There’s a brilliant stereotype to pop-punk that exists in 90% of releases from the genre. You get similar themes, with a similar sound, with the same bummed out dude on vocals. Not that any of that’s a bad thing of course, and when you go into a record that openly labels itself pop-punk chances are you know what to expect, and when you get exactly that it turns out to be just what you wanted all along. I love pop-punk as a genre, and although its formula is one that’s utilised constantly there’s still an appeal to sad yet upbeat songs about girls and growing up played with a youthful energy and teenage resentment. They’re songs you can take a comfort from – hey, this guys as lonely and reflective as you – and amongst other charms it’s partly the reason you listen to the songs and play them as loud as you can. That’s very much the case on Death Of A Slug by Northbound, the project of 20-year-old Jonathon Fraser, who’s just as emotionally vulnerable as you want him to be without feeling like an asshole for wanting it that way. After a few years in Florida hardcore outlet Sleep Patterns, his second full-length release as Northbound is another big step in the right direction following debut As Long As The Sun Is Up, and it’s easy to see why he’s toured with potentially the genre’s best young band in Old Again.
Death Of A Slug is a record of two halves, in that the first five songs are traditional pop-punk with a slight emo / rock twist, whereas the final five songs are solely acoustic songs reminiscent of artists like Front Porch Step, albeit with less obvious heartbreak. Despite their differing styles each half is excellent, coming together to make a striking record that lingers in the memory and plays heavy on the heart. At times Fraser is Jim Carrey at the start of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind asking why he immediately falls in love with every girl who shows him the least bit of attention, and this dead-end romanticism punctuates a lot of Death Of A Slug, especially on The Effort Is Not Worth The Outcome as he sings ‘When you hurt I hurt too and that probably sounds crazy because I just met you / But when I looked straight at your eyes mine dilated to twice their normal size’ over hazy guitars. The record is packed with lines as memorable as this one, and they’re painfully relatable throughout, all sung with an honest intensity that suggests Fraser means every single word and often hates himself for it – ‘I’ll be sitting on this bed that we surely made for two and writing bad poems that I’ll never show to you.’ These particular lines are plucked from Everyone But Me, the records most energetic track, featuring some of the more powerful vocals and pairing them with churning instrumentation which doesn’t relent for a second, and the song also ends on a more positive note that hints at eventual closure. 6am Beer Man is less romance and more regret as he sings about getting high, drinking and going places without really going anywhere, exploding from an acoustic intro to roaring instrumentation that’s more punk than pop-punk. It’s another compelling listen, and Fraser knows exactly how to write songs of this nature, meaning there’s nothing to really fault in this regard. You’ll have heard plenty of songs like these before, but chances are they won’t have sounded this good. Second track Leech ripples with shades of the newly reformed Basement, and it’s another standout from the first half, making use of thick bass during a fairly mellow second verse and heavier, crashing drums towards the end as shouts of ‘I’m the leech then you’re the flesh that’s feeding me’ ring out over some excellent ringing guitar work. Aside from contributions from John Looze and Jordan Meyers the first half of Death Of A Slug is a startling individual body of work that sounds huge, finding the ideal balance of largely anthemic and crushingly cathartic.
The Mat Kerekes (Citizen) produced second half of the record really sets it apart from similar releases and I found myself preferring this side to Death Of A Slug, mainly because I’m a sucker for sad acoustic songs that make me want to curl up in a corner and shut everything out. Fraser does this himself but does so with his heart on his sleeve, and there’s something about these five tracks that spark an empathetic sense of comradery. As with the first half he lays himself bare, but the acoustic songs sound much more raw and emotional as a result of their stripped back delivery, without losing any of the energy of the first fifteen minutes. To mention Old Again (again), the songs here are somewhat similar to the bands Comfort In Confusion EP, providing songs that are of an equally high quality with more depth and meaning. The shorter, storytelling Caffeine & Nicotine is brilliantly nostalgic and heart-breaking as Fraser details a one-sided love affair, before jumping into the more aggressive and bleak Drop Out which mixes loud, dynamic acoustics with even louder, desperate vocals. The lengthier Actor was my favourite track from the acoustic portion, whilst ninth track Kiss is another highly strung emotional suckerpunch that hits hard (‘The saddest part is I could see us growing old but you’re indecisive and all you say is “I don’t know” / My mother said “when you see the one you will know” / It’s hard to think I’ve been wrong for three years and I will always be alone’). I’m twenty myself in a few months and it doesn’t sound like there’s a whole lot to look forward to but these frank, unrestrained outpourings make Death Of A Slug the record it is, and once it gets under your skin it stays there.
It’s April now and I can think of at least eight records I’ve already labelled as AOTY contenders on this site already – hell I did it again three days ago – but with Death Of A Slug I really mean it. Listening to Northbound is an experience which sticks, and this two-sided coin is one with both sides shining. Fraser’s an extremely talented guy with an extremely commendable work ethic, and it should all pay dividends with Northbound’s second album, because rarely has a self-released record been so deserving of a label backing. Surely it’s only a matter of time, and I can’t wait to hear whatever comes next.
Rating – 9/10
Listen to: Everyone But Me / Actor / Kiss
Download / stream it here: http://northboundfl.bandcamp.com/