REVIEW: Head North – ‘Bloodlines’

head north

Artist: Head North
Album: Bloodlines
Label: Bad Timing Records
Genre: Pop-Punk, Indie Rock

I can clearly remember the first time I heard the mastered version of Head North’s first EP, Scrapbook Minds, in early February of 2014. I lazily flipped through the tracks in my iTunes library in no particular order until “Jake’s Apartment” came through my laptop speakers. I listened to the song on repeat about five or six times; I loved that track for its great hook and sense of tension and buildup in the verse, but I was frustrated that the rest of the EP wasn’t quite there for me. I’d come back to Scrapbook Minds every few weeks hoping it would click with me each time, but it never really did.

Toward the end of the summer, Head North released two fantastic new tracks, “In The Water” and “Poor Posture” on a split with Connecticut’s A Will Away. After one listen to “In The Water,” it was clear to me that the band was quickly approaching that potential greatness foreseen in “Jake’s Apartment,” but the split EP’s short, seven-minute runtime always left me wanting more. Alas, we’ve received the band’s Bad Timing Records debut EP, Bloodlines, and it feels like they’ve finally grown up and left the pop-punk nest. Each subsequent track is bigger than the last and shows near-unbelievable growth over all of their past material — it’s hard to accept that this is the same band that was writing relatively safe, generic pop-punk just a year ago. Long gone are the standard tropes found in tracks like “Tremors” from Scrapbook Minds and the shallow lyricism of “Poor Posture.” Bloodlines bleeds with maturity and growth from every seam. With this release, Head North has found their stride and proven themselves as the most important name to know in the pop-punk scene this year.

Bloodlines opens strongly with “Brave Hands,” the clear-cut best song the band has written to date. Vocalist Brent Martone wastes no time in proving his vocal ability as the EP’s lyrical themes are introduced over the massive first chorus. Family is a crucial motif found throughout the EP’s six tracks, and “Brave Hands” voices the topic through the tone of desperation and regret. Each subsequent chorus changes the lyrics to advance the narrative of a son and his father – Martone’s delivery of lyrics like “It’s too late to forgive / what’s done is done, I’ll leave and forget / I hope you pay for what you did” and “you said you’d stay, but they dug a hole / I wish I forgave you before we lost your soul” call to mind the devastating sense of hopelessness found on last year’s Hotelier record. An insanely catchy guitar riff and guest vocals from A Will Away’s Matt Carlson drive the point home at the opener’s climax, and the bar is immediately set very high for the rest of the record.

Martone’s vocal performances are extremely impressive, but the rest of the band is more than capable of keeping up. Drummer Ben Lieber gives a memorable performance with “Bluejay,” which immediately calls to mind the relaxed pace and feeling of The Dangerous Summer’s War Paint. Lieber’s tight performance along with loud, prominent, and tasteful bass from Alex Matos shine particularly in “The Planet” and “The Path,” the record’s conceptual midsection that adequately demonstrates Head North’s surprisingly broad range of ability. “The Planet” showcases the band’s anthemic indie rock influence, complete with spacey guitars, a catchy yet captivating vocal melody, and a double-time final chorus. The track ends with a single guitar line that leads directly into the sinister “The Path,” the EP’s single moment of punk rock grit. “The Path” opens with dark tones and chaotic, screamed background vocals before driving full-force into a chorus that was written with a live crowd in mind. It’s easy to say there’s a heavy hardcore influence in this track, but the end result sounds more like hectic, anxious, rock-and-roll — something in the vein of Brand New’s “You Won’t Know.”

Interlude “Old & Grey” touches further on the concept of family and getting older with one of the EP’s most quotable lyrics, “so when I’m old and grey, I’ll fade away, / but I’ll still remember your face,” before “Windowless” wraps things up. “Windowless” recalls the musical and lyrical weight of “Brave Hands” with the same soaring choruses and a direct counterpoint to the opener’s lyrical theme. While “Brave Hands” shows the speaker worried that he’s doomed to forever be frail and broken like the family from which he came, “Windowless” asserts that he is “the only thing that’s controlling [his] selfish actions” and that his bloodlines do not define his future. The impressive full-circle ending fades out on a glimmer of hope, which contrasts nicely with the record’s general vibe of hopelessness.

Bad Timing Records is advertising Bloodlines as “a beginning,” which is only partially true. With this EP, Head North have nailed down that indefinable spark I heard on “Jake’s Apartment” and “In The Water” in 2014. Every note of this release takes that quality and pulls it in every direction while keeping a strong center point that holds the six-track collection together. Given the short runtime, it’s insanely impressive how many different angles the band takes while still contributing to a larger piece that is best ingested as a whole. The Bloodlines cycle isn’t where Head North’s story begins, but it’s the first time I can honestly say that I fully believe in this band.

SCORE: 10/10
Review written by John Bazley (follow him on Twitter)
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You can purchase Bloodlines via Bad Timing Records’ webstore, iTunes, or Bandcamp.

John Bazley

John Bazley was raised in central New Jersey by the romantic aura of the Asbury Park beachfront, punk rock, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. He is still trying to figure all of this stuff out.

In addition to UTG, John has contributed to Alternative Press and Full Frequency Media. Follow him on Twitter for pictures of his dog.
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