The cover for Sauna Youth's second full-length presents the band as relatively unassuming types: casually poised in what appears to be pretty normal surroundings, it alludes to something typically inoffensive, but despite their namesake, Sauna Youth are indeed the antithesis of every safe, derivative band residing under the indie bracket in 2015.
A continuously evolving collective, both Sauna Youth and their sister band Monotony are essentially punk bands that embrace the contradictions that go with the stereotypical notion of punk, and it's this tendency to simultaneously subvert and embrace genres that makes them incomparable. For the sake of context, however, the Buzzcocks' seminal 'Spiral Scratch' EP still has the same pertinence now as it did back in 1977; though with less importance, there's a sneaking suspicion that 'Distractions' will have a similar effect in terms of endurance. While some albums with immediate appeal often reveal themselves to be hollow at the core, others simply enhance and improve over time, and 'Distractions' is a prime example of the latter. Essentially, this record was made for repeated listens.
It's a bold comparison to make, and while sharing only subtle sonic similarities with the Buzzcocks – such as the frantic, visceral urgency and an aversion to having gaps in between songs – they share more of a likeness with the Ramones. But it's not just punk that this band are informed by, as evidenced in the poppy brilliance of the guitar melodies and shout-along choruses. Instrumentally primitive, it's the lyrical idiosyncrasies that give the album its unique quality. What's more, every word is sung in unison by Calleja and Phoenix to create a voice of no specific gender, so everything is sung from multiple perspectives.
It's difficult to choose a definitive, prevailing moment here, as each song has its own respective merits: 'Transmitters' is already a punk classic, and the bassy 'Modern Living' is frighteningly addictive, but it's the wonderful juxtaposition of the reflective 'Taking A Walk' – in which Jen Calleja's articulate, poetically surreal discourse is underpinned by little more than quiet drum beats and hushed, melancholic guitar lines – that is an unusual highlight. This, preceded by the dissonant 'Future Tense' makes the record pleasingly conflicting, just when you thought that the album was explicitly defined by chaos.
So what makes this group different to any other 'indie' band with a seeming reverence for the past? The regressive tendency in music is nothing new; it will always look to the past for inspiration for its own development, and a lot of it is essentially recycled and retrofitted to befit the era it exists in. Sauna Youth are a case in point, but rather than simply replicating bygone sounds of yore, they've incorporated a distinctively modern take on punk – perhaps aided by a persistent theme of contempt for modern life and the "technology age". In turn, they don't really sound like anything else out there at the moment, and their outward pessimism is a welcomed alternative.
Without getting too deep and meaningful and forgetting that 'Distractions' is simply an album of indelible punk jams, it's also the sound of a disillusioned and discontented generation, and their collective vitriol speaks volumes for the rest of us. If ever there was an appropriate case for not judging a book by its cover, then Sauna Youth would be it. Don't let this one pass you by.
Words: Hayley Scott
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