Pale Angels were one of the darkest horses in the race when it came to the best album of last year for me. The transatlantic trio have some serious credentials between them but, their dark and grimy debut, Primal Play was unlike anything they’d done before. Loud, distorted and bleak it echoed early grunge seemingly without trying, although their punk rock roots shone through on more than one occasion. Strange Powers, the band’s new EP, builds on this solid foundation and brings new ideas to the table to push Pale Angels’ sound even further.
Recorded live by the Amsterdam Recording Company as part of their session series, the finished product is raw, unkempt and captures the band pretty (im)perfectly. Their fierce and tenacious songs are lent more weight by the, almost distant sounding, lo-fi recordings and are emphasised by unrivaled amounts of distortion. At times it feels like the songs are just breaking through and repeated exposure to them reveals a little more each time. The noise is glorious. Wailing guitars and thumping drums provide backing for, almost elusive, murky vocals and yet it still manages to achieve an engrossing level of musicality.
It’s almost in spite of themselves that Strange Powers manages to find melody. Still, this is music that is lacking in the bullshit department. It’s discordant with a hard edge, but there’s a warmth to it that’s all too hard to find on a lot of modern recordings. From the up-tempo, indie-punk, sound of ‘Just Faces’ to the much simpler, trad-punk inspired, ‘La Equina’ it just feels, for lack of a better term, real. These two tracks alone - totalling three minutes in total - show that Pale Angels aren’t out of ideas yet and that alone is exciting enough. ‘Crazy Rhythms’ sees the band continuing to tap the old school punk vein, turning The Feelies’ indie-pop track into an entirely new beast. This is thanks, in part, to Mikey Erg’s simple yet powerful drumming. Not only does it double the pace of the original, it’s the lifeblood of this excellent cover that’s indistinguishable from the original.
Closing with ‘Romantic Dreams’, a track which turns into little more than distortion porn by the end, Strange Powers is a wild and cathartic EP that feels as much like a roughly recorded jam as it does a brand new release. It doesn’t stay too far from where Pale Angels were with Primal Play, but they’ve managed to expand upon their noisy, discordant, sound whilst keeping it as far-out from what their peers are doing as possible. That alone makes it worth your time.