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Album Review: The LaFontaines - Common Problem


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The LaFontaines have certainly grown since the release of their debut album Class two years ago.

Not only have they built themselves up as one of Scotland’s most exciting live acts, mixing socially astute hip-hop with thrashing guitar rock and massive pop-tinged choruses, they’ve also done it while the world has seemingly been crumbling around them. ”We’re not as young and naive as we were in our early twenties,” says frontman Kerr Okan. “We’ve been around the world as a band, seen a lot of things and discovered our one big common problem.”

It’s only natural, then, that their new record plays as a stark reaction to what’s been happening since they’ve been away from the studio. Amplified by Okan’s seething Glaswegian vocals, the group take swipes at everything from Brexit, living under the current Tory government, and dismal Scottish weather.

In retrospect the decision to make the swaggering ‘Release the Hounds’ their comeback single was a smart one, as it best captures the darker energy that pulsates throughout Common Problem while still holding onto the rap rock-driven sound that gave them their cult following. This fireball rage is carried on through tracks such as ‘Hang Fire’, ‘What Do I Know’ (have they been listening to Fidlar?) and ‘Explosion’, the latter of which does exactly as the title suggests with crashing symbols and piercing guitars tightly underscoring Okan’s sneering drawl: “Fatigued and overran but relentless / They gave us Brexit and The Apprentice.”

The hopelessness of the job market and feeling stuck in your ways is touched on in ‘Too Late’, the anthemic pop rock of which is also one of the first glimpses we’re given of their dip into electronica. The titular track is easily their most accomplished effort in that vein, and whose playfulness serves as a refreshing alleviator from the record’s overall darkness. Less successful attempts come from the likes of ‘Torture’ - a somewhat awkward and stifled MGMT imitation - and ‘Atlas’, the bizarrely galloping electro-pop hook of which leaves something to be desired.

It lacks the streamlined flow of Class, but Common Problem still manages to avoid the dreaded ‘difficult second album syndrome’ thanks to its forceful spirit as well as the heightened production values from Courteeners producer Joe Cross. The ominous and gritty pulsation of closing single ‘Asleep’ shows the band at their very best: more Young Fathers and less Twenty One Pilots.

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