When it comes to the onslaught of post-punk-ish indie-rock bands for which the sluice gates are yet to fully close, it can be difficult to see what a lot of them bring to the table. Idles and Fontaines D.C. form a natural peak in terms of quality and accessibility, and The Murder Capital fit the bill of a darker, more experimental variant on the sound, but below them, a lot of the newer acts coming out seem to be bending the theme ever so slightly, though not enough to do all that much with it. Thus, with a band like Sheafs who’ve followed a similar career progression as a band like Fontaines D.C. up to now, and who’ve made no secret about their more political lyrical bent, the knee-jerk reaction is to expect yet more of the same that’s not exactly brimming with staying power; it won’t have been the first time where that’s the case and it certainly won’t be the last.
And yet, Vox Pop does actually end up as something slightly different from the general scene, if not entirely new in its own right. For Sheafs, the post-punk side has been minimised quite a bit to give their indie-rock leanings more prominence, and while that might come across like unnecessarily sacrificing extra dimensionality, the results are a lot leaner and punchier than they most likely would’ve been were it left unchanged. The room to grow is obviously still a factor, but for a five-track debut EP that’s primarily looking to get ideas down above anything else, Vox Pop is definitely a more fully-formed entity than this stage often produces.
It’s generally a case of Sheafs having more confidence in hitting those stronger political notes, remaining largely broad and wide-ranging but tailoring their shots just enough to have that incisiveness that isn’t always present. Of course, they aren’t averse to that themselves as a track like World Is Falling Apart shows, but the takedowns of a culture of self-obsession on Total Vanity and rampant over-consumerism on Shopping have just enough pointed edges to leave a more cutting impact overall. It helps that Sheafs do have the wry wit on their side that’s become such an indispensable tool, taking a song like Thinking Out Loud up a few rungs to where the acknowledgement of the necessity of global-scale change is there, but it’s still not been taken seriously enough to have its desired impact. That sort of weaving framing injects an intelligence into this EP that Sheafs would be far weaker without, and even if the songwriting could still be honed a little more to really sink those barbed edges in, they’re setting the groundwork well already, and finding that finding to clamber over a lot of their contemporaries is a crucial early move to make.
That needs to be said because, from an instrumental perspective, Sheafs are still looking for an identity of their own. That’s not to say what’s here is bad, especially when the focus is placed on buzzsaw guitars and thick basslines to foster a similarly imposing, urbanised sound that’s become so popular within this scene, but when that’s tempered with stripes of bands like The Amazons and their brand of indie-rock that’s more faceless and undefined by comparison, you do get the notion that Sheafs have at least one eye on expanding the reach and scope of their sound as well as incorporating that darker edge, and that can dilute the overall impact slightly. Honestly though, it’s not by much, and the tightness and fierce focus of Vox Pop can shine through even the more less-than-ideal compositions and do a good deal on its own. Shopping proves the obvious standout candidate with a circular riff and bass thunk that almost sounds like a post-punk take on ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man of all things, but the general sense of ruggedness and sneering verve is pretty much a constant, and even if the drums can occasionally feel a bit slapped-on on the closer Care Less, the whole EP is produced in a way to accentuate the grit in Sheafs’ delivery, and subsequently make Lawrence Feenstra’s slightly more reedy vocals seem less like an shortcoming within the context of the entire EP.
As far as early impressions go, Vox Pop feels very reminiscent of Kid Kapichi’s Sugar Tax from last year, honing on in certain elements of modern post-punk and strengthening them as a whole, leading to something that’s still a bit rough around the edges but with bags of potential as to what they could achieve moving forward. Here though, Sheafs show a readiness to operate in a far more mainstream space than a lot of their contemporaries, and while on occasion that can be to their detriment – especially when it can feel like they aren’t getting the absolute most out of this sound – they still provide a bright indie-rock prospect with enough open ends to branch out into more exciting and vibrant territory whenever they want to. Put simply, Vox Pop feels like the arrival of a young band who really could achieve anything they want, and being able to say that with such certainty is an extremely good sign for wherever Sheafs decide to go next.
For fans of: Kid Kapichi, Fontaines D.C., The Amazons
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Vox Pop’ by Sheafs is released on 6th March on Blood Records.