I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think there will be a better punk album released in 2023 than this. 10 years in and 4 albums out. This is the second for Tim Armstrong’s Hell Cat Records and his sticky fingers are all over it, as he produced it (as Tim Timebomb) at his Shiprec Studio in LA. A far cry from their home base on the Isle of Wight.
Historically the island isn’t exactly threatening the supremacy of the likes of Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow, in producing legendary artists. Until recently it was basically Level 42 or The Bees. With Wet Leg exploding in 2022, and Coach Party earning lots of plaudits in 2023, Grade 2 are about to surprise a lot of people with their best album to date, their 4th offering, the self titled Grade 2. This is no overnight success story, rather one that’s been a decade in the making, since some school boys picked up their instruments and bashed out some cover versions of legends like The Jam and The Clash.
The progression from 2016’s debut Mainstream View, which trod a more street punk/oi path akin to Angelic Upstarts, with its heavy standard snare drum punk drumming, through the fancier guitar work of Break The Routine (2017), to their Hell Cat debut Graveyard Island (2019), which is notably more spacy and less compressed sounding, is there to see. The vocals are now more melodically pronounced, the drums reverberate, the bass punctuates and weaves between the gaps. It’s an object lesson in less is more. Strangely this progression to a fuller sound has come at a notable cost. The average track length on their debut album was a shade over 3 minutes. With each album they’ve become progressively shorter (but not faster), from 3 minutes exactly on Break The Routine, to 2 mins 25 secs on Graveyard Island. With this album the tracks now average 2 mins 20 secs. If they carry on like that they’ll be into The Chats territory! Gaslight, their shortest track ever (53 seconds), tells of their experiences with certain aspects of the music business, succinctly done in under a minute. Perhaps the next album will be called Gone In 60 Seconds!
To my mind they’ve not lost anything in shortening the songs. The power is still there, the melodies are sweeter and the whole album has more hooks than a strip of Velcro. It’s not all rammalamma balls out punk however, with 2nd track Fast Pace having more of a stop/start indie rock flavour, with some very neat Hammond organ playing them into an area previously inhabited by 90’s alt-rockers A. They’ve also finally gotten round to committing See You Around to vinyl, a song that’s been kicking around since the early demo recordings for Graveyard Island, sounding reminiscent to 90s Derby Brit Punkers, The Beekeepers single Do You Behave Like That At Home?
A tongue in cheek drinking song Bottom Shelf brings the whole thing to a satisfactory close.
A support slot on this summer’s Rancid tour should open them up to even more appreciative ears.
The band are currently on a UK tour promoting the album, and if you’re quick you can still catch them. Tickets available HERE
08.03 | Joiners | Southampton
09.03 | Cavern | Exeter
10.03 | Louisiana | Bristol
11.03 | Latest Music Bar | Brighton
12.03 | The Hairy Dog | Derby
13.03 | Redrum | Stafford
14.03 | The Lubber Fiend | Newcastle
15.03 | Yellow Arch | Sheffield
16.03 | The Grand Social | Dublin
17.03 | Voodoo | Belfast
18.03 | Classic Grand | Glasgow
19.03 | Star & Garter | Manchester