The Fest – a veritable Disneyland for punk fans, and for any real anoraks of the good stuff, a place where dreams really can come true. Just take the regrouping of Able Baker Fox at the festival back in 2014, the sort of name you’d be forgiven for skimming over on a lineup poster, but comprised of members of Small Brown Bike, The Casket Lottery and Coalesce, the sort you’d be kicking yourself for passing up on.
That is until you actually listen to them and realise there isn’t much to get that worked up over. Despite the clout its components may have individually, it’s worth remembering that Able Baker Fox’s bread and butter still hails from some indistinguishable wave of emo, and thus it’s little surprise how faceless Visions sounds overall. After all, it may be totally competent and listenable in its craft, but with a sound that’s been done to death and much better at that, and a production job from Jawbox’s J Robbins that’s as flat and beige as it gets, there’s barely enough creative instinct on here to pad out an EP, let alone a full album.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to find where any sort of enjoyment comes in, especially for older emo and indie-rock fans. Drift and Dead Canaries draw on the genre’s more ramshackle end to emulate some of its older acts, and Sins Of Dad and Pennies On The Dollar have the seeds of pacier, more direct punk tracks within them that don’t work too badly. It’s clear that Able Baker Fox have an idea of what they want to do, even if the upper limits of those ideas still fall beyond their reach. That they do proves to be a major problem though, simply for the fact that absolutely nothing stands out here. Switching between emo, indie and alt-punk feels as though it comes easily, but when nothing picks up beyond second gear, it runs together to the point where a tinny string of synth that passes in the back of Lady Ghost is the solitary standout feature.
Of course, the production doesn’t help in this regard, crushing everything down to where nothing peaks to a stronger or more interesting height and dialing down the vocal potency in a way that’s disappointingly meek and malformed. These things should work together too – production in this realm for punk like this wouldn’t be anything revolutionary but it would at least be a natural fit – but it feels like neither band nor producer have confidence in each other’s abilities, and have both resorted to play it safe. There’s harmony, sure, but where tracks like The Clearing or Painted Shells are okay, a bit more power could’ve actually done something with more potency.
That’s perhaps where Visions falls the hardest – it comes and goes without leaving a trace. Picking this up won’t change any lives or even turn new ears on to this genre; it’s all been done better, especially this year, and in a way that actually feels like it’s worth listening to. Even so, this isn’t a terrible album, but this could be marketed as a demo or a first draft of something down the line, and that would be perfectly believable. As for Able Baker Fox themselves, there’s potential that they could live up to the reputation of their individual projects, but even that would be at a push.
For fans of: Braid, Rival Schools, Knapsack
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Visions’ by Able Baker Fox is released on 24th August on No Sleep Records.