HEADSTICKS – Kept In The Dark (STP Records Group STP056)

Kept In The DarkDefining or categorising music can sometimes be difficult.  If you Google Headsticks you find them defined as Alternative/Indie.  Their website, however, says  FOLK, PUNK, ROOTS, REVOLUTION. The website is probably a better definition of the music to be found on their new album Kept In The Dark.  Headsticks formed in 2012 and although they have built their reputation through live performance the back catalogue of two studio albums, two studio EPs and a live album in that time show they’re more than willing to get their music out to a wide audience.

Kept In The Dark is impressive before even a note has been played, being produced in the style of a hardback children’s book although I suspect the mushrooms on the front cover aren’t the sort found in a Sunday breakfast. Mushrooms are the image of this album because they’re kept in the dark and fed on…  Inside, the clearly printed lyrics are interspersed with photos from live shows and you can sense the energy and raw power the band brings to those.  The band, incidentally, are Andrew Tranter (lead vocals), Stephen Dunn (guitar & vocals), Nick Bayes (bass & vocals) and Tom Carter (drums & vocals).  So the album cover looks and feels good, with a lot of thought and production in the packaging, but what of the music?

The intro to track one ‘When?’ lasts three seconds then straight into driving guitar and drums with the first lyric being a screamed “yeah!” and we’re off.    Back to production values the lyrics sit well above the instruments so every word is crystal clear and Taylor doesn’t rush to get them out at the expense of enunciation.  The concept of punk, after the genre started to worry about gold discs, found a natural home in folk music because it was stories about ordinary people wanting to be heard. Headsticks have got something to say and they make sure you hear it.

A thought provoking track, one very relevant to now, is ‘The Song For Song’s Sake’ with a great chorus.

This is the song it’s the song for songs sake
It doesn’t mean nothing cus we’ve got nothing to say
This is the song and it don’t mean nothing
Singing la la la, hey hey hey…”

In each verse there’s a dichotomy so people are sitting around the festival fire pit, you can almost hear the bongos and see the dreadlocks, whilst across the world there’s another disaster unfolding as we sit “drinking whiskey with a steampunk pirate”.

The album is full of these insights.  ‘Out Of Fashion’ is certainly a dig at the slactivists we all know, perhaps even are.

Get angry with the TV?
Point our fingers at the screen?
Whilst we post our latest status,
of the false lives we all dream?

I’ve quoted far more lyrics already than I normally do in a review because this is an album where the words are important and ‘Out Of Fashion’ is spoken word rather than sung but this album is also worth listening to for the music which is good and tight.  Perhaps the biggest difference in this latest evolution of punk is that people can play the instruments and give us musically good songs without losing the edge.  I’d love to see this band at a festival because I know the audience will be moving and throwing themselves in to it completely.  The buzz of a live performance must be incredible.

So is it punk? Or folk? Or roots?  Yes, to all of them.  These are story songs with an arc and chosen to be played amplified and electronically but some of the tracks, ‘All Of The Trees’ for example, would work well acoustically.   With sixteen tracks on the albums there’s plenty of variety.

Should you buy Kept In The Dark?  Yes, unambiguously.  I love traditional music and, at it’s heart, this is an album of traditional music for the 21st century.  It can be bought as both CD and vinyl from the artist’s website as well as the usual platforms.

Tony Birch

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Artist’s website: http://www.headsticks.co.uk

‘Peace Or War’ – official video: