Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
I remember discovering Gnarwolves when I was 17, listening to their EP CRU on the way home from college. I told my friend, a fellow pop punk fan, that I’d ‘found my band for the summer.’ On repeat were songs like Community, Stability, Identity, Melody Has Big Plans, and Oh, Brave New World. It was their heady mixture of raucous guitar work and thrashing drums, their DIY approach to timbre, their chanted vocals that ranged from sung to shouted, that made me fall head over heels for them. And then suddenly, I stopped listening. That was five years ago. It was possibly because I was leaving the pop-punk phase of my musical tastes and heading into my early love for hip-hop which started at university. Call that cliché, that’s how it happened.
Now the three piece band from Brighton are back and have grabbed my attention again, releasing Outsiders, their second album, via Big Scary Monsters. The album clocks in at 33 minutes long, and doesn’t slow down for any of that time.
Gnarwolves have their roots in hardcore scenes, and this influence of the harder, unstructured sides of pop punk is a very strong presence in their work. Their songs sound garage; they are unrefined, stripped down, totally backyard. You couldn’t imagine them playing an arena gig, or anything huge for that matter, not because they aren’t talented enough, but simply because it wouldn’t suit them.
There is a definite ‘sound’ to Gnarwolves, and they take great care to stress it on Outsiders. The first track Straitjacket pulls no punches in its delivery, and brings the same emphasis on DIY ideals that we have felt throughout previous Gnarwolves releases. It is a sound that permeates the whole of this project, and one I imagine will appear in numerous future releases. One thing that should be noted is that melody has been given more space to reside within Gnarwolves’ sound. Tracks like Car Crash Cinema, Talking To Your Ghost, and Channelling Brian Molko, the latter of which is intricately paced, drawing heavily from the melodies of Placebo’s very own track Nancy Boy, so much so it almost touches upon plagiarism.
One thing that comes to mind when I hear albums like these is that their sound can become a little stale. While being a fun project, Outsiders doesn’t show that much progression for me. It’s a possibility for why I lost interest in the whole pop-punk genre and its contemporaries. When I recently reviewed While She Sleeps’ latest release You Are We, I wrote ‘It’s the curse of rock bands who describe themselves as a certain type of rock, be it hardcore, metalcore, punk, thrash etc, to be almost typecast by the genre they find themselves in.’ and this may be something that Gnarwolves need to take stock of. This of course is mere opinion, and I’m sure more-invested fans of the band would argue against me.
In truth, I enjoy this album. I think Gnarwolves’ strength lies not in their ability to play their instruments, or how well they sing, or how they can get a crowd moving, I think it lies in their niche, the space they have carved for themselves in the music world. How they can simultaneously make something that sounds both harsh and well, kind of cute, is brilliant. Their lyrics, which reel on the contemporary, millennial interpretations of loneliness and being an outsider, riff well off of the apparent hope to be found in friends and love, and the mutual sadness that people can feel, and for that I can find no fault in them. I don’t think Outsiders is their strongest work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad.
You can check out the first track from Outsiders, Straitjacket here.