Premium alt-rock and grunge turned all the way up to 12.
Narrow Head’s superb new album ’12th House Rock’ is in many ways the perfect rock album for this time in 2020. An album deeply rooted in self-loathing, desolation, loss and the hope of a redemption arc to come, the grungy shoegazing noise of the guitar is a freight train that the emotions ride on across 50 minutes of melodic disillusionment.
’12th House Rock’ mixes together the SubPop early 90’s crunch and grizzle of grungy guitars but the music isn’t afraid to sound melodic, hooky and is happy to calmly soothe itself through bass or guitar-led solo sections. In terms of crafting a tone, Narrow Head hits it bang on the head. Take ‘Ponderosa Sun Club’ for example. It has a contorted but groovy too-and-fro riff and chord structure as the lyrics sing of feeling undecided and conflicted about big decisions. Elsewhere ‘Stuttering Stanley’ evokes the emo rock of early Green Day. ‘Yer’ Song’ instead relishes in thick bass riffs and rolling percussion wheels to pull you down the well that is Narrow Head’s mental state of uncertainty and conflicted realities.
A large portion of the album appears to comment on self-medication and America’s pharmaceutical way of life. The driving and caustic ‘Hard to Swallow’ evokes a mashup of Soundgarden and Linkin Park whilst ‘Crankcase’ sprinkles in a little Stone Temple Pilots too. ‘Night Tryst’ was the first Narrow Head track I heard and its a great place to start with them as it helps you get used to the vocal delivery. The vocals across the whole album have a dual recording effect on them which lets different takes have frequency changes to them. Sometimes this is used to chew them up or phases them in and out and occasionally it can sound atonal. Here is where all the effects work best with the biggest riffs of the album. ‘Bulma’ is the other would be radio smash hit too with its driving electric guitars in full flow.
Narrow Head can also rock a slower track too. ‘Emmadazey’ is an absolute stunner with Cocteau Twin styled watery guitars soaring over a crunchy alt-rock body. It makes the track both catchy and feels ethereally grungy too which is quite a hard target to hit. ‘Nodding Off’ enjoys the fun of jangly guitars that are slightly detuned to create a surreal dreamlike experience. Flipping over to the nightmare side, the bass-led ‘Deleo Door’ does a lot but staying restrained except for key moments. The bass and vocals lead the way only for the electric guitar to quietly noodling like an evil villain plotting revenge in the background. The album closes with the epic eight-minute ‘Evangeline Dream’ which shoegazes with the very best. Narrow Head dip their toe into the psychedelia world occasionally throughout the album but here they embrace it like a hope-filled band-aid and play their hearts out.
Easily one of my favourite rock albums of 2020, I love how Narrow Head take from various muddy guises of rock and then paper maches them together to create something that feels so familiar but definitely their own style. Crammed with hooks and hits for everyone needing a light through the darkness, ’12th House Rock’ acknowledges that yes, its a bit shit right now. It also reminds you that there can be light at the end of the tunnel too. This is rock music to wallow and then rebuild to – but only when you are ready to do so.
Recommended track: Night Tryst
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