Review Summary: Scotland's 2009 victory lap is an excellent pop-punk debut with restraint and intrigue.
They've run away with it. It's been a good year for British music, whoever you ask; Florence has stormed pop charts, Muse have towered over mainstream rock and Fightstar's Be Human has grown into a post-hardcore favourite. But - much as it pains me to say it - per capita, I doubt the last 12 months have seen any country in the world match the musical output from north of the border. The Twilight Sad found their ways onto NME's Top 100 Albums Of The Decade; Broken Records and We Were Promised Jetpacks both released incredibly impressive indie-rock records; Frightened Rabbit somehow outdid themselves with a live record. Taking the baton for the final leg are a Glaswegian pop-punk band called Twin Atlantic, and it should suffice to say that they've done it again.
Actually, Twin Atlantic have done it for the first time; their 2009 debut record, Vivarium, is a brilliant example of an album that takes ideas from everything on the spectrum between pop-rock and post-hardcore and blends it into something digestible, invigorating and long-lasting. Swerving guitar lines, intoxicating hooks and talented musicianship are everywhere between the very first riff (which screeches as if to announce something immensely heavy but quickly dives out the way) and the very last gently strummed chord. Imperfect, hyperactive vocals dominate the stage, delivering an octet of mesmerizing pop-rock tracks that very rarely let up in terms of quality, and deliver all the diversity needed to prove that the band behind them have real potential to be around for a long time.
What Twin Atlantic have going for them is their understanding of how to use the genre they work in and the ones they sometimes touch upon; Vivarium is a markedly mature offering for a band just out of Pop Rock 101
. The group are perfectly capable of climaxing with class and passion - see the coda to You're Turning Into John Wayne
where Craig Kneale's drums hit a huge tempo - but the band are fully versed in not giving too much away straight away, and they can even groove, too. John Wayne
doesn't peak until 2 minutes in, and at least 4 of the 8 tracks on this LP show the ability to build through transitions that are frequently unexpected. Twin Atlantic aren't afraid to trip their listener up - in fact, they seem to enjoy it - by dropping volume when you'd expect a chorus or shifting direction entirely (see the end of Old Grey Face
, which bursts unpredictably back into life half a minute from the end, employing a wall of distorted guitars which still manage to become a hook despite their cameo appearance. Mid-album standout Caribbean War Syndrome
is mid-tempo and totally impossible to pin down, exploding and melting away a dizzying number of times, but Twin Atlantic never get lost - their guitars are under control, and their melodies are still ridiculously catchy, it's just their songwriting that's a cut above the rest.
It may earlier have seemed a little arbitrary to congratulate a nation on its musical output - it's hardly like the success of a nation's artists relies on its grassroots training schemes, after all - but in fairness there is one aspect of being Scottish that gives aspiring bands a head-start before the starting gun has even been loaded: the voice. The Scottish accent is, it would seem, the only existing tone capable of conveying all manner of emotions and ideas all at the same time as high-fiving you and buying you a drink. Sam McTrusty, even disregarding his awesome name, has a lot going for him in any case, his energy propelling tracks like Old Grey Face
to another level entirely, and his personable softer side serving just as well on songs like closer Better Weather
, which is a heartfelt ballad whose patient guitars lend an atmosphere that most pop-rock bands could only dream of. The other effect that the last track has is very simple; it's a beautiful track, but it doesn't climax, and since the record stands at 33 minutes anyway, the only option is to go back to the beginning and play Vivarium through yet again. It's hardly a chore.