If you’ve ever doubted the validity of the 20-year nostalgia cycle, Other Half are your scraping, sneering, incendiary proof that everything comes back around at two-decade intervals. The Norwich, UK trio play an abrasively catchy brand of indie rock that they’ve self-described as “tightly wound post-hardcore” and “nasty music for nice people.” Their music calls back to a moment when the underground was swimming with sharp-edged and explosively noisy acts pulling inspiration from the likes of Pixies, Fugazi, and Big Black — a class of bands more piercing and obtuse than the glamorously skuzzy Meet Me In The Bathroom types, way harder and less accessible than the acts elevated to rock stardom by The O.C. and Garden State. If you can remember when names like Detachment Kit, the Locust, and Q And Not U were on the DIY circuit, this band might transport you back to that world.
Except Soft Action — Other Half’s second album and first for the esteemed UK label Big Scary Monsters — is far too visceral and immediate to exist exclusively as an object of retro fascination. The band plays with wild, unhinged energy and thinly veiled snark, channeling their inspirations with dynamism, not just reverent imitation. “All these genre tropes, they give me hope,” they sang last spring on their (great) standalone single “Genre Tropes” — a knowing wink and an earnest confession all at once. They’re well aware of their own proclivities, and they lean into them fearlessly.
The members of Other Half only identify themselves by mononyms. Cal, the lead vocalist and guitarist, firebombs his songs with slicing, discordant riffs that seem to tangle up until they explode; the one that leads off “Jollies With The Boys” is like repeatedly striking matches against a tight plastic surface. Between incredulous rants that evoke Andy Falkous of Mclusky, he launches into impassioned wails at the top of his range a la Les Savy Fav’s lead madman Tim Harrington. Soapy plays bass and sometimes contributes a sweeter melodic presence on the mic, playing Kim Deal to Cal’s Black Francis. (This comparison reaches its apotheosis on “In My Wires.”) Drummer Alfie contributes to the feeling of controlled chaos with a torrent of crashing cymbals and a potent artillery of fills. He and Soapy play in a way that rarely steals the spotlight from Cal, even when they’re going nuts on their instruments.
Cal has cited lyricists like Randy Newman and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat as influences — keen observers of the human condition and masters of the satirical character sketch. It’s not necessarily what you’d expect from a band that plays with a fired-up intensity comparable to Hot Snakes, whose music is built for pummeling force and cathartic release more than savvy contemplation. But Cal makes it work, whether surveying the way different kinds of performative personas can turn music scenes into the worst kinds of political battlegrounds on “Losing The Whip” (“Prowling purists and noxious freethinkers/ Stripping the pleasure away from the art”) or drawing a portrait of a particular kind of punk-rock barfly on “Doom Logo” (“And as it stands, you’ve stolen more drinks than you’ve bought/ I can hardly let that slide, when you’re using the toilets like an office space”).
Part of the appeal of Soft Action is Other Half showing off some versatility within the relentless barrage. The album’s pair of lead singles exemplify that range. Opening track “Like A Dog” is a 40-second hardcore freakout, the sound of this band at its most blistering. Two songs later on the tracklist comes “Slab Thick,” a song so straightforward and harmonious that the band almost left it off the album — though straightforward and harmonious are relative terms here considering the song’s resemblance to peak At The Drive-In. Ultimately, it’s still a fairly narrow lane that Other Half inhabit, but at this moment in history they own it — and they might still reign supreme over it when more revivalists inevitably come along.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Metro Boomin’s Heroes & Villains
• Babyface Ray’s Mob
• BTS member RM’s solo debut Indigo
• White Lung’s Premonition
• NOFX’s Double Album
• TOBACCO’s Skids And Angels
• Leftfield’s This Is What We Do
• Sarchasm’s Conditional Love
• SUSS’ SUSS
• A Tribute To Ryuichi Sakamoto: To The Moon And Back
• Neil Young’s Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition)
• Cat Stevens’ Catch Bull At Four (50th Anniversary Edition Remaster)
• Virgin Prunes’ …If I Die, I Die (40th Anniversary Edition)
• Robbie Williams’ Life Thru A Lens 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
• Metronomy’s Small World (Special Edition)
• Georgia Maq’s Live At The Sydney Opera House EP