photo credit: Anna Stromer
Even in its moodiest, most downbeat moments there’s a spark of energy that bursts out of A Face In Your Life, the new album from Pet Fox. Where past efforts played around with after-the-fact layering of instrumentation, the band’s third full-length comes alive in the moment. Tracked live in one room, the ten songs that unravel across the album capture Theo Hartlett (Guitar/Vocals), Morgan Luzzi (Bass), and Jesse Weiss (Drums) in their rawest, most immediate form.
While the idea of getting in a room together and bashing out ideas until an album emerges is a story as old as time, Pet Fox thrive in such an environment, leaning into the method with an exuberance that shapes their latest effort into something brilliantly dynamic and endearing. “We maintained the same method as we have in the past, which is to get in a room together and jam.,” the band explains. “While this may sound incredibly simplified, we really do just get together and play off of each others’ ideas, whether they were preconceived or pieced together in the moment.” The first Pet Fox record to not be self-produced, A Face In Your Life was made with Ethan Dussault at New Alliance Audio in Somerville, MA, and mixed by Seth Engel (Ratboys, NNAMDÏ, Mister Goblin).
Touching upon notions of anxiety and self-doubt, A Face In Your Life travails the depths of these themes while also offering little snippets of hope and guidance along the way. Indeed, the album’s sprawling opening track ‘Settle Even’ is billed as a self-help pamphlet, a reminder to the band themselves and those listening that there will always be people in the world looking out for us, even when that feels like an impossible feat.
Musically, A Face In Your Life flourishes in the hazy margins of rock music, traditional song structures are supported by elaborate instrumentation that never loses its grip or sight on the melodic undercurrent that makes the whole thing so compelling. The band cite early Weezer and Autolux as reference points but also rabid label mates Mister Goblin and the lesser-known Durham, NC, trio Hammer No More the Fingers who greatly inspired Pet Fox’s latest work. “We’ve always been fascinated with how that band manages to sound so full as a three-piece, while also writing such awesome and original pop songs,” the band say of the latter.
The album’s choppy and melodic groove is exemplified perfectly by lead track ‘Checked Out’, a spiky three minutes of punchy riffs and Hartlett’s weary-but-animated voice which here rallies against life in a capitalist society where people are willing to help out if there’s a benefit to themselves. “There are so many people that do not give a damn about you until they realize that you hold some sort of worth that is valuable or cool to them,” Pet Fox adds.
Elsewhere, ‘Only Warning’ offers an infectious dose of urgency, the incisive drums and big waves of guitar almost swallowing the track’s shadowy vocal that details the overpowering messiness of staying in a relationship when you know it’s bad for you, life becoming a whirlwind of fear of groggy angst. Then there’s ‘It Won’t Last’, a two-minute barrage that offers a glimpse into another side of the band’s output as the minimal vocals are pushed aside for the frenetic burst of instrumentation that surges forward.
An inspired collection of riffs that twists and turns into varying shapes throughout, Pet Fox never outstay their welcome in the half-an-hour of A Face In Your Life but do more than enough to make the kind of impression that leaves you wanting to journey back through the shadows, to unpick the little knots of the ideas they’re exploring here. It was brought to life by just three people in one room but it lends itself to something way beyond that; the never-ending search for coping mechanisms in the messiest of worlds. - Tom Johnson