By Carly Wedding
A year ago, they were playing in suburban basements and sweaty DIY venues to roughly 20 people. Now, they’re playing sold-out shows across the country with You, Me, and Everyone We Know, Weatherbox, and Have Mercy. And with the release of their Bad Timing Records debut Bloodlines, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they’re headlining their own tours in 2016.
Buffalo, New York’s Head North have endured member changes in their short existence that have essentially rendered them a different band. So if you were expecting to hear feisty, angst-ridden punk songs like those on Arrows, stop. Instead, brace yourself for explosive and experimental alternative rock songs that employ a plethora of elements from the second half of the 20th century, including the Ozzy Osbourne era of Black Sabbath, the pre-Street Survivors years of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the successful, yet destructive age of Guns N’ Roses. The band has also taken cues from their older peers in The Wonder Years, Balance and Composure, and tour mates Have Mercy. Bloodlines is comparable to the aforementioned band’s debut The Earth Pushed Back, so it’s not at all surprising that the two acts are spending the last of these winter months on the road together.
One of the best things about this EP is that none of the members purposely show off on it. They’re all extremely skilled instrumentalists, but they’re not arrogant about it. Singer and guitarist Brent Martone’s riff in the beginning of “Brave Hands” slithers straight to Benjamin Lieber’s drumming, building anticipation of his shouted “Believed I was made from frail and broken things,” but the dynamics soften shortly after. This gives Alex Matos’ bass and Ryan Harris’ guitar licks an opportunity to shine and complement one another. It also allows Head North to stand out from other bands in the east coast scene, as it showcases their ability to experiment and stray from the generic pop punk formula.
There’s a running joke among the widespread music scene that bassists are unnecessary or replaceable, but Matos’ skills prove that he is an asset to the band. Too often in pop punk, bass lines match the rhythm guitar exactly, but that’s not the case with Matos. His playing stands out amongst all of the tracks without overcompensating for the fact that he’s “just a bass player.” His lines are similar to those of Ian Farmer from Modern Baseball: creative and noticeable, but not excessive.
The same can be said about Lieber’s drumming. Lieber is talented enough to play complicated and extravagant things, but he’s smart enough to know not to. The fills created by the snares and toms are refreshing. They’re simple and controlled, not unnecessarily ostentatious. Such is the case in the sinister “The Path,” the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired track. After Martone yells “It’s just a stranger and nothing more” for the final time in the intro, Lieber could have easily channeled his inner Keith Moon and pounded on his kit for a good thirty seconds, but he recognizes the importance of simplicity in music. He is the one who plays the instrument, not the other way around.
“Windowless” serves as an appropriate closer to the EP. Structurally, it’s similar to “Closure” by The Story So Far, but it doesn’t sound like it’s copying the Walnut Creek band’s track. “Windowless” is catchy and explosive, and it will definitely incite mosh pits at the band’s future shows. The song closes with the line “I want to feel whole again,” which is a perfect lyric for an EP that wholly encompasses the band’s abilities.
In an interview prior to the release of Bloodlines, Martone said that the band is super fortunate for the opportunities and experiences they’ve had through their music. Between the perfection that is this EP and the U.S. tour with Have Mercy, Head North are destined to achieve levels they never thought possible.
Photos by Taylor Rambo