[sic] Magazine

Straight Arrows – On Top!

You get the impression Sydney four-piece Straight Arrows could really make it as a chart-topping guitar band if they wanted to be. Over two previous albums and this new one, they’ve shown time and again that they’re masters of two-to-three-minute garage-pop, but Top Of The Pops clearly isn’t their thing as, just as frequently, they then bury these plentiful melodies under super-charged scree and ramshackle reverb.

A natural progression from 2010’s messy It’s Happening and 2014’s hedonistic Rising to now being On Top in late 2018, Straight Arrows speed and slow their signature scrappy sound and pull its crusts in strange directions as if being manhandled by an over-enthusiastic pizzaiolo. This willingness to experiment sets them apart as a party band, Owen Penglis’s rickety songwriting and sneared vowels here captaining another hot stream of catchy, fast-out-of-the-traps punk jangles. Without lengthy run-times to play with, tracks like the tight-grooving lead single “21st Century” get to the point quickly and they always end with bang rather than a whimper. Even when the intensity is dialled down, the hooks keep coming, the chorus in “Gun Man”, for example, being led by joyous “heys!” and a touch of tinny surf.

A couple of fizzling mistreads aside, On Top’s greatest weapon is its variety. Influenced by dreamy rock ‘n’ roll, “The One” is heavy on the splash echo and again light on the surf riffs, while big buzzsaw action leads retro stomper “I Don’t” firmly astray. The memorable album closer is a relatively minimal lament and, at the other end of the spectrum, “Headache” is an appropriately riotous whirlwind so full of protesting guitar that it comes on like one of those hangovers that Blackadder described as feeling like there was a Frenchman living in your head.

Having only breached the three-minute mark for the first time once before, Straight Arrows do so twice here, the extended length allowing “Out And Down” to accommodate a toasted garage-psych finale and “Buried Again” the time to unspool into a sludgy dirge. The latter has the same melodies as elsewhere only slower, resulting in the sort of cult 45 the band have always been looking for only delivered at 33. Don’t tell anyone, but during the track’s spiky solo the euphoric guitars of early Oasis are also to be found. Like it or not, maybe the big time is going to come calling after all.

Best track: “Headache”

~On Top! is out now via Agitated Records.~

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