Slates make robust and rugged-voiced punk rock – more chunky than dangerous, more laboured than unpredictable and more solemn than frenzied. That said,Taiga’s first three trackscome charging at you – and Slates sound best when playing damn hard. Favouring sentimentality over primal fierceness actually makes the harder stuff fairly palatable.
Meanwhile, pulling things back for the contemplative ‘Minarets’, mediocre melodies reveal that Slates aren’t quite expert tunesmiths. The album’s middle third sees them dive into some experimental instrumental departures. They shoot for a peculiar dissonance, akin to the proto-emo of Fugazi or Drive Like Jehu, but even though the guitars are revved up, at times the playing is just too deliberate. Sometimes, though, the guts and subtleties do combine to great effect. A prime example is ‘Molina Blues’; at once hard-hitting and decidedly earnest. A sense of unease runs through the whole record, aptly emphasised by James Stewart’s hoarse vocals and lyrical depictions of dark streets, racist Texans, sunrises in the badlands and walking in the rain.
Taiga isn’t a particularly abrasive record but Slates can be a loud, dominating presence when they choose to be. Unfortunately, when they attempt to magnify the finer details it dulls their purpose.