Album: Shallow Graves
Outsiders, a likable four piece from New Zealand, acquit themselves admirably on their second full length record. It’s a rewarding listen with a somewhat DIY mixed-in-your-basement feel but very able. The rawer sound gives it an air of gritty realism which enhances its appeal, with plenty of heady guitar breakdowns and rasping vocals.
“The Credits Roll” provides a pleasant and breezy introduction to the record, sounding a bit like raucous folk. The music is quite loose and playful and it has the easygoing feel of someone jamming, yet the sound is more accomplished than this implies. “Shallow Graves” is also quite summery, though it opens on a tenser note. It’s energetic with plenty of momentum and a solid bass line slaving away to anchor the sound, mixed in alongside some harmonies and solos for a more abashed and light-hearted effect. “My Answer” is a bit more thorough and rousing, its sound consistently keen and sharp throughout as the band seem to take a more decisive approach. Outsiders impress in their ability to transcend the slightly amateurish feel of these songs, managing to keep everything quite honest and vocal while also displaying encouraging flair. On this note, “Life Choices” is a little less stark and more balanced a track.
The second half of the album is a little more ambitious, as the band begin to experiment a bit more and integrate different sounds. “Under Stars and Gutters” opens with a pristine harmony that seems to evoke the stars of the title. It’s a fun and enthusiastic track whose vocals give it a more natural and likable sound, backed up by some pensive guitar refrains. “The Other Half” has a gorgeous bass solo which gives it the instant appeal of something menacing and dark. It builds up raucously, the bass never relinquishing its prominence, spurred onward by brisk drumming and urgent guitars. It’s a standout, thrifty and well-executed. “Blue Skies” is also heavy in its opening, with a strong bass kick in the opening breakdown. A lazy solo peters through the music to temper the breakneck pace, which peaks in a prolonged interplay between two disparate guitars. One is light and elusive, the other more emphatic and both eventually collide to create something briefly anxious and smoldering before a final change of direction makes the song more divergent and easy. This and “The Other Half” make a stunning midway combination, effortlessly cool and fun.
“This House Ain’t A Home” is very punky, with adamant drumming that doesn’t abate for the entire running time. It feeds into “Voice of Reason” and then the grimy “Waiting In Line.” The latter is steady and fast-paced, the vocals giving the song a much more solemn feel than the music, and while it features an impressively sombre solo it’s a little bit dull. “Thanks for the Memories” is a slower number, rather downbeat and a touch nostalgic. The sturdy bass line resurges here, with the guitars styled lowly to give it edge. The brief glimpse of backing vocals adds to this youthful surge, as it seems to hearken back to yesteryear in a vibrant and loving ode. The final track, “The Words Will Write Themselves” is actually a little disappointing after this, feeling like an add-on and far from the winning conclusion one might have anticipated. It’s alright at first, but becomes a bit dull and uninventive as it pans out, unaided by the lengthy running time (five and a half minutes). A shorter and more focused approach might have been kinder to the song, though it does have some sense of occasion with which to end the record.
Shallow Graves has a friendly appeal all its own, infused with spunky and engaging tracks that linger heartily in the memory. As detailed in the intro, it’s able and enthusiastic and has plenty of vigour and bite. The rough edges mightn’t appeal to everyone but it is at least deserving of a listen.
Review written by Grace Duffy