The Hellphones - This is How

2006-09-12 10:51
The romantic view of rock n roll is that the more cocky and relentless it is, the better. The Hellphones do exhibit a certain confidence and cockiness – and their debut effort certainly feels unyielding. And for it’s intentions, that’s OK.

But sadly, this view of what makes rock n roll is far from the truth, as This is How demonstrates. “Cocky and relentless” very seldom works for an entire album – and only so when done by very, very old and grizzled and experienced geezers – see Electric (1987) by The Cult or even Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed and The Way To Suck Eggs (1992) by Ministry.

It’s “clever and multifaceted” that often works better, especially for debut albums like This is How . That it will likely speak to a young audience isn’t in itself a bad thing. The band can’t be questioned on its recording performance, much of which is as vigorous and committed as their best live shows are reputed to be. The Hellphones were even good enough to place as very close runners up in the 2005 RP Emerging Sounds competition – a national contest - and part of their eventual prize was this recording through Sheer.

It wasn’t a second-rate prize, either. The production on This is How (by Durban recording guru Dave Birch) is deliciously crisp. There’s a bright edge to the sound design that’s exciting to listen to, and pleasurable in the sense that real dark chocolate is thrilling to the taste.

It’s an awful shame, then, that most of the songs are not particularly memorable. Whether it’s a case of short-ended songwriting, over-elaborate arrangement or a lack of compelling lead-work is debatable. But the fact is that the unremitting frenetic pace and similarly droning vocal style struggle to capture the subtleties of the genre. At times it even feels like the band is purposely trying to suffocate a simple but effective riff or melody line. Crazy.

Of course you could also argue that this is the band at its most pure, seemingly unbridled by the limitations of needing to create music with a more critical appeal. But even the most “rock ‘n roll” of rock’s rollers knew the importance of protecting a good hook. And it’s especially important when all of your work is up-tempo, high-energy and somewhat – erm… loud.

So while none of the tracks are particularly poor or even really weak, it’s frustrating to leave This is How feeling like you’ve been short-changed on what it promised.

- Anton Marshall
There are no soft moments in its 11 tracks, and that means only under-twenties will have the energy or inclination to listen to all of This is How in one go.

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