It seems sometime since New Bruises' debut long-player, Transmit! Transmit!, was released. In fact, checking back it is actually seven years since that event, which for some bands is an entire lifetime. So, how does this sophomore release take the band forward, if indeed it does, over that decent first album?
Although I liked Transmit! Transmit! with its catchy tunes, a plethora of sing-along parts and the ability to make the songs take on a new life when played live (I was fortunate to catch them in Exeter a few years ago), New Bruises have used those intervening years wisely. On the first few plays, Chock Full of Misery contains a sense of a greater variety in the structure of songs and the difference in song styles too. That's not to say they've lost that ability to get you all pumped up, but now there are some more reflective moments in the mix as well. One other area that seems different is the rhythm section, which comes over much better on this new recording. There is something in the mix that marks out the bass and drums more than it did on the debut album.
One thing that hasn't changed is Bryon Lippincott's vocals, which have a quite distinctive sound and matche the music perfectly. On top of that there are still the group vocal parts that create a sense of listener involvement, because these really do come to life when seeing bands like this live, as it gives the whole room a feeling of camaraderie as lungs burst in unison to match the amplified voices on stage. The rhythm section of Christopher Murray (bass) and Jason Winter (drums) creates the sense of being in perfect alignment, providing a driving force that allows Lippincott and Sulynn Hago to weave much interest, using their twin guitar sound in the delivery of the songs on this album.
Opening with the longest titled song, "Staying Home is the New House Show," thus begins a journey spread across a total of 11 tracks and it's a strong statement laid down as quite a bouncy and up tempo pace allows the band to hit the ground running. This track is full of group vocals and guitar work that creates an intricate, yet not overwhelmingly so, sound to carry the song along to its fruition. "There Was Only One Johnny Cash" begins with some great lyrics and immediately continues with the infectious approach featured in the opening track.
As noted above, New Bruises seem to have added more variety to their work, and that is clearly evident in songs like "Five Questions," with a slightly melancholic sound and foot off the pedal pace with a very Fugazi-like feel. Whether this slight sea-change is down to a change in personnel it's impossible to tell, but I certainly get the impression that with Hago taking over six string duties from Marcus Vaughn (who does still feature in places on this album), something has shifted within the belly of this band, helping it down the road it currently finds itself on.
"Is Nature The Key" hands me my favorite track on the album with a soaring quality and more of the strong guitar work and sing-along parts that are frequently to be found in New Bruises' work. The band clearly knows how to put together a song that builds to a height and then breaks down to something more sedate before crashing into an ending that goes from rambunctious to calm in a few easy steps.
The remainder of the album continues in this vein really, with the differences to earlier work there to hear but without losing the backbone of what makes New Bruises a band well worth listening to, and certainly seeing live. This is definitely a step forward from Transmit! Transmit! and New Bruises seem more well-rounded for the alterations both in song style and sound.