Well, maybe not quite everything, but the title of Merit Maker’s album does give an excellent insight as to what’s on offer here. Get ready for adjectives like ‘furious’, ‘energized’, ‘snarling’ and ‘explosive’.
I hope these guys are sponsored by Remo or Evans etc., as, within a few tracks, I felt like the life expectancy of their drummer’s skins was likely short to done! Do Merit Maker explore any tempo slower than blistering? We’ll see…
Yes, the way that the sub-2 minute Second Glance comes roaring out of the traps very much sets the standard (and the pace) for what’s to come. The slabs of guitar (that sound like they are tipping their cap to Julian Cope’s seminal Saint Julian album) are at once widescreen and limber, prepping the listener for the blistering rhythm section. Melody and intelligence jockey for position amongst the mashed cymbals and battered skins as the band race, breathless and assured, to a terrific and satisfying climb out that has a proper rock and roll ending designed to be performed live.
Next up is Erase You, which boasts not only a genre-compliant nihilistic title, but also a surprisingly delicate choice of harmony vocal on the main hook of the song, which betrays a pop nous that was a little surprising – but certainly not unwelcome. The insistent, repetitive verse melody makes it an instant sing-along number and the shouted vocal section is an instant adrenalin-inducer. Hiding under the guitar orchestration and the general feeling of being assailed by some great musicianship, I was surprised to note a synth was actually holding down a pedal note here and there that really thickens the sound.
Raging On continues in the same vein. Until it doesn’t. The rhythms chop and change and the rhythm section catch each other for great moments of subtlety and emphasis with some deft skill – and the rampant joy running through the track is brilliantly communicated here. Individual hits on the bell of cymbals ring out periodically, and the stomp and strut of individual sections feels impossible to resist. The somewhat elastic vocal performance moves around between underpinning the beat to jumping to unexpected melodic progressions that keep things sonically interesting.
Tight. That’s what Merit Maker’s playing is.
Unfollow All adds new colours to the sound, with the vocals and guitars teaming up to project in unison, and the more subtle production ideas finally becoming a little more pronounced as a section gets flanged/phased. It’s got a slightly more laid-back feel, this track, and a more conventional structure in the build-up.
But with the sub-2 minute So Blinded, we are back to furious, fizzing drums and, perhaps surprisingly, now it’s time for the guitars to get to wander off in something of an exploration, rather than simply delivering the vim and vigour of previous arrangements. The song’s outro sees the snare drum get battered into tissue paper in an astonishing display of energy and I’m left pretty breathless.
Upward Climb finally sees the tempo gear shift I was expecting, and I’m put in mind of Green Day or similar. The snarl on the vocal gets some space to emote with guitars getting another chance to poke their heads above water. It’s a tune with a yearning melody and exhibits some great feel and thought to the arrangement.
If that sounds unexpected, Social Unrest starts to feature keyboard textures as well as backing vocals performing hooky sing-along ‘woah-oh-oh’ pads. More guitar techniques are showcased, delivering on the promise of the band’s versatility and nicely-judged touch.
‘Get into the mindset / There’s lots to be done yet’. How true! Escapist Habits features more new colours, especially in terms of the guitars’ harmonic work.
Slipping Away features everything that’s great about Attitude is Everything. Tight parts, real musical intelligence and dextrous playing. Unexpected twists and turns, amazing and imaginative rhythms. Thoughtful, complimentary production. And as such, Slipping Away is the perfect album closer.
The album weighs in at just over 28 minutes. Not one of them is wasted. Attitude is Everything. Well, maybe. But it’s this reviewer’s opinion that the punk aesthetic certainly doesn’t suffer from being in the hands of musicians as thoughtful and skilled as these.