Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
On their debut full-length Letter To Self, Dublin post-punk band SPRINTS excel at creating visceral experiences. The tracks here are darker both lyrically and sonically than anything on their previous EPs. This makes sense: their main reference point for how the album should feel was the horror film Hereditary. Musically, Letter to Self imagines PJ Harvey fronting the Pixies. The guitars are prickly, the bass melodic and lyrical. Quiet/loud dynamics are crucial, with periods of simmering tension exploding into satisfyingly heavy outbursts.
It all coalesces in songs that feel like sustained nervous breakdowns. Take opening track “Ticking,” which opens with a kick-drum heartbeat followed by an electric guitar that simulates a ticking clock. “Maybe I should do it better/ Maybe I should try it harder,” vocalist Karla Chubb sings. It’s the kind of non-specific, semi-nonsensical solution you grasp at as you begin to spiral into anxiety. When the band finally joins in, the lead guitar riff is frantic and suffocating. The whole song is crafted as an aural panic attack.
Chubb’s writing is deliberately, brutally cathartic; her intention, she’s said, was to completely expel a lifetime’s worth of anguish. While pain and shame are constant presences across the album, the most palpable feeling is anger. It’s directed at those who’ve failed Chubb, or have beaten something out of her, and the perpetrators are both personal and structural: religion on “Cathedral,” the music industry on “Adore Adore Adore,” a society at large that leaves her to suffer on “Letter To Self.”
The record peaks with “Shadow of a Doubt,” which starts out hushed and trembling as Chubb sings, “There’s an urgent crying in my head.” By the time its stormy climax bursts into life, Chubb is pleading for someone to see her desperation, to reach out and help her, and you can hear the desperation in her voice. It’s followed by the still grimmer “Can’t Get Enough Of It,” which is about the trauma that remains long after the person who inflicted it is gone. The song itself is just as haunting.
The combination of these two tracks at the album’s center provides an emotional trough, but SPRINTS claw their way back up, ending with affirmation on the closing title track: “Maybe my body don’t look like yours/ Maybe my happy don’t look like yours/ Maybe my life don’t look like yours/ Maybe I don’t want to look like you,” Chubb sings. It’s a satisfying resolution to an album of unrelenting angst, sounding a note of acceptance and release.