When your oldest band member is 20 and you’re already drawing comparisons to ambitious, well-respected groups like Balance and Composure, you must be doing something right. As the punk scene continues to saturate with small, self-made bands that have garnered rabid fan bases, it is harder and harder to stand out as a young group. Reward’s latest EP is a prime example of the value of great music standing a head above all other factors.
There is nothing dispassionate about Painted Desperation – nothing detached or uninvolved. From start to back the band’s five-track EP is stacked with emotional highs and lows, channeled through dynamic instrumental changes and Rob Blackwell’s shout to sweet vocal change-ups. Opening track “Seep” charges into gear with a muffled intro giving way to thick chords and well-produced rhythm tones. Blackwell’s vocals are on display right away as he pulls back in the bridge, quietly murmuring over picked notes before launching into the throaty second verse. Right off the bat “Seep” serves up many of the band’s strengths in an introductory package.
On “Soft Teeth” they show their ability to take the tempo up a notch with a killer intro accentuated by cracking flames from Olek Gierczak on the drums and great interplay between guitarists Will Higgins and Joe McLaughlin. Later in the EP, “Bob” gives the band some room to tell a story, drawing out the track’s bleak lyrics over five minutes of bridges and segments. It’s not the album’s best song, but it shows a desire to push past the easiest arrangements, and deserves accolades for going outside of the band’s comfort zone.
The ultimate challenge for the band moving forward will be to separate themselves from the minor titans that they are being lumped in with. Over the course of Painted Desperation there are a number of moments that are almost too reminiscent of Reward’s more established influences. Clearly the band has their heads on straight, as they’ve done a great job of presenting quality over quantity, but as they mature and release more material it will be interesting to see how they can step outside of the comparisons and build their own legacy.