A name like Sløtface tends to be a bit of a giveaway that you might be trying too hard. If you want a title like that, you best have the chops to move beyond it. Fortunately for the Norwegian four-piece, they’ve certainly got excellent cuts in their repertoire. Having made a splash last year with their previous EP, Empire Records, the pop-punksters have set the stage for their, surprisingly solid, debut, Try Not To Freak Out. Taking all the best bits from the ilk of Green Day and Blink-182, the album works because it is unabashedly youthful. This is a juvenile record with all the positive and negative connotations that come with that word present. Musically, there’s a joie de vivre keeping everything buoyant as the lyrics get lost in layers of retro references and a certain wistfulness. They’re young, but they’re not that young. They want to have fun and find a semblance of meaning, be that tearing the place down to sounds of Bohemian Rhapsody or reminiscing about adolescent slumber parties.
A real joy here is how tight the whole record is. It’s barely over 30 minutes and it is better for it. Unlike the last, similarly themed LP from Honeyblood, there’s no mucking around with long, meandering tangents. Songs start, they’re played at 110% speed and intensity, then they finish and the next cut begins. It’s a proper cheeky, quick collection that avoids being flimsy or overwrought by wrapping up everything in layers of exult and a firm understanding of what they are. These are not the tone poems of a generation so devoid of direction that the only definition they can derive is from a base culture of decades gone by. These are straightforward pop-rock tracks with enough grit and bite to stand out. While vocalist Haley Shea can cleverly mix pop culture references with insightful messages about gender and youth, she’s driven by experiencing good times, than examining them.
The entire collection is decent, but there are three clear contenders for the top spot here: ‘Magazine’, ‘Slumber’ and ‘Sun Bleached’. Each represents the band at the top of their powers in a quietly different ways. ‘Magazine’ deals with body shaming over lovely Sum 41 inspired fun. It takes your favourite elements of pop-punk in the early 2000s and distills it into a tidy furious package and lyrically it’s just wonderful. It recognises the importance of Patti Smith as a symbol of femininity, power, and beauty. She wouldn’t put up with being told that she’s fat by Cosmo so why should you? ‘Sun Bleached’ has this colossal chorus and captures a lot of what’s so exciting about groups such as Metric. But the gold star number is ‘Slumber’. It’s the longest slice from the record and it deserves to be. It’s a rich layer beauty that begins with such minor intentions and ascends to a gigantic, harmonious crescendo. It melds multiple vocal parts, which counteract each other wonderfully, to assist its exploration of the bittersweet memories of childhood sleepover and the realisation that the purity of those moments is gone. It’s an absolute masterclass in this kind of songwriting and they’d be fools not close out every concert with it.
Outside of these three pieces though, Try Not To Freak Out doesn’t really deliver as much as it can. There are dalliances with cool ideas and musical tricks. There are cuts which sound not unlike White Lung (‘Galaxies’) or Refused (‘Night Guilt’). But mostly it’s another six tracks of satisfactory quality. It is variations on a theme, but there is enough deviation to ensure that things don’t feel tired or monotonous. If you’ve been longing for a return to the heavier, more alternative rock interpretation of pop-punk, you’re not going to be disappointed. Will Murphy