Fast Blood – ‘SUNNY BLUNTS’

By Ian Kenworthy

Surrounded by algorithms, screens and endless stimulation, it’s hard not to feel disconnected. That’s a strange thing. The world is at your fingertips, and yet reality is not. You can be assaulted by endless sights and sounds, but they’re all strangely abstract. It’s the same with music. Making it has never been easier, literally anyone can publish a song, the tools are right there – you can even download your favourite artist’s beats, samples or guitar tones. You can reference their tracks in the mix. You can sound just like them. Re-enter punk rock. Ironically, it was a reaction to overblown 70’s elitism, it has become something else; A genre you can’t really make in your bedroom. It’s about a sense of community, a sense of place, and human connection, and these are the three things guiding Fast Blood’s debut album ‘Sunny Blunts’.

This is a record about Newcastle, not directly, but it’s impossible to separate what is from where it was made. Its soundscapes are painted in thick layers of guitar with slick riffs and a strong vocal personality. It’s an aesthetic that stretches as far as the album cover with its photocopy-grey image of brutalist architecture set against a red/pink sky, which nicely illustrates the contrasting sounds within.

Leading single ‘Sexual Healing’ opens breathlessly and barrels into a killer hook. The vocals ride loosely over the churning music with the refrain of “What are you waiting for?”. It’s thrilling and catchy but what’s interesting is that the notes don’t last quite as you’d expect, creating an unusual tension that makes it intoxicating.

While Fast Blood could easy have spent the whole thirty minutes thrashing through songs in the same vein, there’s a concerted effort to make each individual while retaining the energy and tone. The most obvious slice of punk rock comes from leading single ‘Pulling Teeth’ and the opening chords of ‘Gone For Good’ hit with the subtlety of a slap around the face but the protracted intros to ‘Small Town’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ give them a sense of space while still exploding like carefully timed grenades.

Each song has its own feel but it’s also interesting how the band shape the sounds within the songs. Rather than just straight chords, the guitar parts are wild and flighty, giving them a loose, crackling energy. If you’ve never heard bands like Johnny Foreigner then just imagine a chainsaw swaggering through the verses, especially on songs like ‘Rum and Soda’ and you can appreciate how delightfully dangerous it feels. However, because the band anchor those verses with turnaround riffs, they feel loose without ever falling slack.  You can hear this on ‘Hold Onto Me’ which, after opening with a cool little riff, coils around and repeatedly changes shape. The song breathes in and out – relaxing and tightening – in a way that ensnares you with its momentum. Despite doing something similar, you could argue that ‘Salvation’ burns through its ideas a little too quickly. While it never outstays its welcome, it’s forced to contort itself in an effort to keep moving, leaving the repeating vocal pattern a little exposed. That said, it has a sweet & sour refrain and is the song you’re most likely to find yourself humming along to.

The record’s most notable feature is the production in that it’s slightly unusual. The guitar sounds fight for the middle space and are compressed to make up for it, creating a wall of sound that makes it feel massive but slightly masks the detail. It’s a little harsh and off-putting but works remarkably well, however you need to be careful where you listen to it as its fidelity can get lost making it feel murky. It’s a marked contrast to the brighter sound of their self-titled EP. While that sounded like a more aggressive Martha, this is thicker, harder and scuzzier.

Abigail Barlow’s vocals switch between spoken, sung and the occasional howl. As a punk-rock record, there are numerous choices indicative of the genre, like on ‘Salvation’ where she rhymes words with themselves (e.g. ‘body’ and ‘anybody’) which works surprisingly well here, but would seem clunky in a different context. Lyrically, she keeps things relatively simple, honest and grounded in place. Nowhere is this more obvious than ‘Small Town’ where she literally evokes familiarity and well-trodden pathways.

Saving the best for last, the title track starts slowly, opening with softly sung vocals and the phrase ‘take me back home’ painting a quite beautiful picture of growing up, growing apart and returning. It leans heavily on Barlow’s accent and is an intimate picture that doesn’t lose its sepia tint as the band joins in during its second half. Its honesty is touching and sad and personal.

‘Sunny Blunts’ mixes emotions and paints a vivid picture. It’s charged, varied and surprisingly touching. Long live punk rock.

IAN KENWORTHY

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