As I sat down and prepared to write a review of Sainthood Reps’ sophomore album, Headswell, I couldn’t help but think about Brand New. I mean, it’s kind of obvious how much Sainthood Reps channels a lot of their vibes — strickening guitar riffs, screamed choruses, nearly-depressing, yet thoroughly comforting lyrics. And it makes sense. Guitarist Derrick Sherman has been a touring member of the rock group since 2005. But, while it gives Sainthood Reps immense comparability to Brand New, especially as they really dig into their sound musically and creatively on their second release, in no way does it weaken them. Instead of making them feel inferior or unoriginal, the astute – and very subtle – similarities between the two bands actually make them stand out considerably. In many ways, it makes Headswell one of the year’s rawest, most emotion-packed records.
Sainthood Reps’ first album, Monoculture, was a hard-hitting jam-fest full of articulate vocal patterns and lyricism. On the contrary, Headswell, while not being as in-your-face, is still a hard-hitting record. It’s just that a lot of the album’s sheer power and intensity comes from their vulnerable playing style. The meshing of rough and smooth guitars, the underlying darkness, and the intricate songwriting make this release resonate. To sum it up, it’s really Brand New-esque, and it’s really good.
Opener “Shelter” aptly defines what this record is. It’s unrestrained, jammy, and memorable. Vocalist Francesco Montesanto takes the song in random directions as he screams out angst-ridden lines about death (“I’m sick of thinking about my last breath / Or how love is just what happens before death”). The content is some pretty deep stuff, and the striking musicianship complements it. The guitars are dense and overflowing with feedback and noise. However, “Desert Song” sees the band fall more in place with their soft-meets-heavy strategy, and the rest of the album follows suit.
Montesanto sounds a lot more like Jesse Lacey on the second track, and he does his best to unleash his innermost emotions as he sings. In the “Jesus”-esque “The Last Place I Left You”, the frontman thrusts his way through thick melodies and instrumental rawness. The band seems just as likely to play with a heartfelt decency, as on tracks like “Drone” and “Run Like Hell”, they pick specific times to rock out, using a large portion of these songs to play chilling, more soothing melodies. The mix is a perfect combination. It works effectively in “Quitter” as well, as Sainthood Reps comes together to bombard the listener with energy and overall feeling. In fact, the instrumentation in the song stands alongside Explosions In the Sky in terms of sheer beauty.
As the band ends the album with “Breath Worth Breathing”, a more upbeat, uplifting acoustic song, it becomes clear that – after a few years of playing together – Sainthood Reps is coming into their own. Their songwriting is consistent, mature, and effectual, and their musical abilities seem to have improved in terms of layering, transitioning, and compactness. Not a single song on Headswell holds itself back. They’re all full of emotions, and they’re all exceedingly powerful. Since Brand New hasn’t released new material since 2009, it’s nice to know that a band knows how to succeed in doing what those guys do best — without trying too hard to be those guys.
Indie Rock/Punk | No Sleep Records