Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Sprints Letter To Self

City Slang
City Slang

Some band names are instructive, and the Dublin punk band Sprints live up to their moniker more often than not. At some point during most songs on Sprints’ debut album Letter To Self, the music breaks out into runaway-train mode: drums incessantly bashing, bass urgently rumbling, guitars ripping away at power chords so rapid-fire they seem like they might actually burst into flames. A lesser singer might sound like they’re barely hanging on when the songs rush forward so frantically, but Karla Chubb commandingly rides the wave, harnessing all that intensity in unrestrained howls and shout-along refrains.

Not every moment is so uptempo. Sprints tend to build tension, in quiet but gripping fashion, until their songs break wide open. In our Band To Watch profile, the group cited early PJ Harvey, Pixies, and Fugazi as inspirations — three acts that understood how to wring drama out of loud-quiet-loud dynamics and how to lace their clatter and conviction with just enough melody to achieve anthem status. I hear the influence of all three on Letter To Self, but really the album calls to mind a whole galaxy of sometimes melodic, always hard-hitting rock bands: the bellowing, swaggering post-punk of Savages (note the song title “Adore Adore Adore”); the explosive post-hardcore of Refused; the roiling-cauldron indie rock of Porridge Radio; the fiery noise-rock of early Hole; a continuum of pop-minded guitar bands from the Strokes to Sprints’ countrymen Fontaines D.C.

It is extremely difficult to balance raw emotion and unhinged energy with tight playing and pop accessibility. Sprints nail that balance. Letter To Self never comes off as radio bait, but its songs are hooky in ways that feel almost incidental in the moment. They’re like pop tunes that sneak up on you under the guise of frenzied, noisy rock music — continuous roaring thunder that coheres into recognizable shapes thanks to savvy songwriting. Lead guitar melodies often come slicing through the noise with a livewire energy, like the drunken-bumblebee riff that lightens “Heavy” ever so slightly. Chubb, sometimes backed by the voices of bandmates, tends to latch onto a phrase and shout it repeatedly until it becomes a mantra, starting with “Maybe I should cut my hair off!” on opener “Ticking.” It’s a kind of abrasive-approachable alchemy I haven’t heard much in rock music lately, like something that might have popped off on MTV2 two decades ago.

Chubb has said the songs on Letter To Self are designed to purge a lifetime of shame and pain. The snarling, rampaging “Cathedral” tackles Catholic guilt and internalized homophobia. The bracingly melodic “A Wreck (A Mess)” gets into Chubb’s recent ADHD diagnosis. The rumbling “Can’t Get Enough Of It” deals with the lingering effects of trauma, somehow turning phrases like “This is a living nightmare/ And I am living so scared/ And I can’t sleep/ And I can’t breathe” into magnificently catchy hooks. Sprints are masters of flipping dark subject matter into rousing, victorious rock songs. But not every song on Letter To Self addresses the negative. Early single “Literary Mind,” one of the album’s most eminently shout-able tracks, is all about queer romance and the thrill of falling in love: “She’s got a literary mind and a literary look/ She’s got a literary hand and it’s literally shook!”

“They say she’s good for an up and comer,” Chubb repeats on “Up And Comer,” a song about music industry sexism that plays out like scraping a whole pack of matches against a rough surface and lighting a fuse. After spending some time with Letter To Self, that kind of faint praise simply doesn’t compute. Sprints are one of the most exciting young rock bands in the world, one that could hold their own alongside some of their most fiercely beloved inspirations. Run, don’t walk, to hear them as soon as you can.

Letter To Self is out 1/5 on City Slang.

Other albums of note out this week:

• French Montana’s Mac & Cheese 5
• Haywire’s Conditioned For Demolition
• Ghetts’ On Purpose, With Purpose
• Rejoice’s All Of Heaven’s Luck
• Luis R. Conriquez’s Corridos Bélicos Vol. IV
• Pile’s Hot Air Balloon EP

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