To start this off, cast your eyes upwards to the album art. Firstly; corrr, that’d look lovely stretched across the packaging for a 12″ LP, wouldn’t it? Secondly, some album covers so perfectly encapsulate an album, a cohesive marriage between aural and visual representation; this second full-length from Scottish trio Carson Wells possesses the same characteristics as the tumultuous ocean that adorns its cover; volatile, chaotic, unpredictable. ‘Tread A Northern Path’ is an expansive, breathtaking album, encompassing elements from many sub-genres under the “emo” banner such as post-hardcore, math-rock and even screamo, combining and intertwining these subjects to create a twisting, progressive record that builds on the promise shown on début ‘Wonderkid’ and ensures Carson Wells’ place at the vanguard of the UK’s formidable underground DIY punk scene.
Recorded by Ross Middlemiss, who has worked with some of the leading lights in Scotmo (Scottish emo – yes, that is a sub-sub-sub-genre that I just invented, and no, I don’t care), amongst them Kaddish and Bonehouse, ‘Tread A Northern Path’ sees the best brought out in this band, from the nagging, urgent lead and bass guitar lines throughout to the potential behind a tri-vocal approach being explored to its fullest effect. Right from opener ‘Palmistry’, the potency this album possesses is unleashed, a combined assault of screamo dynamics and post-hardcore groove, lulling you into a blissful emo coma by the end, all elements bringing the kind of raw energy they show in the live arena to the record. However, don’t mistake the curtain-riser for a formula set in stone, as the Aberdonians prove on ‘Northern Path, Southern Lens’, a centrepiece to the record only three tracks in, its cinematic scope and coruscating melodic guitars augmented by the improved strengths of the aforementioned speak/sing/scream vocal trifecta.
The album continues in fine fettle into the mid-section, ‘Final Throne’ in particular letting loose with some ferocious drumming and desperate, rasping vocals in its final throes (no pun intended), not forgetting the passion and energy of ‘A Life Lapse In Passing’. The final third of the album is unfortunately where the levels of consistency start to drop a little, but where the songs become a little less interesting, the pop culture referencing game is ramped up; but what else would you expect from a band named for Woody Harrellson’s hitman character in the Coen Brothers’ thriller No Country For Old Men? ‘Sobotka’ is named for a family of characters introduced to The Wire in Season 2 and ‘Will I’m Nae’ is a rather amusing transposition of everyone’s favourite The Voice judge into Scots dialect, or maybe just a member of local tribute act ‘The Och Ayed Peas’ (#sorrynotsorry).
Despite the comparatively weaker final third that occasionally finds itself adrift, in an unfortunate case of pictorial determinism, like the ocean adorn its cover, this is still a very strong record indeed. Though the tendency to meander reveals itself in the latter reaches of ‘Tread A Northern Path’, finale ‘June’ brings back the more exhilarating elements of the first half of the record, especially during the strident break-down halfway through, leading to an emphatic coda that sees the record out into fade. Carson Wells’ sophomore record here comfortably claims its place alongside Barely Regal Records’ formidable recent release schedule, amongst them excellent albums by Cousin, Claw The Thin Ice, Crows-An-Wra and Plaids – not bad company to be in at all.