The whole “book by its cover” assessment certainly applies when it comes to the Sharp Ends’ debut album for Kill Shaman. The slapdash ugliness of the record’s sleeve hints at the transparent post-punk influences and the noisier side of hardcore tough that will be on full display once you get up the nerve to put it on. If Sharp Ends were homogenous as the Mancurian revival that sprouted up nearly a decade ago, this would be an artifact of dated, played-out waste as lousy as that cover. The artwork on their first Hozac single was equally horrific, but when I allowed the Calgary band the privilege of my basement turntable, I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. Sure, it’s basically what Interpol did way back then, only ratcheted up to a level sufficient for freaks, fuzzheads and working-class denizens who consider Interpol too bourgeois. It was generic in a sense, but had the energy to sustain and frequently amaze on repeated listens.
Now with a full-length, the band has the opportunity to show some personality. On the raucous first half, they show a considerable flare for shape-shifting. It’s not completely brooding dourness and automaton post-post for Sharp Ends; songs like “Mother Squid” and “The Other Door” display either a great sense of humor or a complete break from the bleak norms. The later shows they aren’t afraid of guitar solos, something rare in this strain of aggressive rhythms and monochrome riffs, while the former gets loose in angular neon recalling a shadier, soot-covered Brainiac. Those two sides come to a head on “44,” wherein it’s as if Ian Curtis came back from the dead to front some feral Midwestern glam punk sideshow. “Senseless Feeling” reminds that Sharp Ends are likely not that young and pine for those ’90s heroes, such as Polvo or Fugazi, who had a propensity for anthem even as their grind was always against the grain. The Sharp Ends do benefit greatly from the gritty blown-out production, the vacuums of feedback, and general chaos of the sound. And the constant energy doesn’t hurt either. For all of those premier adjectives, though, the second half begins to drain as soon as “Teenage Warfare” runs off the rails and the lengthy, drag of “Hybernation” confuses all together. Sharp Ends are cathartic for sure, but there’s really nothing there to grab onto or connect with, though I doubt Sharp Ends are looking for warmth or compassion. Similar to recent downers like the Factums and Nothing People, Sharp Ends thrive on being disconnected.
Kevin J. Elliott