Deaths is the third album from London punks, Sauna Youth. It concludes a trilogy of releases that began in 2012 with Dreamlands, and continued with Distractions in 2015. Deaths opens promisingly with ‘Percentages’. Thematically treading similar ground to UB40’s ‘One In Ten’, it takes aim at the statistics that drive public policy. The contrasting guitar lines, one noisy and effect driven and one clean and twangy, provide a compelling backdrop. ‘Percentages’ and ‘Unreal City’ evoke both Sonic Youth and Dead Kennedys, with nods to surf rock and post punk garage. The latter tune brings to mind The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys.
Taking a leaf from the Led Zeppelin songbook, Sauna Youth have a track named after the previous album. ‘Distracted’ has a strong guitar hook but is weak vocally. The voices are buried deep in the mix, and the singing is flat and atonal. That’s something that is consistent throughout Deaths, and so noticeable that it can only be deliberate. Sauna Youth make the best of not having a decent singer by playing with relentless energy and verve but, over the course of an album, it becomes a serious problem. The music is charmingly loose and naïve, but without a strong vocal hook on which to hang it, Deaths ends up sounding like an amateur vanity project. That’s not to say that Deaths doesn’t work sometimes. The punky thrash of ‘Problems’ is exhilarating and ‘No Personal Space’ lashes out the hooks in quick succession. ‘Leisure Time’ has some quality riffing while ‘Veiled Critique’ channels The Misfits and The Slits.
The promotional blurb for Deaths notes that, “The recording studio was booked before any songs had been written... five months to write the album...The limited time didn’t allow for much reflection and overworking. Placeholders became final tracks”. That limited time for writing and recording shows through. Deaths is light on quality material, and the good songs have to vie for space with unfinished doodles. This could have made a good EP, but as a full length record, it dies on its arse. The brevity of the tunes doesn’t make Deaths any more listenable.