On Heartsounds’ 2010 debut, Until We Surrender, singer-guitarists Ben Murray and Laura Nichol sought to distance themselves from their past as death-metal musicians. And they succeeded. But where Surrender roars with open-throated pop-punk passion, the group’s new album, Drifter, feels clenched and technical. It’s as if, after proving themselves unfussy enough to play punk, Murray and Nichol felt the misguided need to prove their worth as full-on shredders again.
Metallic pop-punk, of course, is as old and honorable as Dag Nasty. Drifter, though, is no Can I Say. “Race To The Bottom” unfortunately embodies its title by racing to the bottom of a trunk of moldy hair-metal licks; the guitar squalls that punctuate almost every measure of “Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Open” are about as well-placed and effective as a dentist’s drill to the spine; and the overall chunkiness detracts from the disc’s speed and power instead of adding to it. None of these elements are inherently bad, but Drifter does a muddled, middling job of jamming them together.
Lack of cohesion aside, Drifter in many ways improves on Surrender. Murray and Nichol’s sweet-and-sour harmonies have surged forward, and tracks like the sprawling “Echo” show just how much they’ve matured as songwriters without abandoning their earnest core of youth and yearning. And “You Are Not Your Body” showcases Nichol’s incredible lead vocals, which imagine what Paramore’s Hayley Williams might sound like with an old soul and a shitload more grit. Despite what some might think, punk and metal are not enemies; hopefully after Drifter, Heartsounds will learn you don’t have to starve one to feed the other.