“STOUT” is Straightener’s lastest album, released on January 12th.
I’ve got to level with you: this is my very first Straightener album. I can’t pretend to know anything about them or their discography. I can’t fawn over any recurring motifs in their music or wax nostalgic about previous songs. Until last week, the only thing about knew about Straightener was their name. Although I heard later that this is an album of self-covers, I didn't have time to listen to any of their other music before I completed the review. This album has had to stand on its own two feet.
That said, I’ve come out of the album with one big question: Straightener, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?! This is The Band I’ve been waiting for. Well, maybe it’s The Album I’ve been waiting for (since, you know, “STOUT” is all I know of them). “STOUT” delivers true, solid rock. It doesn’t try to act any more highbrow than it is. It doesn’t try to make itself something else. It doesn’t wander away and bring back random adjectives that would only dilute it’s sound. This is no frills rock at it’s best.
I was impressed with the quality of this album from track one. Nothing is skippable. It’s as though Straightener reached directly into my brain and pulled out every little thing I look for in a rock song, then put that into every single track. The guitar riffs are solid, striking a perfect balance between keeping the beat and building off it; most songs are relatively fast-paced, including the sad ones; the energy of each song is insanely high, pulling no punches, demanding that you tap your feet or bob your head or dance; each song nestles into your brain until you find yourself singing along. And, of course, not to be overlooked, my two most neurotic musical needs: the bass and the vocals. The bass comes to the front and plays with the rest of the band, taking on complex riffs of its own rather than sitting in the back, hammering out the beat, pretending to be a stringed drum. The vocals are in the tenor range so that I have the physical ability to sing along, if an octave up.
All of this makes it impossibly hard for me to pick a favorite song. “VANISH” runs fast and breathless, a perfect driving song with sprinting guitar riffs. “BARSERKER TUNE” hardens the sound a bit and brings in maybe just a tiny little whiff of VK with some of the guitar and cymbal work. “SPEEDGUN” has strong bass line that runs like a series of guitar riffs and it hijacks my body, forcing it to sing and dance. “SING” is a happy song that heads in a slightly more upbeat, alternative direction. “A SONG THROUGH WORLD” is the first minor-keyed song but keeps up the speed of the previous tracks. “FREEZING” starts out quietly with some acoustic, then moves back and forth between a minor and major key, mixing in impressive riffing on both the guitar and bass. “PLAY THE STAR GUITAR” has a desperate sound and has some of the strongest vocals. “BIRTHDAY” incorporates strong, memorable drums and guitar that rings out like bells. “CLARITY” is like swimming in the ocean, the bass bubbling through notes, the guitars moving you through deep currents with an undertow of strings. “TODAY” ends the album on a positive note, moving away from the minor key of previous songs and bringing us back around to the running, soaring feeling of “VANISH.” There’s such skillful work on each track, and such small special touches on each, that I just can’t decide which I like best. If you held a gun to my head, you’d have to shoot me.
If there’s anything that I can complain about regarding this album, it’s probably that the tempo and tendency toward major keys makes the songs blend almost too well. They’re not clones of one another; you don’t come out of the album feeling like you’re leaving a longer, rockier version of an Ayu remix single. But they flow into one another so well that the first couple times that I listened to the album it was a little hard for me to remember specific songs. The only two songs that consistently pulled me out of a blurry rush of head bobbing and full-body-dancing were “FREEZING” and “CLARITY,” because they’re the only two with significantly different openings, breaking the spell the previous tracks wove. Also - and this is frankly just a personal pet peeve - near the ends of “FREEZING” and “CLARITY” there are chimes. Chimes! Seriously, Straightener? Chimes? This is rock. These aren’t pop songs, they’re not diva songs, and they’re not chimes songs.
Still, even with these “flaws,” “STOUT” is one of the best complete albums I’ve heard in a very long time. It delivers a solid rock sound that doesn’t try to pander to an audience; instead, each song seems handcrafted for excellence, and each song speaks for itself. Every song is a complete package, nothing left out, no beneficial angle unexplored, each living up to the album title. If you like rock at all, you’ll love “STOUT.” It’s well worth every penny it costs, and more than earning Straightener money, it’s certainly earned them at least one new fangirl.