Review: Kids in Glass Houses – Smart Casual

In all honesty, I was inclined to like this band before I even listened to them after seeing a picture. I don’t wish to cause offence to lead singer Aled Phillips with this statement, but nonetheless, I rejoiced at seeing a pop-punk band that didn’t have a pretty-boy front man. All too often, bands in this genre fall back on image and style rather than musical talent. I’m not going to name names, mostly because anyone with an interest in this genre will be able to think of several examples themselves, but suffice it to say the best bands are often the ones who don’t have this safety net to fall back on. They’re forced to hone their musical abilities all the more thoroughly, and the result is often miles ahead of the scene bands I alluded to above.

This seems to be exactly what has happened here, as Smart Casual is one of the finest pop-punk albums I’ve heard in a while, and definitely one of the best debuts, trumping recent efforts by Madina Lake and Forever the Sickest Kids. There are two things in particular that should be highlighted as general points. Firstly, KIGH’s sound is a perfect mesh of American and British influences. It’s no secret that the scene is dominated by American bands, and the sound and the imagery it evokes is heavily associated, at least in my mind, with American culture, especially the sunnier climes like California or Florida. As such it is to be expected that much of this feel translates over to efforts made by foreign bands, but the thing that makes KIGH stand out is that they twist in a brilliant amount of British flavor to make them that extra bit different. It’s not done in a cliched way, as could be said of some British albums (Enter Shikari’s Common Dreads, I’m looking at you here). There’s a little hint of a few fundamentally British bands influencing their sound, ranging from the Police to Blur, but never so much as to pull the album away from its pop-punk roots.

Also, the lack of a ballad in the whole album is a brilliant recommendation. I’m not against ballads per se, it’s just that they’re so much harder to make work than upbeat songs. It might be that they come across as cheesy or unauthentic, it might be that you can’t dance to them, or it might be that “Konstantine” by Something Corporate is pretty much the perfect ballad and the rest are near enough redundant. Whatever the reason, I’m continually finding myself less and less moved by bands’ attempts at reducing the pace; on occasion they have been deal-breakers for me, as was nearly the case with Hey Monday’s debut effort. However, KIGH seem to be perfectly aware that pop-punk is a happy bouncy form of music, and have no desire to slow it down across any of these twelve tracks, and the effect is all the better for it.

In all honesty, few of the individual aspects are outstanding here. Everything about the album is more good than great. The vocals are summery enough to catch the ear without ever really excelling. The lyrics are catchy enough to have you singing along sooner than you might expect, but are never as clever as Fall Out Boy. The production however is excellent; every element of the music is perfectly placed to create the ideal sound, with just the right amount of sheen that the genre demands without going overboard. The approach is also a relatively fresh one, considering the staleness of this scene as a whole. The British influences mentioned above notwithstanding, “Fisticuffs” is a little bit harder than your average, “Give Me What I Want” shows some hints of indie, and there are “whoa-ohs” in tracks like “Easy Tiger” and “na-nas” in “Church Tongue.”

It’s everything you want from a pop-punk record: bouncy, sincere, catchy as hell, but more than this, it adds something a little new to the mix — not enough to scare away the scene kids but enough to make the connoisseurs stand up and take notice. It’s certainly worthy of a place in your summer rotation, and it bodes well for the future of a band still relatively inexperienced in an over-saturated genre.

Final verdict: 8.5/10

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