In terms of up-and-coming bands from Belfast, few have had as much buzz surrounding them as the self-described “idiosyncratic” indie rock trio Careerist. The band, formerly known as Hot Cops, had a slew of releases under their old name, many of which have unfortunately been lost to time. Despite this, their reputation for entertaining and energetic live shows has stuck by them, and anybody who has been attending said shows for the past year has heard more than a few tracks from their debut album Weird Hill.
The album’s opener, ‘Negative One’, typifies the sound that fans have come to expect from the band. Powerful drums and distorted bass jumpstart the album, featuring cryptic lyrics that touch on personal character and personality, yet, like most lyrics on this album, are up for interpretation. Following this is another energetic rocker, “Doors”. While the guitar riff and unpredictable vocals are certainly a treat, the mixing on this song fails to do justice to the version fans have heard at their live shows; the cymbals are somewhat lost in the mix and the panning of the guitar prominent during the first verse leaves the song sounding strangely empty when compared to its beginning. The instruments maintain the same energy, yet the drop-out of the guitar in the right channel leaves an empty space sonically.
While I applaud the unique production style on the album, which gives the songs a live feel with some nice polish, the mixing across a number of songs lets them down slightly. Bassist Nathan Rodgers’ vocals on ‘Piran’ are barely audible and initially mixed quietly compared to Carl’s vocals. Despite this minor flaw, most of the time the production builds on the album’s great songwriting in a complementary way, with hints of Mellotron on songs like ‘Ring of Hands’ and added percussion to give songs like ‘Idle’ a bit of extra flavour.
While the album certainly begins with the type of melodies and instrumentation one would expect from Careerist, the band surprises on songs such as ‘Slasher’ and ‘Piran. ‘Slasher’ has a cowboy western influence, with baritone guitars and subtle hints of organ, whilst ‘Piran’ showcases surprising vocal harmonies between Nathan and Carl. In fact, there are many surprises on the album; the band prove that they don’t need their usual energy to shape a great song. Highlights like ‘Ring of Hands’ and ‘Idle’ are subdued, brooding tracks that are just as endearing as any of the louder tracks on the album. It’s clear that the band have grown as songwriters and performers and really wanted to showcase their new ideas and influences on this album without shelving their established sound.
In terms of songwriting, ‘Slasher’ presents the most potent blend of newfound influence and melody with loud punky energy – the subdued spaghetti western verses clash with the bombastic, shouty choruses, giving the song an unpredictable edge.
What’s also often unpredictable throughout Weird Hill is the lyrics. While most songs have memorable yet cryptic lines (“Doors you can’t open / with the keys you weren’t given”), some songs had weirdly obtuse lyrics that were far too literal compared to most songs on the album. “Terror is an urban scream / unreleased when fear is free” is certainly an interesting lyric, yet it’s on the same album as the lyric “the internet is everything” – a line so blatant it stuck out like a sore thumb. While you could argue that ‘Book II’ has similarly basic lyrics, its guitar lines, fast tempo, vocal melodies and instrumental breakdown steal the spotlight, while ‘Weight’ strolls on with a consistent melody that puts its unfitting lyrics to the forefront.
I don’t mean to sound too negative, because I think this is a fantastic album deserving of some light constructive criticism. At only twenty-nine minutes, it’s a very digestible listen. Upon repeat listens, the album rewards the listener with subtle nuances that may not have come to the fore upon first listen. The performances are fantastic too, and it’s obvious even from the most critical viewpoint that Carl, Nathan and Conor have worked on the songs for a long time to really develop them into work that is more than the sum of its parts. Especially laudable is the drum performance from Conor Ellison, who showcases versatility throughout the album.
What’s most striking about Weird Hill is that it really does represent a new era for the band. There aren’t any songs that were previously released as singles under their old name, and many of their singles simply would not fit the theme of the album. Careerist have established their new identity with a diverse and lush album that both surprises and satisfies fans and new listeners alike.
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