(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Recording review - Team Spirit, Killing Time (2014)

Forever young and other deals with the Devil

Some 18 months ago, Team Spirit dropped their five song self-titled EP and it's little exaggeration to say that I've been waiting for their first full length release ever since. Their infectious blend of thrash, pop, and muscular dual guitar riffage made them one of my favorite acts of 2013. Killing Time captures the manic energy of their live performances with a well-crafted set of songs that delivers on the promise of that first taste.

The album leads off with"Surrender", and although it's not a cover of the Cheap Trick classic, it's easy to hear that band's influence in the uptempo staccato beat and the chorus harmonies. The lyrics are soaked in the turmoil and ambivalence of teen love. Tired of being toyed with but still drawn back to the flame, front man Ayad Al Adhamy is left with no other choice but to surrender. He yo-yos between sneering attitude and helpless fascination, driven by the punk guitar thrash. Of course, all of this is effectively trumped by the revelation that "It's too late to help me / Cause I made a deal with the devil / And I'll be forever young," which goes a long way towards explaining Team Spirit's magic. Al Adhamy wears his teenage heart on his sleeve and, like Joey Ramone, it doesn't really matter how long it's been since his high school years. He taps into the angst, the naïveté, and the seething emotions of adolescence, and distills them into tight servings of pop punk perfection.

I've often referred to my love of "snotty boys with guitars" and Team Spirit knocks that out of the park with a sound that links back to Too Much Joy and The Refreshments along with punk idols, The Ramones. But they also have a polished pop attitude that doesn't get mired down in simple blues-based progressions. Even a darkly heavy track like "Closer" can't quite settle for a single facade. The initial splash of New Order introduction gives way to a thick tidal wash of guitars, while the sneering vocals come straight from the garage or fuzz-warped basement. This kind of layered experience is typical of these tunes. Team Spirit is equally happy, regardless of whether listeners head bang along or pick up on the danceable drive of the songs. Along the way, they toss out plenty of interesting perspectives that may be missed the first time around underneath the low-fi grind, but they give Killing Time some real staying power.

In many of these songs, Al Adhamy takes on a borderline persona, like the hapless character in "Teenage Heart" who tries his best to talk his way out of trouble ("C'mon, c'mon/ Come on, Baby, give me another second chance") even though it's clear that it's a hopeless task. He may have forgotten to tell his girl that he suffers from a teenage heart, with all the hormonal fluctuation that incurs, but there's no way she's going to fall for that. Again. "Cool Guy", on the other hand, wallows in indecision about whether to commit or walk away from trouble, "I'm trying to convince you/ I want you to convince me, too" but can't get much beyond, "I'm trying to convince myself/ That you are worth all of this Hell."

That 18 month lag since their debut EP included plenty of changes for Team Spirit with Al Adhamy losing his original bandmates fairly early on, but he quickly regrouped with a solid line up that includes Daniel de Lara and Alex Russek holding down the rhythm and Kieren Smith on guitar. While these guys bring their own personalities to the mix, Killing Time shows that the band never abandoned their core thrashy attitude or dedication to party-time rock. Turn it up to 11 and soak it in. Then, when Team Spirit makes it to your corner of the world, come out and see what rock and roll is in all its exuberant glory.

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