Knuckle – ‘Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside’

By Andy Joice

Whether you want to accept it or not, Yorkshire has some real musical pedigree. You’ve got Arctic Monkeys, Rolo Tomassi, and Bring Me The Horizon from Sheffield. From Leeds, there’s Kaiser Chiefs, Pulled Apart By Horses, and Dinosaur Pile-Up. And from Huddersfield, there’s very little – at least according to Wikipedia. Sure, it’s home to thrash metal band Evile, and Sex Pistol played their last British show there, but other than that there’s little to write home about. Until now.

Self-proclaimed garage-blues three-piece Knuckle call Huddersfield their home and it’s woven directly into their music. Combining a postman and a community musician, they’re a band of hardworking, salt of the earth types. Well, two out of three are. The other is vocalist and guitarist Jonny Firth. After two well regarded EPs, Knuckle’s latest release is their debut album, ‘Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside’.

From the opening bars of ‘Spilt Milk’, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting from this record. Violent, grizzly and deceptively witty, ‘Spilt Milk’ grabs you by the throat and throws you against the wall. Firth’s anti-Brexit anthem, it’s a devastatingly angry ode to the “politicians [who] sent us down the shitter”. Led by what can only be described as Ben Wallbanks classic punk drum patterns, its deafening to the point of obnoxious – which feels somewhat relevant in a song about Brexit.

There’s a huge amount of variation between each song on this album. While ‘Spilt Milk’ may have its roots in 70s era punk, the following track is much more refined, with ‘Cardboard Cutout’ showing the variance in Firth’s voice – going from Slaves’ Laurie Vincent in the opening track, to Rush’s Geddy Lee. And as you start to settle into it, the third track changes it up again, with ‘Cash And Carry’ sounding more like Alex Turner. The depth and range of his voice provides an interesting change in atmosphere and sound between each track that feels like it shouldn’t work – but does.

The most compelling story on the record is the melodic ‘Rewind The Feeling’. Recalling a conversation Firth had with a gay friend who grew up in the 80s, his drug addiction, and the stigma of both, its frankness is matched by Firth’s fragile vocals. Accompanied by a bare guitar through the opening verse, it’s emotive and thought-provoking. Bassist Rob Crisp adds a Pixies element by driving the chorus with a subtly captivating bassline.

Title track ‘Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside’ is punchy yet melodious, littered with distortion and rangy vocals. While the imagery of egg shells and chickens adds further credence to Knuckle’s tongue-in-cheek nature, behind the silliness is an allegory relating to mental health the the perceived notion for men to ‘be hard’.

Closing track ‘Knuckle Will Catch You’ deals with mental health in a more obvious way. The opening line of “who needs a shrink when you’ve got me” is repeated, including the band members names in each repetition. It’s an open admission that “Knuckle will be there to catch you when you’re high”. Bluesy, delicate, and desperately pained at points, it’s the perfect closing track for a record that takes numerous twists and turns.

There’s a lot of comparisons to other bands here, but that’s not to say Knuckle are copying others – instead, they are taking bits and pieces and melding it to their own sound, and the same applies to the genres they’re taking from. While they may be garage rock, there’s clear elements of blues, punk, and folk. It may be a bold statement to say it’s similar to The Beatles’ White Album, in that it brushes up against a different style with every track, but it’s even bolder for the record to actually do that. And it does. Huddersfield may not have many hugely recognisable bands currently, but this album will surely change that.

ANDY JOICE

Three more album reviews for you

Harbinger - 'Compelled To Suffer'

LIVE: Can't Swim / Save Face / Coast To Coast @ The Borderline, London

Charly Bliss - 'Young Enough'