Out right now on the Brace Yourself imprint is the fourth album from South London punks JOHN, called A Life Diagrammatic. It’s a follow up to 2021s Nocturnal Manoeuvres, a record which saw the band move from perennial cult touring band to, well if not the mainstream then pretty close to it.
A Life Diagrammatic is cut from the same playbook as the bands other records, more or less at least, raw and asperous punk rock with these muscular drums and punishing, distroted guitars propelling the gruffly sung melodies forward, drawing comparisons with IDLES and the like.
But the JOHN’s – the duo is made up of (rather helpfully) John Newton (drums, lead vocals) and Johnny Healey (guitar, backing vocals), have picked up tricks along the way and – four albums in – their craft has been honed and buttons are being pushed, with the band expanding their creative repertoire in what is easily their most experimental and ambitious record to date.
After skirting round the edges of the top 75 with their last record they’ve also drafted in some A-list collaborators in the form of Simon Pegg, ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson and Leona Farrugia of the up and 2 GENN.
The scene (and standard) is set by pulsating opener At Peacehaven, decorated in these slashy guitars and brooding menace, before a first real look at the bands developing self confidence comes in the shape of the much more experimental Media Res, which features Pegg doing a monologue over a backing of gentle electronic hue.
There’s strong songs littered throughout, with singles standing out as the album unfurls. The energy is almost joyous, despite the anxious guitar lines and angular chord changes of Serviced Stationed, while Trauma Mosaic fizzes and Ridley Scott Junior explodes and no doubt chaos will ensue when it’s played on the bands forthcoming supporting tour.
Perhaps a track like Côte D’Adur best sums up the album – manelovent guitar lines, driving drums, and these angry but assured vocals. It’s put through the grinder, but there’s enough of these wonky melodies and off kilter accompaniment to draw you in and maniacally hold your attention.
As an album it’s unmissable, and for JOHN it’s a career high.