tracks. The prevailing sentiment behind the album often seems to be apathy or defeatism, and this works its way into the music a bit too much. For example, several tracks like Paint Me a Martyr, English Kids and Car Crash Cinema suffer from poor production, conflicting instrumentation and badly written lyrics that fit very awkwardly within the song structure, jarring the listener, probably unintentionally. On the song Paint Me a Martyr it is sometimes almost impossible to hear what is being sung as Weeks’ standard, growling vocals descend from their usual brilliant rawness into total incomprehensibility. While the emotions at the time of writing and recording are clear, they don’t really lend themselves to creating good music as the sense of their catharsis is lost beneath the technical failings and sense that they weren’t always too fussed about how the album turned out. Whilst as a very uncreative individual it isn’t my place to tell artists where to gain their muse, I’m going to do so anyway and suggest that the album lacked the sense of fun and angsty defiance that made Chronicles of Gnarnia so enjoyable. The Comedown Song embodies this to an extent, but the dominant ideas are still almost entirely negative. Just one or two songs like Limerence or Oh Brave New World from Chronicles of Gnarnia which took a ‘make the best of a bad situation’ view of life, would have given the listener a break from the relentless downtrodden, pessimism of the album which can get a bit tiresome.
The album shows promise but could have done with more time honing the weaker songs, and a slightly more positive outlook would have made it a lot better.