There’s been something of a phenomenon in the indie scene recently of the rise of lighter, somewhat quirky indie-rock bands with more of a focus on socially conscious and feminist themes. The problem with a lot of these bands though, is that between a lack of prominent identity and little in the way of edge, most of them can band taken of left, blurring together more often than not. Sløtface are a slightly different proposition however; maybe it’s a reliance on sharper, stickier melodies, or maybe because Haley Shea pulls off the sweeter vocal style more convincingly but also has the range to go more assertive, but last year’s Empire Records EP had among the greatest appeal that this brand of indie-punk has had in a fair bit.
Compared to that EP though, debut full-length Try Not To Freak Out isn’t nearly as lean or direct, edging a few steps closer to the main flow of indie-punk where the majority of acts start to feel rather samey. Thankfully Sløtface have a bit more to them that sets them apart, and while this album isn’t perhaps as good as their EP built up hope for, it’s still impressive that a band with a sound as increasingly familiar as theirs can come out and still connect as much as they do. Tracks like Try and Magazine get by with spikier riffs and a more anxious sense of urgency than usual, and a hazier pop influence comes through on Galaxies that aims for something a bit lighter and airier. Especially for an album of indie-punk in this vein, Sløtface include an impressive amount of variety on this album, and alongside a clear desire to be as direct and poppy as possible, Try Not To Freak Out is easily one of the more colourful and immediately likable releases to come from the genre in some time.
But then again, this is a debut, and coming straight after an EP that was as consistently excellent as it was, Sløtface struggle to recapture that same spark over a longer period of time. On Try Not To Freak Out, there’s clearly-defined filler, either hitting a stumbling block where progression stalls in favour of retracing older ideas like on Pools and Backyard Adventures, or ending up like Slumber, a five-and-a-half minute slog that pitches all of Sløtface’s established good ideas out of the window to become totally forgettable.
An album like this is definitely an acquired taste, whether it is that lack of consistent quality or more so because Try Not To Freak Out is as unashamedly quirky and millennial as it is. But the truth is, much of Sløtface’s appeal comes from just that, even if it can toe dangerously close to insufferable on the antisocial Pitted. It helps that Sløtface are aware of how delightfully uncool they come across on a track like Backyard Adventures, and there’s a lot of charm to how they do it. Even when tackling more serious topics, there’s still a slightly nerdy streak that makes it clear that this is definitely the product of subcultural thinking; Haley Shea creates her own superhero to dispense of boring, homogeneous boys’ clubs on Nancy Drew, and when throwing broadsides at unrealistic beauty standards on Magazine, her justification is how “Patti Smith would never put up with this shit”.
It might seem a bit too sweet and off-kilter for its own good, but that’s all part of Sløtface’s appeal. Try Not To Freak Out may be a small step back from the best, but compared to their contemporaries, it still feels fresh and sharp, even with a couple of stumbles along the way. Even with that in mind, there’s still a lot to like here, given how smart and punchy it frequently is. Indie-punk as a genre may be stuck in the doldrums at the minute, but Sløtface are proving that there’s still life left in it with a bit more ingenuity.
For fans of: Muncie Girls, Los Campesinos!, Happy Accidents
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Try Not To Freak Out’ by Sløtface is released on 15th September on Propeller Records.