If you’d looked over Bass Lions’ bios before listening to their music, you wouldn’t be at fault for expecting some bone-shaking beats to come vibrating out of your speakers. But the band’s proclamations of their love for bass end up being misleading, though amusing. Instead the quartet’s third release—a self-titled mix of new material and a B-side of 2007’s More Than Islands—combines some choice elements of ambient, emotive indie rock, prodding an energetic side they didn’t fully reveal on their debut EP.
Bass Lions marks the band’s first release with Fortnight Music, introducing five new songs and a previously unreleased demo to go with the re-release. In many ways the self-titled album makes for an interesting before and after—if you’re the type of person to be into checking out a musical group’s development. Without discounting the poppier elements of their debut, the maturity of Bass Lions’ latest material offers itself up as proof of positive evolution.
The staccato drums of opener “We Got Guts” quickly drives the album into a Bloc Party-like frenzy, tapping into that band’s earlier, breathy anxiety while belting out its titular chorus on repeat. The effect is a flurry of defiance as the pressure inside the song builds, building up to keep time with the ever-present, never-relenting beat.
Nothing in Bass Lions’ new repertoire of songs comes close to matching the chaotic energy of the opening track, but the lingering scarcity of “Arm Over Arm” following the heavy opener—primarily a mix of drums and whirring loops—fuses nicely with the stripped down, visual vocals that softly stand against the panic of the intro. Nathan Stretch’s affinity for minimalist lyrics on repeat—the catchiest part of “We Got Guts”—finds its stride with “Body Doubles” even as its fingerprints are all over the album. The emotive upturned inflection of his voice brings back some of the intensity of the opener without ever really reaching the song’s climactic pace.
Things slow down even more as Bass Lions heads to its B side, with “Flame-Faced Children” and “Be Your Man” leaving behind the recurring lines and urgency for darker, slower melodies and quietly straining vocals. It’s not nearly as catchy as the beginning, but it does keep the band from sounding like they’re recycling new ideas as the tracks move into their older work.
It also brings things into line with More Than Islands for a neat segue, with spunky but stark “Ransom The Sunset” acting as the bridge to the far more similar “Good God Jesus” (whose demo appears as the bonus track). While the rest of the album can read as a product of its angst-ridden times, the ability of Bass Lions to draw such a clear line from their past to the present in a way that feels organic, while still managing to impress with their growth, is a clever stunt—and a testament to their ethic.
Top tracks: “We Got Guts”; “Body Doubles”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)