Simon Jay Catling
, June 18th, 2015 16:40
If you're coming to London-based post-punk four-piece Sauna Youth as a new listener, then the first thing to point out is that their name is something of a misnomer. Although definitely too young to remember first-hand the DC hardcore scene that occasionally perforates their sound – on this record best captured within the blistering delirium of ninety second rager 'Abstract Notions' – they're probably old enough to recognise that Loud & Quiet's recent comparison of them to Parklife-era Blur might be more than just a music journo shorthand. Not that they share similar politics to the aspiration of Albarn et al – the group are a fiercely independently-minded set of musicians who also play in several other bands, namely Cold Pumas, Primitive Parts, Feature, and Tense Men.
Is their age important though? Probably not. Post-punk is rarely defined by age, as Wire's continuing relevancy proves; but it's interesting to note that some of the bands in Britain who've raged hardest in recent years haven't been those Snapchatting their way out of adolescence, but those now racing towards their 30s and beyond. Those who found the promise and hope of their own coming-of-age were quickly dashed first by economic collapse and then the austerity measures of the coalition government.
In 2012 it was a 'Town Called Distraction', the brilliant dead-eyed, ten minute opener of their previous record Dreamlands. Three years on and they aren't defining themselves by settlement size anymore, but on Distractions the themes remain the same. The glimpse of a glittering London that surrounds them and yet feels oceans away, the myriad ways in which our attention spans are shortening, and more broadly that constant whirring, creaking grind of everyday life. Sometimes they're reinforced as bluntly as hollering the word "monotony" at the end of every line. (Monotony is, incidentally, also the name of their more belligerent alter ego who, thanks partly to the ebullient endorsements of Marc Riley, have found as much favour in just over a year as their flipside has in nearly six). Elsewhere they do it by detailing the minutiae of an instant's recollection, as on Calleja's spoken word depictions on '(Taking A) Walk', uttering "I walk through parks at four in the morning, to wear the same noiseless monochrome and warm greys as the city."
On Dreamlands, Sauna Youth's lyrics – predominantly written by Phoenix – beheld a rolling-eyed disaffection, but they were betrayed by the ferocity in which his bandmates pounded out the music around them. On Distractions, Phoenix allows himself to get swept along with the tide; 'Modern Living' for instance, is the the sound of the break cables being cut and the group careering towards collision, the drummer joining Calleja in gasping "I am nervous, I am anxious, I am nervous, I want to stop." That it's followed by the even more frenetic 'Leather', lasting all of 100 sinew-tearing seconds before the album finally pauses for breath some seven tracks in, only heightens the urgency that makes this album a total thrill ride.
Moments like these push the group beyond notions simply of punk music for sweaty basement club parties – though it's definitely great for that – and towards something that offers a weightier documentation of this period of time. It's both a reflection of where they find themselves a decade or so after their various members first formed bands, and what it is to exist within the hyper-acceleration of their London existence. The former is suggested in the age-aware 'Transmitter', an infectious radio smash hit in all but producers' statistic-led reality and one that looks at legacy in the line "I want my thoughts scratched into plastic/hear my voice on an endless loop." Sometimes there's a suggestion that they'd happily escape, back to Brighton from where they came from, or elsewhere completely, found most explicitly on 'Try To Leave', which allows its repeated melodies a little space than the tumbling staccato guitar attacks elsewhere.
However a feeling of excitement permeates all of this, an enjoyment in spite of the trials of living in the capital. It strikes a chord, particularly if you live elsewhere in the UK and read and hear of nothing other than the march of gentrification, the rising cost of rent and the general running up the down escalator of trying to survive there in a creative pursuit. It's infectious, a record and a band that don't shirk away from documenting the toil, but also offer some fight, some life and some colour in setting about taking on the challenges to cope with it.