False Heads debut album was worth the wait.
In case you were still wondering whether or not punk is dead, False Heads are here at last with their much-awaited debut album, to deliver an answer which is definitely in the negative. Punk is alive and well and, especially in the UK these days, producing records of very high quality, confidently calling back to the old classics while delivering a good deal of ingenious innovation. False Heads have in many ways been one of the spearheads of this new wave of sounds, and it’s absolutely fitting that they stake their claims to a place on the front lines of the scene with this album, a highly accomplished debut that shows all the hallmarks of the intense work and dedication that went into it.
It’s All There But You’re Dreaming has, overall, a harsh, heavy noise that a clever production has left just as dirty as it needs to be, polishing the sections that need to stand out, giving a fitting final form to some live favourites that, I’m pleased to see, translate to the studio without losing their punch nor the hint of madness that makes them such a good fit for the stage. I have heard False Heads described in the past as “Nirvana, but angry instead or depressed”: while there is something to this definition – the sometimes droning vocals, some moody bass sections, a love of obsessive repetition with an ability to worm its way into the listener’s brain and remain there as a haunting earworm, are all drawn from the grunge toolkit, to some extent – it is also rather reductive; False Heads are doing much more than just ‘angry grunge’. Take a closer look and you will start finding a much greater number of influences in their sound, ranging from hard rock to hardcore punk (see for instance Slew, which feels like it was written with a mosh pit in mind), to suggestions of American post-punk in tracks like Steady on your knees and Ink. The latter also contains a memorable bass line, one of many in a record that – again in classic punk style – is particularly strong on the bass section: see also Fall Around, one of the early singles drawn from the album, which has one of the best, most gripping bass lines I have heard in a while, and Help Yourself, another familiar entry for old False Heads fans whose bass sections remains just as sweet as it has ever been.
There are a few familiar songs to be met in this record. Along with the ones we’ve already mentioned, anyone who’s followed the band for a while will be pleased to take another listen to the hectic Wrap Up, which is a live favourite for a very good reason, or to Twenty Nothing, which out of the twelve tracks in this record might be the one that best channels the ‘angry grunge’ mood, with Luke Griffiths’ vocals launching into an apparently classic grunge tune before devolving into a harsher, harder sound. “I can’t scream out what I can’t say”, the lyrics warn, channeling with eerie precision the mood of an entire generation. This is not the only enlightened piece of lyric-writing It’s All Real But You’re Dreaming has to offer; this is a record that weighs its words very carefully, and makes sure to land them where they hit harder. References to dreams, and snapping out of them, are scattered throughout, starting with Whatever you please, an opener with a surprisingly ballady start, offering a gloomy reflexiveness before a laddering descent into the body of the album and addressing the listener directly with a call of action – “Wake up from your sleep – yeah, you,” it taunts.
The new tracks offer a good diversity of range while making the record feel like a coherent whole, too. After a beeping start, Come at the King goes into another potential earworm of a tune, with Griffith snarling an all-too-poignant call to action, with a cautionary clause: “Come at the King, you best not miss”. This is another track where careful production does a lot, making a very effective drum section stand out and fleshing out a booming chorus made for collective singing. Comfort Consumption, after a mellow start, becomes a warped ballad which in some places feels like a twisted take on Simon and Garfunkel, and is easily one of my favourite tracks on the record, ingenious, poignant, and a little cruel. The fact that False Heads can confidently deliver songs like this in the midst of their more trademark offering testifies to the growth of this band and the ability to play with the very distinct voice they’ve acquired.
In a year that is already showing itself to be rich of impressive debuts, It’s All Real But You’re Dreaming is a remarkably mature album, held together by a red thread that’s always noticeable without ever intruding too much, displaying versatility, charme, and heart. It’s a truly banging record that calls for, and deserves, a couple of repeat listens. And with the band going on tour soon, I can’t wait to see what kind of chaos some of these new tracks can unleash live.
Chiara was born in Sicily and lives in Cardiff. She’s a novelist and freelance journalist with a lifelong love of music, from glam to punk by way of blues and country.