When Brighton trio Gnarwolves announced an LP consisting of their first three EPs a few months back I decided to take the opportunity and sell the 7″ versions of these EPs, seeing as I wouldn’t be playing them (and could do with the money). As you do, I listed them on eBay, and as the week went on the bids kept on coming, and I ended up selling each copy of Fun Club, Cru and Funemployed for far more than I bought them for. You probably don’t need an eBay analogy to understand that Gnarwolves are hot shit right now – chances are you know of the hype already, because it’s a hype that’s been difficult to avoid. What you might not know though, is whether the bands first eponymous full-length lives up to it, and I don’t need an analogy to tell you that it certainly does.
Self-Titled feels very much like a step-up from the EP’s that helped build Gnarwolves’ reputation, which was aided also by consistently excellent live-shows. Their debut full-length takes a similar sort of approach to said EPs, delivering fast, emotional, hook-filled punk songs with a spirited pop edge, it’s just that this time around they sound much better. In a sense Self-Titled has been a long time coming (three years or so), but the band have benefitted from the time taken to really hone their craft, and across the records twenty-five minute duration they rarely put a foot wrong. This is a record which sounds incredibly confident, and it’s an improvement on past releases in almost every regard – which is saying something considering the band weren’t doing a great deal wrong preceding its release.
Self-Titled opens with Prove It, which lingers for a second before launching into a controlled sort of chaos, frantic and charged, and it sets the tone for an opening few songs which don’t stray too far from what you’ve perhaps come to expect from Gnarwolves (definitely not a bad thing). It’s very catchy, shifting into a stomping track which ends the opener on a high, and like most of the songs on Self-Titled (8/10) it comes in at under three minutes, and because of this shorter approach (and the generally high quality of the songs) the record does pass by in a bit of a blur at times, meaning that a song like the more traditionally pop-punk Everything You Think You Know, which features one of the records best choruses, doesn’t make much of a mark when compared to those around it. The delicate opener to manic second track Boneyard helps to break things up, if only slightly, but it could be argued that Gnarwolves’ biggest draw is often that they don’t waste a second, and that’s certainly the case here – Self-Titled is relentless initially, and it isn’t until Bottle To Bottle when you actually get a chance to really take it all in, and chances are you’ll look back pleased as vocalists / guitarists Thom Weeks and Charlie Piper, along with drummer Max Weeks, deliver a well-written, beer-fueled good-time in musical form, with the song erupting to cries of ‘let’s get drunk in your car’ after a brooding, reflective opening minute.
Sixth track Day Man takes its name from an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, so it’s already my favourite song on the album before I’ve even pressed play, and once it kicks in it’s another solid track, bristling with energy and anger, providing the most cohesive punk song on the record – adopting that mentality with cries of ‘If you must die for something then die for something!’ begging to be shouted back. Self-Titled is rife with lines like this one, and as a result this is a record which will go down incredibly well in a live setting. Be it the yelled ‘We are the product of a broken class but, we weren’t raised to be fucking morons’ on the anthemic Smoking Kills or Weeks’ wandering ‘If I fall who will catch me?’ on the closer almost every line stands out, and the record benefits from the numerous vocal styles which are thrown into the mix to deliver them, courtesy of Weeks and Piper. Self-Titled is a record you can certainly get behind; there’s a real sense of catharsis in the crash of Hate Me, but also in the Four Year Strong-like buoyancy of the opener. It’s weighted without being weighted, with Weeks’ neurosis-centric lyrics sounding inspired alongside such a powerful display instrumentally. Gnarwolves have always found this balance, but on their first full-length outing that balance has never been so expressive and explosive, and it makes Self-Titled immensely fun to listen to whilst providing a relatable sort of outlet for those who share Weeks’ troubles – those who’ve had that same sense of feeling like a total fuck-up before they’ve had chance to get some perspective.
The second half of Self-Titled offers slightly more variety, and it sees Gnarwolves more willing to explore the boundaries of their own sound. After an excellent first half, things begin to run the risk of bordering on repetitive, and just as this looks likely to be the case Hate Me (Don’t Stand Still) rolls around, with ‘rolls’ being an understatement of sorts. It’s an adventurous track, mixing things up as it splinters around the minute mark, writhing and towering, an abrupt change of pace as it stomps onwards, relenting to a steady creep as Weeks asks ‘Do you think you might come home soon?’ during a haunting, mellow Coffee-esque final thirty seconds. The conjoined Ebb and Flow follow, with the former building towards the dynamic latter, before the record ends with Eat Dynamite, Kid, which isn’t too different from what’s featured so far, until the halfway mark, at which point the song ‘ends’ only to bite back with two minutes or so of gruelling hardcore, taking the heavier influence of some of the tracks and channeling it full-fledged. It’s an unusual end to the record (think Pain For Pleasure from All Killer No Filler), and personally I think it detracted slightly from the excellent record that preceded it, feeling unnecessary to an extent, but it’s another side to Gnarwolves – and it’s one which they pull off.
In terms of British punk music it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be a better release in the genre than Self-Titled this year, and it’s safe to say that if you like your music loud then it’s an essential pick-up. The band’s debut full-length is seriously fun to listen to, but lyrically there’s also some real depth and meaning paired with its raucous nature, and this balance continues to make Gnarwolves constantly engaging and accessible. I had high hopes for the band’s debut which have undoubtedly been met, and I’ll keep it simple at the death and say that Gnarwolves absolutely nail it here.
Rating – 9/10
Listen to: Prove It / Smoking Kills / Hate Me (Don’t Stand Still)
Stream Self-Titled here: http://www.sickchirpse.com/exclusive-stream-gnarwolves-record/