It seems odd for a band to stream an album a month ahead of its release date, but New York based Self Defense Family have done just that (find it here). They’ve seen a space to fill and have released an album good enough to fill the days between now and its release on January 7th for a lot of its listeners. ‘Try Me’ is the band’s first full length under their new moniker (they were previously End Of A Year) and it’s just as innovative and compelling as most of their discography.
‘Try Me’ is a very difficult album to pin down, which makes it harder to write about. At times the eleven tracks (including two spoken word tracks) sound a little like Fucked Up on a downer, but whatever sound the band strive for is entirely their own, making ‘Try Me’ a fairly unique record that will go down as one of 2014’s weirdest yet best. The band have a very stylish approach to punk, focusing primarily on emotional repetition as opposed to heaviness and aggression. When dealing with sex as one of the key topics of the album it results in a sometimes harrowing honesty that resonates throughout, and is only enhanced by melodic haunting guitars, powerful riffs, and claustrophobic bass. There are heavier moments on ‘Try Me’ which are more traditional and equally excellent, but where the album really shines is when it lays itself bare and spreads its legs in a musical sense. The more dynamic moments, like the climax of ‘Nail House Music’ inject a bit more life, but ‘Try Me’ is designed more to absorb than it is to instigate.
‘Tithe Pig’ is a great opener that sounds familiar without being able to pinpoint why. It coasts for the most part, as lead vocalist Patrick Kindlon describes a relationship from his own unique vocal perspective before the song drops off to a simple guitar section and then builds itself back up as the word ‘time’ is repeated over and over. Repetition is a key part of the lyrical composition on ‘Try Me’ and it works very well with the faded, almost exhausted tone of the album shown on its opener. ‘Mistress Appears at a Funeral’ has a very Yeah Yeah Yeahs feel to it, mainly because of the Karen O style vocals, but it remains a brooding track and one of the albums best. ‘Aletta’ is another poignant highlight, especially lyrically, and ‘Weird Fingering’ is as odd as its name suggests, being one of the albums most diverse and chaotic tracks. Closer ‘Dingo Fence’ begins with a conversation between band members, asking ‘Are there not dumb cunts in this world?’ and then repeats the line ‘All the dumb cunts (cops), they get what they want’ over and over and over and over again. It seems like a strange way to end the musical portion of the album, but ‘Try Me’ is nothing if not strange, and thankfully it’s occasionally confounding nature is one its strongest qualities.
‘Try Me’ is certainly a mixed bag as every track differs both in terms of their sound and lyrical content. ‘Nail House Music’ begins as a simple toe tapper and ends as a huge rock epic, whilst ‘Apport Birds’ is an unnerving slow burner on religion, with the female vocals providing a gorgeous echo. Some of the tracks drag on a little, but never really suffer because of it. Kindlon’s vocals often sound strained, but only go to show the emotion and effort he puts behind his delivery. ‘Try Me’ is also exceptionally well written, even if it isn’t initially noticeable – instruments rally at the most affecting times and fade for the most sentimental. The interview with ex-porn star Angelique Gauthier that spans ‘Angelique One’ and ‘Angelique Two’ ties in well with the albums sexual content found on tracks like the brilliant ‘Turn The Fan On’ (‘place his lips to nipple he’s crying, place his tongue to clit he’s sobbing, two ounces lighter but he feels weighted’) and the biographical interview is genuinely interesting, especially the second part, but becomes less so with repeat listens.
Self Defense Family are set to release an album that is frequently bizarre but consistently majestic. It’s both strange and subversive, and it may present a challenge even after numerous listens. Overall ‘Try Me’ is very rewarding once given time to settle as it breaks barriers, defies expectations and is ultimately more art than album. It’s definitely an experience, and one that deserves your attention, be it now or in January when it gets an official release.
Rating – 8/10
Listen to: Nail House Music / Turn The Fan On / Aletta