Wagers – New Guilt

New Guilt coverHailing from Brooklyn, Wagers play upbeat melodic punk rock – poppy and rich with simple hooks, but not blandly slick. New Guilt is, as far as I can see, their first record, and it’s a pretty solid release. The production strikes a good balance between polish and allowing the band’s faintly 70s fuzz enough room to breathe. Think 70s UK pop-punk with a healthy topping of US garage rock by way of The Replacements and you’re heading along the right track.

Opener ‘Spun’ begins as the band mean to go on: looping lyrical refrains over mildly more-ish melodies and a catchy rhythm, it sets the tone well; ‘Red Shirt’ follows, a short track opening with feedback over a thumping drumbeat, culminating in a pleasant cacophony. It doesn’t hang, though, essentially serving as an intro to ‘New Guilt’.  The eponymous track deploys similar tricks to the opening tune but it doesn’t suffer for it.

New Guilt, overall, is inflicted with what – for lack of a better term – I’ll call the mush effect. Which is to say that the album, as a whole, is composed of songs that are plumbing very similar territory. This is not necessarily a criticism; there’s a hell of a lot of great music out there which sounds pretty similar. Hell, if you’re into punk rock you can probably name offhand half a dozen records which you love that don’t vary a huge amount. Teenage Bottlerocket or Screeching Weasel, anyone? And New Guilt, let me be clear, has enough variation to carry it through: take ‘Drunk Dial’, which dials up the intensity over a rhythm that stands apart from its fellows; ‘Running Wild’ sees the band stepping furthest away from formula with more tonal variation and some memorable lead licks; ‘Hold the Reins’ occupies mid-pace territory in contrast with the mostly fairly pacey tunes. But even where the band cleave closely to the New Guilt pattern the results are enjoyable, as with the frantic and loose ‘Food Stamps’ and the hooky ‘Drugs’. Lyrically, a few snatches occasionally leap out: ‘Sorry Scene’s’ “now this is not my city, so I don’t know how I can call it a home” is a case in point, alongside the thematically contiguous ‘Drugs’ and ‘Getting Bent’ (which, for my money, concern getting straight but struggling with the realities of knowing those who aren’t).

New Guilt isn’t going to rock your world, but it’s an enjoyable record that’ll provide the soundtrack to a few evenings, or drives, or walks, or whatever. Fairly average, sure, but at what point did average become a bad thing?

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