One of the most curious bands in the 2019 indie punk landscape comes, somewhat surprisingly, from Oslo, Norway. No one is really clear how the three-piece anthem-rock outfit Spielbergs became an indie darling overnight, including the band themselves. All three members had been earnest and active members of the indie rock and punk community in Norway roughly a decade ago, but after years of failing to break through they had all more or less moved on with their lives and settled in to steady 9 to 5 jobs. It was frustration with this regular life and the mundane cycles it slips into that caused vocalist/guitarist Mads Baklien and drummer Christian Lovhaug, now in their 30s, to get together and start jamming as “an adult youth group, thing.” They had no real expectations at this stage, they just wanted to make music that was fun to play. Shortly afterward their first single, Daisy! It’s the New Me, hit number 27 on a yearly Best Song’s list on one of Norway’s national magazines. The EP it came from, Distant Star, brought in rave reviews from both Stereogum and Pitchfork in 2018.
A year later, Spielbergs are capitalizing on that sudden, unexpected momentum with their debut LP This is Not the End, and it’s already a forerunner for best punk/alternative record of 2019. Beginning with the opening power pop standard Five on It, Spielbergs craft a warm, fuzzy rock record packed with immediate lyrics, catchy hooks, and enough anthemic woah sections to draw in even the most casual listeners. It’s also a surprisingly diverse record. On Familiar and the nearly 8 minute odyssey McDonald’s (Please Don’t Fuck Up My Order) they dip into moody and cathartic post-rock. Sleeper tone’s down the fuzz for a moment to produce a quiet folk song, led by a solo acoustic and backed up by ambient tremolo soundscapes. Sandwiched between these is You All Look Like Giants, which sounds sort of like Dinosaur Jr. covering an Achtung Baby era U2 song. With a spread this wide it would be easy for an album to feeling jarring or disjointed, but Spielbergs place each foray into new territory perfectly in its proper context to create an impressively coherent piece start to finish.
Lyrically This is Not the End is a restless daydream, the musings of men longing for everyday fulfillment with none of the revolutionary aggression that is steadily becoming mainstream in punk music again. Baklien humorously quips that his lyrics essentially amount to “whining”, but that doesn’t stop them from being incredibly relatable. What’s more impressive is that their lyrics hit home so acutely, despite the band admitting that they aren’t very confident in their English and were worried the songs wouldn’t come out well. Even without taking into account the language barrier, lines like “we could be perfect!” in Distant Star, “what do you want/what do you hope for?” in We Are All Going to Die, or “I don’t want to be a part of your future” from Bad Friend make perfect hooks. The directness in these short lines make them easily to shout along with after one listen and the conviction with which Spielbergs deliver them make them cathartic as all hell.
The only major weakness of the record is the mix. While it’s not really much worse off than most punk records, the guitars have a tendency to dominate these recordings. Most of the time this is exactly the intention, but throughout the record the lyrics dip in and out of intelligibility under the sheer force of the fuzz. Even in the choruses, the biggest strength of the record as a whole, whole lines dissolve into just melodies, leaving you with the distinct impression of “that was catchy” without giving you the opportunity to really sing along. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t the worst issue to have however, as a lot of bands, including sludge metal darlings Baroness, manage to get by with much worse and even thrive in the critical arena. It certainly hasn’t held Spielbergs back either, their reception from both fans and critics has been nothing but positive. At long last these three punk scene vets have finally been given their due, and on this their dynamic debut and opus, they’ve earned it fair and square.
Score: 8.3 (Best New Music)
Released: February 1, 2019
Label: By the Time it Gets Dark