When a band sets out to play punk rock, success is not usually on the agenda. The band doesn’t expect it, nor do the more mainstream music critics. Still, there are those who are able to successfully stage dive onto the arms of acclaim on occasion, such as Vancouver’s Tough Age. Following their self-titled debut in 2013, the band is now attempting to crowd-surf across that venue before being dropped with their sophomore release, I Get the Feeling Central.
The straightforward punchiness of opening track “50 Girls 50” suggests that Tough Age graduated from the rock, rock, rock-n-roll high school of The Ramones. While “Gutter Lemon” sounds like the dirty punk sourness its title suggests, the track is noteworthy for a surf-rocky riff that sets it apart from the work of the band’s peers. That reverb-soaked lead guitar is even more shameless on “Flamenco Wiccan,” which, if not for frontman Jason Samson’s front-and-center vocals, would almost fit in on a shoegaze album. Driving drums and spirited strums kick off the eventually disappointing “Flotsam.” Here, the potential points of contention regarding Tough Age become most clear, somewhat ironically due to Samson’s crisp, clear vocals. With the way the song builds at the beginning, there’s an anticipated attitude, an expectation of a more volatile vocal style that Samson just doesn’t deliver. There’s obviously no big-band jazz to be heard on “New Orleans Square,” but rather a more suiting style of wave-riding power-punk that moves things along nicely. However, a couple speed bumps do occur on “Castigation,” a Sex Pistols impression that feels a bit forced. Even though the thrashing may be mostly authentic, some of the aesthetics still seem put-on.
While it would usually be logical to close an album with the (almost) titular track, “I Get That Feeling Central” is an odd note to end on. Scale-exercise guitar riffs, which sound almost comical in their inclusion, break up the song’s start-and-stop verses. This seems to be the plight of Tough Age on I Get the Feeling Central—not knowing how to centralize the feeling. At times, they pull punches where pure punk rock would be more satisfying than splicing in reverb-filled riffs and smooth vocals. The sophomore album stage is indeed a tough age for any band to be in, so hopefully Tough Age can learn to create better meshing for better moshing on future efforts.