Sick Joy – ‘WE’RE ALL GONNA F**KING DIE’

By Ian Kenworthy

If you’ve brushed shoulders with Brighton’s music scene, you’ll have heard of Sick Joy. In 2019 they dropped an EP titled ‘Them Days’, a release that harked back to a different time. Their grungy rock sound was familiar and one you’d probably heard a thousand times before, but as the title suggests, the band knew it. Their music had something more, a sprinkling of magical je ne sais quoi that elevated it over so many others. It was subtle, it took its time, it trusted its audience’s patience. All their debut album has to do is pick-up where they left off; take that understated sound and run with it. Their songs appear only vaguely catchy until you discover they have wormed their way not just into your brain but under your skin, and as if to prove the band know exactly what they’re doing they’ve named their debut album ‘We’re All Going To F**king Die’ – subtle guys, subtle.

Title aside, this twelve-song set follows directly on, trading on that understated rocky sound. If you enjoyed their previous work, this is for you, but newcomers might need a few listens to fall under their spell. The swaggering, confident intro of ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dying’ proves they are in no haste to work their magic. In fact, the album’s best songs are content to stir up a haze and allow the intoxicating catchiness to bleed gently into your ears. It makes the nigh-on hysterical album title seem like an in-joke which, of course, it is.

Sick Joy have more than one trick up their sleeve and ‘Talking To The Drugs’ has a much harder edge, as does ‘Sadisfaction’. This slightly meatier guitar sound resembles Red Fang or Dinosaur Jnr., and you might even pick up on an early Placebo vibe. It’s also a feature of ‘Stay Numb’ which features driving verses that you’ll find yourself nodding along to, but its real power is hidden within the catchy chorus. It’s simple yet infectious, and is one of the few songs that reveals its magic on the first run through, mainly because of Mykl Barton’s singing voice.

Speaking of his voice, Barton sings with a lovely gruff edge. It’s got a warm tone with a little Kurt Cobain roughness adding so much. Lyrically, he keeps things simple and as stated when discussing the record, “Everyone knows about love, sex, death, sadness,” and you can certainly feel this in the songs. The imagery tends to be fairly stark, but the depth often comes from the yearning in his voice more than the words themselves. This is especially true of ‘Alive On The Inside’ where the throbbing bass encourages you to sink deeper into the picture painted by the vocals. The slower and almost hypnotic sound is hazy and infectious which draws you into its deeper, darker corners.

‘The Blood & The Bliss’ shares that approach and the way Barton wraps his voice around the thick chorus and hooks makes for a intimate experience. Ironically it’s ‘Deep Dream’ that proves to be a highlight, ironic because he uses sounds rather than words to explore its soundscapes. Anchored by the rhythm section and using deceptive guitar work, Barton conjures abstract imagery and offers a journey into the psyche while retaining the feel of their other songs; it’s quite a feat.

While the album doubles down on what they do best, at times you get the feeling they haven’t quite mastered the full-length, and a couple of times they break the illusion. For example ‘Belly Aching Beast’ does that thing of putting an extreme vocal on an accessible record, and here it’s courtesy of Jamie Lenman. This is always a peculiar choice as it feels like they’re trying to be cool while simultaneously alienating the intended audience. That said, the unrestrained bellowing happens in the middle of the album’s nosiest track so it isn’t entirely out of place, but is enough to make the casual listener reach for the skip button. You could argue that this gives the band edge, but it’s also a timely reminder that they’re not entirely sure what they’re creating or who they’re making it for.

Similarly, ‘Talking To The Drugs’ falls back on repetitive swear words which is a little wearing. The repetition drains the words of their power and because they’re being used to add bite to a repetitive section it shoots itself in the foot, leaving a bitter and ugly mark on such a buoyant record. In fact the album’s weakest point falls on ‘Rich Hippies’ which feels like it’s actively trying to invoke Cobain’s ghost. That said, though, this song contains a thoughtful and almost unexpectedly inspired pre-chorus almost to prove they’re not coasting and there’s even a subtle Pixies reference in there.

The penultimate track ‘Nothing Better’ is absolutely massive, with a weighty riff and huge vocals. As the album’s most directly accessible song it grabs you by both ears, feeling like the band saying, “look, we can do this too.” However, it does leave the slow-burning ‘Ultimately’ to close the record and while the track offers an interesting change of pace, it also feels like a soft coda. Stylistically, it would have been more in-keeping to have the record crash out with a big bang rather than fade away, but once it has, you won’t forget it in a hurry.

‘We’re All Going To F**ing Die’ is an assured and frequently brilliant rock record that takes the band’s established sound, explores numerous new possibilities and sneaks up on you with its slacker charms. It’s a magical cabinet; deeper, more mystical and far more exciting than it first appears. Start listening now, you’ll struggle to find a better rock record this year.

IAN KENWORTHY

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