by Phillipe Roberts
The prevailing lingo of rock criticism comes in cycles. Orbiting around each other in perfect synchronization, “jangle” and “angular” drift in and out of vogue, as stylistic obsession with Byrds-like chime and Sonic Youth “squall” (another favorite) pile on top of one another in a seemingly infinite stacking game. With the current era of big name bedroom pop stars, we’ve been pretty aggressively shunted out of our moody post-punk years into another era of jangle, with plenty of acts stepping up to the plate to deliver the sun-kissed jams your winter Vitamin D deficiency is calling for.
Let me be clear: Salad Boys are not that band. Their imitation 12-string shimmer might scratch that R.E.M. itch, but there’s a distinct, abiding darkness crowding around the edges of the songs on their second LP, This Is Glue, that guides it somewhere cozy yet sinister. Like sunlight narrowly slipping through the grates into your basement bedroom, illumination is slim, and warmth as distant as a YouTube video of a fireplace.
But as you listen to the record, the heavy blankets of fuzz, the melancholy, burnt-out delivery of singer Joe Sampson, and the tendency towards 90s alt-rocking slacker romance deliver a potent antidote to this winter blues, a sunlamp for the Seasonally Affected.
The Boys do it with a bit of range thrown in to keep you interested. Opener “Blown Up” shows off their Strokes-esque affinity for riffs that grow like vines, twisting each other, and pounds it out over wide open stretches of robotic punk. At several points, the New Zealanders show off a country twang, but always with a kind of disaffected, knowing wink a la Talking Heads’ “The Big Country”. Look no further than their own “Exaltation” or “Going Down Slow,” where slide guitar and the gentle buzzing of violin amble over supple curves.
Sampson’s vocal style slots finds its source in somnambulant My Bloody Valentine vibing, eternally rocking a bedhead grogginess even at his most energetic, on the upbeat pounding rocker “Choking Sick.” But Salad Boys aren’t given over to total apathy, despite song titles like “Scene Route to Nowhere,” whose fried but bubbly punch borrows heavily from the Velvet Underground/Television school of drone anthemics to deliver a rousing wake-up call in the instrumental breaks. There’s actually energy to spare, and almost a sense that they’re always one step away from breaking out of their sleepy cage entirely, if only they could kick the hazy stupor of last night’s excesses.
It’s an interesting niche that Salad Boys have wandered into - eternally bummed, but never enough to sit out the promise of a good time. As winter begins its slow dissolve, This is Glue is one to keep queued up for hauling yourself out of bed.