Of Us Giants are an ambitious bunch. They may have only just dropped their debut record, Nova Scotia, but the Californian trio have their sights set on the big leagues, eyeing up the hallowed territory of Brand New’s paradoxically arena-sized intimacy. Here, you’ll find everything that usually propels a band from lower-tier act, to the top of radio playlists and the headlining slots of pop-punk package tours sponsored by energy drink companies.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the band was comprised of a few more members than a trio such is the density and power afforded to them by some rather polished high-end production. Distorted power-chords arrive in great walls of noise, with the producer obviously taking cues from Butch Vig’s Nevermind style explosive chorus formula- throwing layer upon layer of guitars and overdubs to make an impenetrable slab of noise that seems mixed exclusively for radio play. Laying the foundations for the melodically-inclined fretwork exists that ridiculously over-processed and de-humanized drum setup, eradicating any dynamic nuance in favour of a robotic punch found ubiquitously in the world of generic metalcore. Even in more subtle tracks such as ‘Stone Hands’, there’s that humungous snare, punching its way through the mix like a classic Simple Minds 80’s power ballad, robbing songs of any delicate touch.
From the pop-punk riff that opens the album on ‘Liars’, Of Us Giants lay down the gauntlet. They want to be your favourite band. In fact, they pretty much demand it. How can you resist? Tracks like ‘Liars’ are chock full of every signifier of pure emotional vitriol associated with anthemic pop-rock. Firstly, there’s the crowd-favourite “woah-ohs”, a standard pop-punk exponent and tried-and-tested gimmick that’s sure to make any track sound epic, right? Secondly, there’s the huge emphasis on every chorus, found most overtly in ‘Take It Home’, which all but makes the verses redundant such is the amount of energy and passion exerted during those overwrought climaxes. Thankfully, there do exist some intimate moments such as the tender intro to ‘Dying’ or the folky strumming of ‘Nova Scotia’ but ultimately these somewhat inevitably segue into those huge choruses these Californian lads are so fond of. On two tracks- ‘Iron Boat’ and the title track, vocalist Dustin Andrew’s duets with the rather soothing voice of Lindsey Pavao, semi-finalist on the US version of The Voice, by the way. The result is largely successfully affecting vocal trade-off with some rather lovely harmonies although Pavao can’t resist a bout of fittingly overblown vocal showboating at the conclusion of ‘Nova Scotia’.
Despite their best intentions, there’s something a little too contrived and self-consciously anthemic about their sound. Every chorus is treated as a moment of hands in the air euphoria. It’s a bold move, treating your first album like the gateway to stadium rock hierarchy. But what Of Us Giants seem to be ignorant to, is that the allure of most of these stadium bands is the journey they took to get there, the grind of the toilet circuit and the character building it asserts, the struggle to find that unique aspect that only arrives through constant development and evolution in songwriting. Biffy Clyro went through a decade of transmuted weirdness before they started to gain even the slightest prospect of achieving the arena status they very much deserved. Brand New faced torturous writing sessions and a complete reworking of their sound before they arrived at the level of rabid devotion they now instil in a legion of sensitive souls. On Nova Scotia, Of Us Giants have prematurely declared themselves stadium bound and unleashed their big breakthrough album. In sidestepping the growing pains that define bands worthy of their arena status, Of Us Giants arrive devoid of an endearing charm. Although there’s no doubting their ability to pen some truly monstrous and memorable rock tracks, here they’re simply trying too hard and employing every enthralling device of their heroes in a manner that is intrinsically false.
2.5 out of 5 high fives!