When Narrow Head released their debut album the USA and the UK were both on the cusp of insanity now fully realised. The world was shrinking until it wasn’t and political attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic have gone the other way.
Narrow Head are at home in modern pessimism. Their second album, 12th House Rock, explores desolation, self-loathing, self-medication and grief, all rooted in the Houston DIY scene that incubated one of alternative rock’s most promising bands.
There’s no great stylistic shift from Satisfaction, which featured highly in my Albums Of The Year in 2016 and was the subject of an early episode of our podcast. The themes and flourishes have evolved, the confidence honed, but the sound remains so very Narrow Head.
The nineties cast a long shadow over this band and Jacob Duarte’s vocals make clear that inspiration. Narrow Head have in their locker a seamless transition from patience to roaring rage and both are as perfectly measured on record as they are in Narrow Head’s feverish live performances.
‘Stuttering Stanley’ was the album’s second single and the earliest deviation from the viscous sonics of Satisfaction. The sidestep into poppy hooks suits the band well without ever detracting from their fuzzy, riffy strengths. Duarte’s voice retains the ties.
‘Hard To Swallow’ begins with a fat, unapologetic guitar riff that returns for the no-nonsense chorus. It’s noteworthy that one of the album’s heaviest songs is also its poppiest and most straightforward. It’s a neat trick and Narrow Head appear to have pulled it off effortlessly.
‘Crankcase’ is a fantastic foil that strips bare that same idea and polishes off the remains in two minutes flat before a change of pace in the shape of ‘Nodding Off’. Sometimes alt-rockers are gonna spend some time just looking at the floor, you know? Narrow Head do slow just as well as they do manic.
The first material we heard from 12th House Rock was ‘Night Tryst’, which starts Side B. The bass and lead guitar in the opening bars tee up Duarte’s irresistible vocals to get the album’s finest song off to a flying start. Its bounce is obvious but it’s in the execution and craft that ‘Night Tryst’ really demonstrates Narrow Head’s capabilities.
The words wind around the beat with the artistry of the best songwriters in the game. Later, ‘Bulma’ shares a similar root.
‘Emmadazey’ twists an insistent three-note motif around an accomplished chorus as the album strides towards its two longest tracks, the best indicators of all that Narrow Head have a world of creative excellence ahead of them.
They’re split by the penultimate song but ‘Delano Door’ and ‘Evangeline Dream’ clock in at a combined length of almost 15 minutes and are fucking flawless. The former features the vocals and lyrics of Erica Miller (Big Bite, Casual Hex) against a looming, minimalist, arty musical canvas, offset by bursts of Narrow Head’s more familiar sound. You can’t see the stitches.
The epic closer is Narrow Head’s most expansive work to date. It’s everything the band does, only more. More spacious. More shoegaze. More dynamic and varied. More spotlight on Duarte. It holds and holds and holds, and the delayed release is euphoric. It’s a magnificent, mature composition.
12th House Rock leans heavily on its self-produced, organic creation and Narrow Head’s distorted guitar sound. Like its predecessor, it’s a masterful mood studded with individual bangers.
The result is a worthy follow-up to Satisfaction. The ideas are different, the scope broader and the execution sharper, but to describe 12th Man Rock as a leap forward would be to overlook the brilliance of the debut. Album number two has matched it and deserves to elevate the band’s standing now they have increased label support.
Narrow Head signing to Holy Roar signals their place in a diverse underground alternative scene in the UK, an unmistakably American transplant into a curious and open-minded community. We have many bands of our own, countless styles all equally welcome on bills held together by quality, not repetition.
We don’t have a Narrow Head. On the recorded evidence and tremendous UK live shows so far, we’re better off adopting the real thing.
12th House Rock will be released on August 28th on Holy Roar Records.