Pulled Apart By Horses return – in stripped-back form – for triumphant 5th album
Release Date: 30th September 2022
Label: Alcopop! Records
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download, Streaming
Five years have passed since Leeds alt-rockers Pulled Apart By Horses stormed the UK Albums Chart with their acclaimed fourth album, The Haze. Since then, of course, we’ve had COVID, Brexit and turbulent upheavals in just about every walk of life in just about every corner of the world. And turbulent upheavals have been the order of the day in the land of Pulled Apart by Horses too – the band parted company with guitarist and founder member James Brown earlier this year and have since taken a step back to basics with a pared-back lineup.
Gone are the duelling guitars that were previously such a feature of the PABH sound; the aim now is to deliver songs that are fresh, urgent and lean – as vocalist Tom Hudson explains: “The fat was trimmed! We spent months playing the songs for the new album in our practice space and on a small ‘up close and personal’ UK tour to set them in stone. We headed to the Nave studio in Leeds off the back of that tour and captured the songs live, tour tight and locked in.”
So, has it worked, I hear you ask? Well, on the evidence of Reality Cheques, I’d say that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The band is phenomenally tight – there’s a mutual understanding between guitar, bass, drums and vocals that you can almost reach out and touch; the songs are direct and concise and whilst, predominantly, they mine the vein of late 70s punk and post-punk for inspiration, they also manage to pull in an impressive variety of other influences including garage rock, psychedelia, heavy metal and Creedence-style swamp rock.
Most At The Barrier visitors will, I guess, be familiar with PABH. Formed in Leeds in 2008, they’ve been on the road pretty continuously since then, barring the enforced layoffs that we’ve all had to endure. High profile shows have included support slots with the likes of Biffy Clyro and Muse and they’ve built an impressive following as a result. PABH are known for their reckless, take-no-prisoners approach to live performance and recording and they’re always keen to explore the outer limits of what their format offers, without ever compromising their basic principles. Once again, Tom Hudson steps in to elaborate: “Our musical tastes change monthly, never mind over the course of years, so we are never going to be the kind of band who’d do the same album every time. We’ve always been that band that are ‘too heavy for the indie kids and too indie for the heavy kids’ in industry terms, but its quite cool that people don’t really know where to put us, because it means that no-one can easily slap a genre on us. Now we have the freedom to be just who we are.”
That’s a philosophy that has served PABH well, from their 2010 eponymous debut, via Tough Love (2012), Blood (2014) and, most notably, The Haze. And it’s an approach that applies particularly to the brand new fifth album, Reality Cheques.
Dreamy crashing noises and guitar feedback lead into the swampy, distorted riff of Pipe Dream, the album’s opening track. The band sound like Creedence Clearwater Revival with a grudge, before the song cuts over to a crisp, punky theme. It’s a great opener that bodes well for the album to come. First World Problems, the album’s lead single is tight and direct with a great drum pattern that holds the whole thing together. The guitar is choppy and the bass has just the right amount of presence as Tom Hudson barks out the lyrics in that timeless, exciting, breathless punky way.
A guitar lick that is almost a direct lift from The Beatles’ Revolution provides the startling introduction to Sleep in Your Grave, a song that is even faster and more furious than First World Problems, but just as tight. Like all the best punk tunes, it’s built around a simple 3-chord riff, and it’s over before you know it! Rinse And Repeat, the album’s second single, is more of the same. An authentic slice of late 70s punk, it’s simple, but well-played, and the guitar embellishments are well-placed and not over-complicated and serve as a subtle reminder that PABH are a band that can really play. And the song’s “Rock and roll genocide” refrain is pure Ramones!
PABH dig back a little further for the influence behind Devil’s Pride, a song that revives the proto-metal of Black Sabbath, circa 1970. Based on a solid guitar and bass riff, Tom’s vocals are darker and less histrionic than elsewhere on the album and I like the way that bass and drums have enough presence to carry the riff whilst guitarist Rob Lee takes on his solos; to my mind, that’s a reliable indicator of a band at its competent, confident best. The punk pace is picked up once again with Rat Race, a song that also manages a few nods in the direction of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath (again) and, most predominantly, Iggy, before the theme takes its most radical left-turn for Positive Place, perhaps my favourite track on the album.
Positive Place is different. Tom’s vocals are as sharp and in-your-face as they are on every other track, but, in the background, there are all sorts of things going on. The bass, guitar and drums are gritty and grungy, but there’s an overwhelming feel of psychedelia at large, particularly in Rob’s guitar solos. I’m reminded of the explorations of the early Edgar Broughton Band and it’s a track that starts to demonstrate how far PABH can stretch their basic principles.
And those principles are stretched even further, without any suggestion that they’ve yet reached their limit, on Fear of Missing Out, the album’s epic closing track. The sound is exploratory, without any recourse to electronic gimmickry – and, if I’m searching for yet another comparison, this time it would be Television and Marquee Moon. It’s a track on which PABH truly demonstrate the potential of their new, pared-down format.
If we recall Tom Hudson’s desire to progress by expressing the freedom to explore, then it’s mission accomplished, I’d suggest!
And there’s further good news – Pulled Apart By Horses embark on their next UK tour in the next few days, and they’re coming to a venue near you. Full details of the tour are available here.
Watch the official video to First World Problems, the album’s lead single, here: