One of the primary functions of a debut album should always be to make a statement. The debut album should bristle with passion, ambition and set out the resumé of what the band are about, and what they hope to achieve. London/Brighton four piece Sauna Youth are a band that perfectly understands the importance of making a statement, and there can be no greater way to make that statement of ambition than to begin your debut album with a 10-minute long spoken word monologue set to a pulverising punk rock groove. It is a bold display of ambition entirely in keeping for a band that understand the infinite power of punk rock and the message it can convey.
The road to their debut album release has been a long one for Sauna Youth. The band originally formed out of the ashes of UK hardcore band The Steal in 2009 and they’ve since released a number of lo-fi cassette and 7” releases on a distinctly underground level. After numerous line up changes, the band finally recorded their debut album Dreamlands in 2012 and, as an opening address, it is a remarkably powerful debut.
The record opens with that 10-minute opener Town Called Distraction, which takes the form of a spoken word short story. It was co-written by the band’s Harper Ecke and Patrick Fisher from fellow UK punk band Cold Pumas. The story tells the tale of two different characters, the male voice read by Bobby Krlic of The Haxan Cloak and Martha Orchard of Edible Arrangements. The story is centred around the concept of distraction and how the mundanities of everyday modern life can be twisted and distorted into all manner of philosophical and social debates, dilemmas and questions. The male and female protagonists both analyse in intense and agonising detail the minute complexities and possibilities of the everyday tasks they are undergoing. For the female, it is reading a newspaper on a bus journey home. For the male it is buying some flowers from a supermarket to give to someone he is meeting. All the while, this ode to procrastination and neuroticism is punctuated by a repetitive blast of punk aggression which simply adds to the rising tension. It is an incredibly striking piece of work.
After that opening what comes next feels like a real exaltation. The five songs that follow to complete the album are all whip smart short pieces of distilled punk rock aggression. Planned Designs is redolent of the fast paced thrash of early Husker Dü and the SST bands that made such an impression on punk rock youth in the early ’80s. Single PSI Girls is perhaps the most melodic track here. “La, La, La” vocals trill over a wonderful chugging riff as singer Richard Phoenix again deals with the subject of social interaction in contemporary society, lamenting the miserable scene of two awkward people meeting at a social gathering: “You and I we share common traits, an inability to communicate.”
The last two tracks, Hairstyle and Viscount Discount, offer more evidence of the band’s love of straight ahead punk rock; they cite the Ramones as an influence on their website. There is a depth to Sauna Youth’s punk thrashes though, which is evident in the nuanced lyrics. There is far more to Dreamlands than witless aggression.
Sauna Youth are a band that realise that punk rock needs to say something, it needs to be questioning, it needs to be challenging and, crucially, it also needs to be fun and invigorating. Dreamlands is a debut album that has all these qualities in spades.