There’s something about a band like Hold Close that almost immediately leads to apprehension. That might seem a tad unfair – they are a relatively new band, after all, and up to now, they’ve not been particularly egregious to listen to – but it circles back to the trends currently engulfing pop-punk, and how they seem to be testing their luck when it comes to the limits of overall tolerability. Again, it’s not like their I Never Meant To Stay EP was all that bad as much as it was just fairly formulaic in its intentions, but the allure of synthetic polish has been creeping into the preview tracks from Time, and giving the impression that, rather than finding something that works for them and building on it, Hold Close are using the massive exploitability of bandwagons to get some sort of foot in the door.
Thankfully that’s not entirely the case, but the truth is hardly preferable. Instead of fully botching up their approach to modernisation that would’ve at least produced some material to discuss, Time is a largely softer, cleaned-up take on pop-punk that produces morsels of interest among a generally blank canvas. For as generally pleasant and agreeable as it is, this is the sort of stuff that’s starting to feel like the run-off of modern pop-punk, taking in all the polish and preening but sleepwalking through the results without any sort of punch or verve. And sure, bringing some softer sounds to the fore is not necessarily bad in its own right – The Story So Far did an admirable job at it on Proper Dose last year – but it needs to be backed up in a meaningful way, and in the case of Hold Close, it’s hard to avoid how hollow Time can feel almost across the board.
At least it’s relatively easy to see what the intention was here, with Braxton Smiley’s softer delivery and the pining, languid lyrics primarily pivoted towards burgeoning relationships and moments of heartbreak within them, and it’d be wrong to suggest that Hold Close get no mileage out of this at all. Breath probably fares the best in a more full-throated delivery in a way that makes the detailed loss feel all the more tangible, but Separation also greatly works as a closer, opting for more mature, mutual understanding with the bigger pop-rock canvas to act as a fitting climax. And yet, these feel like the exceptions on this album, as Hold Close try to make virtually every track the solemn, contemplative moment which drops Time’s overall pace to a generous crawl. Tracks like Tropical Depression and Cloud9 might form a pretty canvas in the larger scope of things, but there’s such a glaring lack of individuality here, as each mid-paced meander glides on by to the next. Even when tracks like Cast Me Away and Here Again do up the ante slightly to fit more as mid-paced ballads, the wider impact is marginal at best, and the lack of any truly standout features can leave Time feeling remarkably flat overall.
Of course, that’s not helped by the production, and while it’s true that Hold Close haven’t chosen to douse themselves completely in a totally processed coating (there are still prevalently rock songs here, even if they aren’t the constant), what stands in its place is a colourless blur that really only exacerbates how featureless this album is. It’s hard to deny that it’s not well-produced, and even tracks like Cloud9 that succumb to the impenetrable layer above them have a lovely clarity in their sound, but it’s such a toothless listen overall, drained of the spark that can elevate the vast majority of pop-punk, and the yearning depth that can do the same for ballads. Too much of Time remains hung in the awkward limbo of making the desire for sweeping scale well telegraphed, but with very little in the final product to actually benefit it.
It all leads to an album that feels disappointingly empty overall, not without merit but also reining in the positives it has too much to properly take off. Hold Close definitely aren’t untalented, and there’s enough of a solid core on Time for something good to come from it with a bit more application, but it’s also an album marred by poor decisions and mismanagement that keep it stuck in a loop that hangs around a generally middling result. It’s honestly the worst kind of album to talk about in that sense, in that it’s hardly terrible, but doesn’t offer much else on the contrary to say either. Perhaps a flawed jumping off point is the best conclusion, even if that sounds as ultimately tentative and non-committal as the album itself.
For fans of: Set It Off, There For Tomorrow, Tonight Alive
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Time’ by Hold Close is released on 18th January on Hopeless Records.