3 out of 5
Produced by: Matt Bayles
Yes, that’s clearly Dave Verellen of Botch on vocals. Yes, those tight, rolling guitar lines sound like Oxeneers-era These Arms Are Snakes, courtesy of Ryan Frederiksen. Yes, that clipped, precise production is thanks to Matt Bayles. No, you’re not alone in not quite being blown away by Narrows, a hardcore ‘supergroup’ that was one of several variations that sprung up in the wake of Botch, also featuring members of Some Girls, Makeout Boys, and Bullet Union… though, with my apologies to those other members / groups, I think the Botch / TAAS legacy, plus Narrows appearing on prominent hardcore label Deatwish, plus re-teaming with producer Bayles, were the main ingredients for some hype.
And hype’s tough. Supergroups are tough. Verellen’s howl is so clearly identifiable, as is Bayles approach, that ‘New Distances’ is really, really hard to judge on its own merits. When the group launches into a pair of opening tracks – Chambered, She Witch – that play as sort of a snapshot Botch, you feel the hype a’stirring, although the tracks never really grow beyond their initial riffs, and, at less than three minutes each, don’t have the chance to explore much else besides. The stripped down, electronic tinged ‘A Restoration Effort’ kills the momentum that at least propped up the preceding songs, and then you’re forgiven for not remembering much else that happens thereafter.
Hype is tough, and so is familiarity. There’s actually a ton of good stuff happening all throughout New Distances, but Bayles is not the producer for bringing out such subtleties. The album is produced and mixed exactly like a Botch disc – this is the familiarity, I’m supposing, where people regularly working together fall into habits – which shortchanges the drums and washes out some of the looser, layered guitar and bass interplay. If you forget the roots of the various band members and put on one of the tracks from the disc’s second half – Gypsy Kids, for example – you’ll more easily hear a badass rock band fronted by an intense lead singer, kicking out tight riffs against a solid backbone of skin-slapping, i.e. not hardcore blast beats. And with patience, you can start to hear that overall dynamic throughout – excepting those ‘experimental’ tracks like ‘Restoration,’ which land with the same thud that the electronics did on Minus the Bear’s first few albums – and recognize Narrows’ definite potential.