ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Common Sense Holiday’ by Haggard Cat

The fringes of modern alt-rock have always felt like the right place for Haggard Cat. Cross-breeding more traditional garage-rock with the noisier, chaotic sensibilities of the duo’s time in Heck has kept them far away from falling into the milquetoast swamp of riff-rock two-pieces, and developing their momentum in modern rock’s more aggressive and creative circles feels like a natural home for them. But like a lot of acts looking to tap into the same well of greatness that’s certainly becoming crowded at this point, Haggard Cat have yet to have their moment to really explode as a great proposition. Their debut Challenger was definitely good and gave the impression of a band with drive and intent looking to make the absolute most of what they have, but beyond setting a good platform for live appearances that have ultimately done more for them than their recorded output has, its effects haven’t really lingered in the way that many similar debuts have.

So to see Common Sense Holiday arrive as an improvement in pretty much every way is not only satisfying to witness, but it furthers the notion that Haggard Cat have much more to offer than the very standard mould they might be unwittingly lumped in. Not only is this an immediately bigger and more diverse album, but it’s brimming with the incendiary, ground-level appeal that Haggard Cat have always done well to cultivate, but never as effectively as they do here. Coupled with a few small but noticeable steps towards forging their own identifiable sound, Common Sense Holiday is as timely and necessary as improvements in this vein come, and Haggard Cat waste no time in making that known as consistently as possible.

Probably the best sense of that comes in the writing, and though it might feel as though Haggard Cat are simply making the billionth iteration of how the modern world can be a lot to handle, it’s not like it’s any less prescient or relevant. The mingled ennui and frustration still stands, be that towards armchair commentators more focused on getting snappy retorts in than making any sort of change on First Words, the xenophobia and general dismissal towards other nations and races that’s equally prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic with European Hardware and The Natives, and how the whole sordid process is continually spun as ‘normal’ and ‘the right thing to do’ on Rational. It feeds into the seeming necessity to self-medicate and repress as much as possible on Threads and question what the point of actually bringing someone into this world is on Pearl, all held together by curdling emotions that Matt Reynolds’ charged, contorting voice captures excellently. What’s more, there’s a kineticism to all of this that pushes Haggard Cat’s efforts beyond rote social commentary done so out of necessity, and into the sort of impassion firebranding that’s much more powerful in its intentions.

That’s all accompanied by a taut balance between garage-rock and noise-rock that sends an already solid number of sparks crackling with even more intensity, particularly with production that wisely avoids swamping out the guitar tone and instead opts for something much more cutting and naturally snarling. It’s pretty much the optimal setting for whatever Haggard Cat want to do on here, ranging from bounding punk snarls on European Hardware to towering, Black Peaks-esque crescendos on Ghosts Already, to a riff that genuinely feels like Mastodon by way of Royal Blood on Cheat. As cliché as it has become to say about rock duos, the size of Haggard Cat’s output really does dwarf their setup, and the fact that they’re still able to funnel in slight deviations and flickers of experimentation leads to a far more robust package overall. The defined peak-and-trough flow of Show Real and Cheat’s airier passages topped off with winding saxophone stand indicative of a band who’ve become far more comfortable as an adventurous unit, and yet peppered with just enough scarcity to avoid become unfocused or losing sight of what the duo are trying to do. On the whole in its vision and execution, Common Sense Holiday fits the definition of what this continuing wave of British rock represents perfectly.

Not only that, but it’s the sort of enormous and concise improvement that’s encouraging to see from any band, but doubly so from one who’ve always displayed potential that’s finally being realised. These are songs that are unquestionably the best that Haggard Cat have ever produced, feeling sharp and enormously relevant while still being unafraid to throw in their own twists to keep things fresh and avoid stagnation. And to be abundantly clear, stagnation is not an issue in the slightest on Common Sense Holiday; the improvements are blatant across the board, as Haggard Cat finally fall into the mould of Britrock excellence that’s always loomed over them but never fully embraced. Now it has, and the tremendous quality of the results speaks for itself.

8/10

For fans of: Reuben, Black Peaks, The St. Pierre Snake Invasion
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Common Sense Holiday’ by Haggard Cat is released on 13th March on Earache Records.

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