It’s been well documented that on TwoBeatsOff, we’re big fans of the beard. To this day, the number one search string that leads you to our website is ‘punk rock beards’, which links you to the page of ours that gets the most hits – this top ten article I did on a presumably dull afternoon when I was 18. And if you like beards, then it stands to reason that you’ll like Count To Four, because they cram a ridiculous amount of beard references into their lyrics. The guys themselves range from the sexy five o’ clock shadow to the standard-yet-awesome beard punk grizzle. And that’s kind of how their debut, Between Two Cities, feels – ranging between playful, almost flirty pop-punk licks to deeper notions of troubled hearts.
Opener ‘I Hope Not’ is as good an indicator of this as any. Filled with clever puns (and those all important beard gags) as well as devastatingly catchy verses, it’s sweeter than a slice of Victoria sponge. Beneath all the bouncy riffs though, it’s a journey of self realisation; an affirmation that in fact, that one girl might not be life or death after all, and that’s okay. Count To Four continue to charm and disarm throughout the rest of the album. Tracks like ‘Plastic Dinosaurs’ and ‘Tear It Apart’ are all about growing up and getting out without losing sense of yourself, all layered over with ridiculously speedy palm mutes and pounding drums. It never really lets up, either. Sure, there’s tracks like ‘Get Into It’, which feels far more intimate due to the lyrics and a slower tempo, but they still provide a massive rush and provoke enormous grins. And yet, Count To Four are perhaps at their best when they throw down to some minor chords. ‘My M.O’, an ethics driven plea, is the most impassioned song on the album, and it’s filled with wonderful touches like a xylophone in the bridge and unexpected breakdowns. Not to mention that’s overlooking the fact that it’s the track where Mike Hayden’s vocals break from their usually measured and dulcet tones to a desperate and damning shout – and it works.
If there is any fault with Between Two Cities, it’s that the band don’t take a risk when they really should, and while for the most part, what they’ve got there is excellent, there’s a couple of tracks that could benefit from taking the plunge. For example, ‘Bottles and Books’, the closer, tries to deliver a similar kind of “you suck and I’m okay without you” effect as some of the earlier songs but nowhere near as well, perhaps due to a lack of ‘My M.O’ style passion coming through the vocals.
It’s very clear where Count To Four pull their influences from – there’s a strong sense of that early 2000s Drive-Thru kind of sound throughout – but Between Two Cities still sounds totally fresh. If you like your pop-punk with an old school feel but with a revived sense of reckless abandon and twenty-something feels, then Count To Four are the band for you. And beards, man. Beards.
4 out of 5 high fives!