Other Half – ‘Dark Ageism’

By Andy Joice

Norwich’s Other Half are, like all of us, aging. Having spent the last decade making “little-to-no progression” (their words, not ours) in a punk band now gets raised eyebrows and the question of “what are you going to do with your life?” This same question is asked to the returning characters within ‘Dark Ageism’.

If 2020’s ‘Big Twenty’ is the early 20s madness, ‘Dark Ageism’ is that slow descent into old age aka the dreaded 30s. Capping off the trilogy of albums, it’s a continuation of the anti-heroes lives they’ve developed over the past half decade. By personifying fictional beings, it allows Other Half to be introspective and pensive without being specific, letting everything feel grottier and harsher than what the bands reality is. Living day to day in the same rut, watching everyone else progress around you and grubby little hands trying to take away the positives breeds a feeling of darkness and despair that resonates throughout the album.

Opening with ‘Lifted Fingers’, it’s the most ‘singy’ song Other Half have ever released, with vocalist Cal Hudson changing tact from his usual spoken word to full fledged singing. Thankfully, if you’re missing the spoken elements, you’ll be pleased to hear that Matthew Caws of Nada Surf is on hand. With Caws adding a sense of lightness to dilute Hudson’s bleakness, it’s a delicious recipe of sickly sweet honey and the bitter almond flavour of cyanide.

‘Feeling For Yourself’ is the spiritual successor to ‘If You Write The Way You Talk’ from 2022’s ‘Soft Action’ in that it’s a slower paced but deafeningly ambient track depicting home town life and how it changes (or doesn’t) over time. The spoken narration from bassist Sophie Porter is mesmerising, sounding as if suffocated by both the walls of sound and the walls of the streets depicted in the track. There’s a claustrophobic edge that is unrelenting but works heavily in its favour, dychotomised by her wandering bassline that adds a bluesy edge to the proceedings.

‘Farm Games’ and ‘Bumps In The Night’ return to the more classical Other Half sound – grotty post-hardcore with a smattering of indie hooks, deceptively clever lyrics and more twists and turns than whatever the latest rollercoaster at Thorpe Park is. Ever self-referential, the latter references both ‘Big Twenty’ and ‘Soft Action’ as it continues to build the Other-Half Extended-Universe – Somebody needs to trademark OHEU.

‘Dollar Sign Eyes’ and ‘Rotator’ are Other Half at their most catchy, with hooks through the chorus that resonate beyond their runtime. ‘A Little Less Than Evil’ is a standout though. Simplistic in its delivery, its beauty is in its structure. A slower, quieter first verse before everything is ramped up, drummer Alfie Adams is the real star of the show as he hammers the skins like he’s trying to hit gophers at the fair. This is without mentioning some outstanding screaming from Porter in the closing bars, it’s Other Half at their finest, all talents on display. If you don’t blow out your ears and have your chin resting on your shoes, you’re not listening closely enough.

Single ‘Pastoral Existence’ features more unclean vocals from Porter as well as the reflective realisation and acceptance that perhaps the country life – or life away from everyone else – isn’t so bad, with a chorus of “a pastoral existence sound like bliss to me.” Perhaps a pipe dream, perhaps an actualisation for the group or misfits we’ve followed for three albums, the scuzz resonates from start to finish with droning dissonance adding to the thick rhythms.

As well as Caws, Alexei Berrow of Johnny Foreigner makes an appearance, ironically closing out the album on ‘Other Half Vs. The End Of Everything’. Berrow leads the first half of the track, speaking home truths to an almost poppy backing before Hudson reflects on the journeys taken across the last decade. It’s worth noting that the majority of ‘Dark Ageism’ runs seamlessly, each track bleeding into the next, with ‘Other Half Vs. The End Of Everything’ being the exception. It’s for this reason that it feels cleansing, like the clouds opening up and letting thin streams of sunlight peek through. Even the line “I’ll be dead eventually and none of this will bother me” somehow feels like a mantra of positivity in a backwards but very Other Half way.

‘Dark Ageism’ is an album that starts slow and measured but quickly finds its feet, leaning back into the degenerate characters we know (and love?) as they continue their journey through the bizarre banality of life. It’s eerily relatable and deeply personal lyrically and sonically, it’s Other Half at their sharpest, continuing to push themselves to their absolute brink. If Other Half are in a rut, it’s a rut I’d like to be in.

ANDY JOICE

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