Review Summary: Rock hard for hard rock.
Houston’s Narrow Head seem to be singularly focused on one thing – writing, recording, and touring on quality, no frills hard rock songs. The quintet eschews the bells and whistles of today’s ultra-sleek production and superfluous songwriting in favor of tightly crafted, muscular songs which are inspired by the past, yet driven by the anxieties, uncertainties, and tribulations of present day. Sonically, the band’s third full-length album, Moments of Clarity
, is built upon a foundation of massive riffs and sugary hooks not unlike those that dominated mid-to-late 90’s airwaves and reinforced with touches of nu-metal aggression that emerged at the turn of the millennium.
Although much of Moments of Clarity
is wrapped in a veil of melancholic acceptance towards the day-to-day state of life these days, there exists a level of muffled optimism and charm which serves as Narrow Head’s secret weapon throughout these twelve tracks, starting immediately with album opener, “The Real”. From the leadoff riff, which tiptoes the line between hopeful and dissociative, listeners are left to wonder whether frontman Jacob Duarte’s droning croons of “How good does it feel/To be you/To be real now?” are genuine or dripping with sarcasm. Regardless of the interpretation, “The Real” is a compelling beginning to an album chalk full of memorable moments. Should have been single “Sunday” erupts with a cautiously bright, driving riff that would have sounded right at home nestled in the middle of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack. “Fine Day” is a tale of two halves, starting with a riff that shifts from dissonant to resonant and concluding with an extended buildup which sounds simply cathartic. Arguably the brightest track of the bunch, “Caroline” sparkles with an almost carefree, head in the clouds attitude featuring a sublime chorus that finds Narrow Head at their most melodic and accessible. Once the shiny lead guitarwork and subtle background vocals manifest for the first time during the third chorus, it becomes clear “Caroline” was cleverly calculated to get heads bobbing and mouths humming.
Narrow Head delve into their heavier influences in the final quarter of the album with the one-two punch of “Gearhead” and “Flesh & Solitude”. The former breaks out with three minutes of angular riffs and Duarte’s raw, impassioned screaming only tempered by a morose chorus and brief bridge reprieve. Album highlight “Flesh & Solitude” could have slotted in comfortably on Deftones’ Around the Fur
and slithers along in a sinister groove before unfolding into a bleak refrain complete with tortured background screaming that is just as captivating as it is unsettling. While the implementation of heavier influences works incredibly well alongside the band’s more melodic, dreamy material, Moments of Clarity
is not blemish free.
Narrow Head experiment with dissonance and tension to mixed results, particularly on “The World” and album closer, “Soft to Touch”. “Although only appearing front and center in the first minute of “The World”, the keyboard notes used sound jarring and quite frankly, unpleasant. Oddly enough, when the keys come back around in the second half of the song buried further in the mix, they add an extra interesting layer to the song as originally intended without sticking out like a sore thumb. “Soft to Touch” surprises almost instantly when a digital drum beat kicks in underneath a sludgy guitar riff. While experimentation is welcomed, choosing to conclude the album with a digital drum beat after abstaining from any real gotcha moments leading up to the song makes the switch-up on “Soft to Touch” feel out of place.
Despite those minor criticisms, there is something really refreshing about Narrow Head’s one-track mind for writing, recording, and playing humble and honest dreamy hard rock in this day and age. There are no big dick egos on display here, just tasteful musicianship focused on crafting each song with the care and attention they deserve without excess. Powered by big riffs and cautious optimism, Moments of Clarity
serves as both a comforting glance over the shoulder to the past and another courageous step into an unpredictable and unnerving future. Hopefully, Narrow Head will be out there on a main stage somewhere playing a thrilling soundtrack for listeners throughout the years to come.