Photo: Jack Whitefield
With a sardonic wit, Sam Fender affectionally describes his hometown of North Shields, England, as a "drinking town with a fishing problem." It is this distinctive viewpoint that moves singer-songwriter Sam Fender ever-forward in what will likely go down as one of the year's most striking debut efforts.
Dead Boys, the debut EP from Fender, is a six-track run that is vast in scope, musically and thematically. Written as a reaction to losing to a friend to suicide, Dead Boys is not an EP strictly silhouetted by death. Rather, it is a reflection on what comes next - the coping, the nebulous in-between, and the eventual closure. Opening on "Dead Boys - Prelude," a moving two-minute track comprised of a swirling string section and far-off vocals, Fender gently guides us, the listener, into his world.
The mounting title track, which will likely stay with listeners long after an initial listen, examines Fender's hometown and its ongoing affliction with suicide. It is a reality made especially poignant when considering the fact that following the writing of "Dead Boys," Fender lost two people he personally knew to suicide. With that being said, "Dead Boys" and the surrounding EP, does not seek to present an answer to the affliction, but instead, sincerely seeks to bring light to the tragedy. And it is this heartfelt sentiment that ends up defining Dead Boys - not death but Fender's ability to candidly and vulnerably narrate his rumination of the world around him.
The following three tracks, which make up the majority of Dead Boys, are pulsating bouts of rock-infused songwriting that sees Fender's gaze fixated on relatively lighter subject matter. One particular standout track is "Poundshop Kardashians." Scored by an infectious array of instrumentation that harks back to early UK punk, the sonic scrutiny examines how we view, worship, and inevitably condemn faux celebrities. The clever and well-aimed fallacies Fender places into clear focus, alongside a reference to an "orange-faced baby at the wheel of the ship," hint at a truly great and much-needed songwriting talent.
Ending on the acoustic "Leave Fast," Fender returns us to his beachside upbringing. And while it may be over (at least until we hit repeat) it all felt more than worth it. No sentiment, verse, or moment of instrumentation feels wasted on this impeccable debut showing. Instead, we feel lucky enough to have learned a bit more about an artist whose music isn't constrained or limited by a specific time period or sound. Fender evokes the uniquely infectious style of UK rock and songwriting that originally spurred on the British invasion of the '60s and '80s and continues to define the region to this day. So, here's hoping he'll make it stateside sometime soon.
Listen to Dead Boys below: