Review: The Hard Aches 'Pheromones'

I still remember seeing Hard Aches frontman Ben David play for the first time around 4 years ago at the ever shady Enigma Bar when I was back in Adelaide. Playing heartfelt punk-influenced folk, something that has since become very trendy across the country, he was an impressive performer with a solid repertoire of songs and a wealth of experience gigging and touring.

In 2012, The Hard Aches were born when David joined with drummer Alex Upton and Brianna Mahoney (who unfortunately has since left the band) on bass. The trio-turned-two-piece have since released a split EP with fellow Aussie punk stalwarts Foxtrot and their own release Organs and Airports. However, most notable is their recent full-length album Pheromones which has garnered attention and praise from publications across the country, with Triple J naming them the featured artist of the month.

As a two-piece, the sound and production on this album is quite Spartan with just a drum kit, a barely-overdriven guitar and vocals (with maybe the occasional bass). Regardless, that is the way this band’s sound should be, bare bones folk-punk with just enough studio shimmer to make it palatable to the modern listener.

Regardless of any wanky talk of production quality and tone, the heart of Pheromones lies in the song-writing and the lyrics.

The chorus of “I Get Like This”, the album’s acclaimed lead single, is the perfect example of the album’s overall tone with the simple, yet emotionally-effective lyrics of “I get like this when I get fucked up, but I get fucked up when I get like this”, combining with David’s excellent vocal-work to create a real modern punk anthem. Similar to contemporaries The Smith Street Band (a more well-known example), the songwriting throughout the album is characterized by heartfelt emotional lyrics unclouded by pretentious metaphors, preserving the sense of honesty in the songs for maximum feels. Unlike many modern bands, the lyrics don’t attempt to be clever or even particularly poetic, emphasizing David’s emotions and personal stories. The album closer “Just Like Your Mother” has some of the best lines in the album such as “I would kill for the Hills and the country fresh air, for us to wake up to nothing and to live and die there”.

Sonically, the songwriting, despite not veering too far off the beaten folk-punk path that it sets for itself in the first two tracks, is varied enough to prevent listeners from being bored. Most of the songs tend to be reasonably upbeat songs perfect for jumping around and dancing to with catchy melodies combining with the aforementioned heartfelt lyricism. Apart from “I Get Like This”, other tracks like “Braver Than I Am” and “Knots” will definitely get your inner beer-drinking punk punter tapping your feet while pondering your feelings towards your friends and loved ones. “Old Souls” slows down the tempo to a melancholy ballad with female harmonies in the background and actually turns out to be one of the best tracks on the album. The latter end of the album loses some of the earlier upbeat danceability of the album, instead replacing it with a slightly darker and more melancholy on tracks like “We All Do” and one of the album highlights “St Helens”.

Standout tracks:
“I Get Like This”
“Old Souls”
“St Helens”
“Just Like Your Mother”

More accessible to mainstream audiences than The Smith Street Band or most other bands in the Australian punk scene, Pheromones is a great album for those thinking about jumping on the folk-punk bandwagon. Stream it on and buy it if you end up liking it.

The Hard Aches will also be on tour next month with Sydney’s HANNAHBAND. The Canberra show will be on the Saturday 22nd August at The Phoenix. Make sure to get your consent forms signed so these guys can take you all on a feels trip.

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