Two years on from the release of their debut album, Irish indie-punk quintet New Pagans are back with their sophomore effort, Making Circles of Our Own.
Containing an overall more hopeful approach than The Seed, the Vessel, the Roots, and All, the aforementioned debut, their second album is a fantastic mix of the energy and fervour of pop-punk with the angst of alternative and grunge, spread across PIXIES-style loud-quiet-loud dynamic shifts.
From the get-go, there’s an explosion of energy as ‘Better People’ kicks off at a high tempo, with a slightly distorted guitar pattern nestled inside a driving rhythm laid down by the bass, the drums, and the other set of strings. The combination of the bass’s rousing notes alongside the bouncing drum hits makes it impossible not to tap your foot or nod your head while listening along.
From the first song, one thing is immediately evident: this album sounds incredible. The mix is absolutely superb. For the most part, each instrument works well in tandem with the next, and everything is clearly audible in the mix. There’s a nice sense of shifting balance too, as the guitars and bass almost take turns being the leading force, as the songs progress. For example, ‘Hear Me, You Were Always Good’ opens with drums and a solo bassline that is simply a pleasure to listen to, one that carries some earworm basslines.
Elsewhere, the guitars absolutely let rip at the end of ‘There We Are John’, unleashing a thunderstorm-esque emotional cataclysm over a more subdued, repetitive, driving bassline.
Conor McAuley’s drums have a really satisfying softness to them, even when they’re being hit hard. They’re well-rounded and balanced, with no metaphorical sharp edges, but he is still able to deliver aggression and pummel when a song calls for it. Similarly, the guitars are crunchy and angry when they need to be, but shimmer and shine elsewhere, with some effective give-and-take going on between string-slingers Allan McGreevy and Cahir O’Doherty.
There are some sections, however, where they could perhaps have been dialled up ever so slightly. But this could be intentional, as Claire Miskimmin’s bass sounds absolutely phenomenal. Arguably the melodic cornerstone of the album, her tone is exceptional, and the runs and notes she plays hold down a steady, low rhythm as expected but she also isn’t afraid to hop across octaves and move around the fretboard. Her interplay against the guitars and drums is also excellent, some of it obvious, some of it more subtle, to great effect.
Collectively, New Pagans have certainly crafted something that is sonically greater than the sum of its parts. And speaking of parts, don’t they say to save the best for last. Lyndsey McDougall’s vocals are tremendous. They are crisp, clear, and high, with masterful control and the occasional Hayley Williams inflection.
Her lyrics carry a depth, a sense of grief as well as hope, perhaps in a phoenix rising sense, as the album’s title indicate. Containing both the introspective and outrospective, her inspiration ranges from ‘thoughts internal unconscious’ to artistic activists and influential interior designers, ruminating on and examining life and its various forms of struggle.
Making Circles of Our Own is an album well worth a listen. It isn’t going to break new ground or change the world. But it isn’t trying to. In a sense, the album is interested in change and its harbinger, the passage of time, if lyrics like “preserve the joy” and “eclipsed in time” are anything to go by.
In life, the only constant is change. But the unknown brings fear. The last few years have been rocky, to say the least. The future isn’t certain, but it isn’t necessarily being eagerly awaited, either. The key thing to remember, though, according to the band, is: “Don’t lose hope.”