At a We Cut Corners gig in Whelan’s a few of years ago, John Duignan, the guitar half of the band, admitted that he really didn’t know anything about guitars or guitar effects: “I have one pedal that makes the guitar go loud when I press it”, he confessed to the crowd. That was always part of the charm of We Cut Corners – the rawness of the instrumentation allowed their talent for melodies and lyrics to shine while the music took something of a backseat. All bands change, it’s somewhat inevitable. There is generally a cycle of going to bigger studios seeking bigger sounds before returning to try and recapture that old sound.
On their third album, ‘The Cadences of Others’, We Cut Corners are somewhere between the two. The opening cut, Middle Kids, begins with a lush sweep of strings before an arpeggiated riff joins the fold. The feeling is very epic, very Elbow, and it’s truly lovely. However, Conall O’Breachain’s distinctive vocals, with their slightly erratic emphasis, does somewhat undermine the lush arrangement. “Ambition writ large on brittle lips”, he sings. A suitable analogy for the song perhaps.
Reluctant Recluse starts out with that raw guitar sound that We Cut Corners had as their signature, but now augmented with flourishes of strings. It works really well and features those clever couplets that are so much a part of their DNA: “I was a reckless child, now I’m a childless wreck”.
Of Whatever ruminates on the general apathy and lack of outrage in Ireland these days. “We’re too precious to protest”, complains O’Breachain. It’s a stinging dissection of our disembodied society: “There’s an outage of outrage and wave of whatever sweeping the nation.” It’s somewhat ironic then that a song lamenting a lack of outrage is probably the most placid on the album. Or maybe that’s the point.
Milk Teeth again brings us back to that raw power pop-punk sound of old, mixing it up nicely. However an ill-judged spoken word over piano coda nearly spoils it. Unsurprisingly, Oh, with its acoustic hands-in-the-air, Lumineers-like quality, is the most recent single. It’s the kind of song that’s instantly recognisable the first time you hear it, in a good way.
The record is definitely front-loaded with the remaining tracks not having the same impact as the first six cuts, but the bar has been set very high, so we can forgive them that.
Duignan contributes to the vocal duties throughout the album with a scattering of lines thrown his way here an there, but on album closers, Traffic Island and The End Has Already Happened, he takes over lead vocals. It’s not his first time doing this – on their debut album he also sang the album’s finale – but now, as then, it’s probably best for him to leave the these duties to O’Breachain. It’s difficult to say whether it’s because they are just weaker songs or because having another vocalist on the last tracks just gives that impression i.e. that the band have run out of ideas and Duignan has to dig out a couple of his own compositions to fill out the album.
It doesn’t take away from the album as a whole which finds We Cut Corners brimful of confidence and pushing their boundaries with largely successful results.