Album Review: Shame by Tough Age (2017) (Mint Records)

The only constant since the 2015 sophomore album, I Get The Feeling Central, is the relationship between band/label (Mint Records, responsible for notable releases from acclaimed artists such as New Pornographers and Neko Case) that has produced a third full length release.

Beyond that, consistent change has been the only constant. Relocation of two key personnel

(Jarrett/Clark) meant the loss of two members and the introduction of ex-Ketamines and Century Palm drummer Jesse Locke, taking the band from a four to three piece format.

To my mind this has been immensely beneficial as there appears to have been something of a musical attitude shift as well, or at the very least a realization that sometimes the dreaded change many of us circumvent innovation because of, is actually a massive, if sometimes painfully unavoidable, chance to reinvigorate.

Such re-invigoration sees Tough Age partially reinvent themselves into something that fluffy jangle-pop fans can now accommodate within our quest for melody. Gone is the complete reliance upon the battering incendiary guitar riffs and all things fuzz that was seen in their previous releases. The sound has now been stripped down to an almost Dunedin Sound clarity that employs the tried and trusted ‘hit formula’ of the loud/soft dynamic in many tracks. It is brilliant musical replacement.

This new austere sound now offers three different types of guitar melody, which act as a foundation for the more incendiary moments that their more punk inclined fan base will be pleased to know are never far away. Initially their is the spiky, plucked guitar work seen in a track such as the opener, Everday Life (See below). This track sees Tough Age adopt an impulsive almost antsy style that bands such as Wire may have employed in their ‘more weird moments’ and Devo may have employed in their ‘more normal moments’. It works primarily because it never lets the listener settle.

The second type of new sound can be seen in tracks such as Piquant Freeze and Unclean. These are all things Dunedin Sound with viscous bass lines that only avoids being Post-punk bracketed due to the overriding treble melodies that provide them with viable escape routes. Effectively Unclean (see below), the primary single from the album, is the best track that The Clean never performed.

Finally there is also the continuation of the greater emphasis that was seen in the previous EP (2015’s Play’s Cub Hot Dog Day) in terms of utilizing the vocals prowess of Penny Clark. Clark takes vocals on two tracks, the best of which is the fantastic The Muffs / Buzzcocks type fusion which, added to her sweeter, more laconic vocals, creates a perfect template for a more power-pop based sound.

Effectively the stripping down of all the things that may have been considered as Punk oriented in the Tough Age sound has now seen all the fuzz replaced with melody and without losing any of the pith, thrust or spite (well perhaps just a little spite). Great stuff indeed.

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