Narrow Head – ’12th House Rock’

By Ash Bebbington

“I wanted to create a fairly dark world with my words,” explains Narrow Head’s vocalist Jacob Duarte. “A grimy world of drunks and druggies filled with endless nights of unknown substances, pleasures, and regrets.” While those themes inspired the lyrical content on ‘12th House Rock’, you wouldn’t guess it from the music. This record is an absolute joy; 50 minutes of fuzzed up, sun-soaked alternative rock music. In a year that’s seen so many incredible rock and metal releases, ‘12th House Rock’ stands out as one of the very best.

At its core, ‘12th House Rock’ is an album of superbly written slacker rock songs with hooky choruses. The whole record has a satisfying groove that’ll get your foot tapping and your head nodding, while never once feeling like it’s trying too hard. Where it really sets itself apart, though, is the production, the guitar tone, and Duarte’s vocal delivery. The result is a punchy, memorable record that makes an instant impact, but just keeps getting better and better on repeat listens.

The album sounds organic, as if the whole band recorded it while playing together in the same room. This is a product of the band’s DIY ethos, which drove them to self-produce it, and record it with no click track, no vocal correction, and no drum samples. As a result, ‘12th House Rock’ sounds as if it was recorded at a live show, on a night when every member of the band was in blistering form. Rock purists who abhor over-production, and want music to sound as if it’s being played live in the studio, will be in their element listening to this.

The guitar tone has a distinctive alt-rock fuzz that most would associate with 90s bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins. Indeed, at more than one point on ‘12th House Rock’, Narrow Head drop a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Siamese Dream’. Equally, on more than one occasion vocalist Duarte sings a chorus or hook that is reminiscent of Deftones’ Chino Moreno. At other times, his vocals take on a snotty quality that was typical of many punk bands in the 90s. All of this is not to say that Narrow Head are a mere copycat, or a cynical throwback – far from it. The Texan four-piece have created a body of work that leans on 90s and 00s alt-rock influences, but has its own undeniable sound and character at the same time.

Opener ‘Yer Song’ starts with a wall of static that bleeds into a slow, slackery riff. Musically, the song has a real groove, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Duarte’s vocal performance on this track is absolutely superb, almost every syllable he utters is a hooky, memorable moment. For the first, but not the last, time, the chorus on this song is a subtle hook that doesn’t immediately stick, but after repeated listens you won’t be able to get it out of your head.

From start to finish, ‘12th House Rock’ is full of vocal and musical hooks that sound absolutely effortless. Third track ‘Stuttering Stanley’ is a brilliant example of this, a slow paced song with a slacker pop sound. It opens with a wonderful strummed hook – a guitar part that later plays underneath the chorus. Introducing the chorus’ vocals to the mix creates an instantly memorable section that you’ll be singing along to before you’ve even finished listening to the track once.

‘Hard to Swallow’ and ‘Crankcase’ – sitting next to each other in the track listing – combine to create the album’s heaviest section. Both are built around filthy low end riffs, and will no doubt be the songs that get everyone moving when Narrow Head play them live. On both songs, Duarte’s vocals are laced with attitude, flitting between a distinctive punk rock snarl, strange, dreamlike vocals, and raw screams. However, these songs are still palatable for those who aren’t a fan of rock music’s heavier side, and still packed to the brim with great vocal hooks.

‘Nodding Off’ is a welcome change of pace, featuring slowly strummed guitars and softly delivered vocals, all building to a satisfying wall of noise. Lead single and standout track ‘Night Tryst’ opens with a storming bassline by Ryan Chavez, before launching into a riff that would make a fine addition to any of the Smashing Pumpkins’ earlier records. The vocals are punchy and memorable, especially in the song’s stellar chorus, while Carson Wilcox’s relentless drumming provides a chaotic backdrop.

The acoustic track ‘Wastrel’ is perfectly placed in the track listing, a two-minute palate cleanser to take you into the album’s final 15 minutes. ‘Delano Door’ is an odd, experimental track, with off-kilter guitar parts, and spoken word interludes. The song’s most experimental sections don’t quite land, but once again it has a superb chorus tying it all together.

The album’s closing track ‘Evangeline Dream’ is 8 minutes long, but it’s so joyous you’ll barely notice its length. The guitar tone sets the mood throughout, starting out slow, lush and melodic, before exploding into a wall of fuzzy distortion. The outro, melding a catchy vocal hook with both distorted and clean guitars, provides a great summation of the record as a whole, and it’s hard to think of a better way the band could’ve ended it.

If you had even the smallest amount of interest in rock music in the late 90s and early 00s, there’s every chance you’ll fall head over heels for this record. Even if you didn’t, you’ll probably fall head over heels for it regardless. With ‘12th House Rock’ Narrow Head have delivered a fresh spin on a classic sound, and created one of the albums of the year in the process.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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