Pom Poko were first brought to Backseat Mafia’s attention early last year when they released their single “Praise” from their debut album Birthday released in 2019.

Since then, they’ve been one of the bands from Bella Union’s spectrum of talent that have been a regular feature on the website and the release of “Like A Lady” generated a degree of excitement with some of the writers here.

It was a markedly positive moment that occurred during the year that is synonymously going down as pretty crud.

The release of their new album, Cheater, out January 15th 2021, hopefully is the warm, poppy bit of jangle many of us need right now to steer us into spring.

The sophomore effort from the Norwegian Studio Ghibli fans has them embracing their extreme a little more. “In the production process I think we aimed more for some sort of contrast between meticulously written and arranged songs and a more chaotic execution and recording” singer Ragnhild Fangel explains in their press release.

“I think both in the more extreme and painful way, and in the sweet and lovely way, this album is kind of amplified.”

Which is an immediate appeal for me – much like the beloved Mint Chicks of New Zealand, Cheater manages to balance the fuzzy production logic with heartfelt, cheery pop hooks.

“Like A Lady” was an excellent choice for a single given it audibly demonstrates what Fangel and company were aiming for. The loud-quiet-loud dynamic and the incredibly genteel vocals are not varnished in mastering but instead given a rough sanding.

That effect manages to evoke a very collegiate rock sensibility akin to Veruca Salt or The Breeders; its beauty lays more so in the saturated tones that make Cheater a nebulous pop album.

During their lucid moments, Pom Poko refrain to dropping back into the safe recesses of a formula and lean into the chaotic aspects still. The angular nature of “Danger Baby” for example has a insouciant rhythm section offset by pointed lead guitars so you’re not quiet at ease… but lulled away long enough throughout.

At its most incandescent Cheater lets loose with a fury of punk that lifts the album where it needs to be lifted. “Andy Got To School”, “Baroque Denial” and the title track, “Cheater”, are rooted more in the post-punk revival school of songwriting with it’s offbeat drumming and guitar work.

It’s as if the band had picked out some of the finer moments from the ‘00s post-punk revival scene (and let’s be fair, there was a lot of dross in that movement, but not enough to use the derisive “landfill indie” tag) and focused on what made those moments resonate with listeners.

The pacing of the album is incredible also; something that I think a lot of musician’s fail to get a grasp with. Rather than load the front end of the album with everything and then tailing off at the end, it would appear the band have sat down and decided to map out where they want to take their listeners.

Give everyone a moment of self-reflection? Great – let’s lift everyone again. That’s what marks a great album from a good album.

Cheater is a very, very good album in what will no doubt be a year of a lot of releases to swamp the music scene. The fear is so early on in 2021, something like Pom Poko’s latest work might be overlooked later in the year when it comes to either end of year lists or a general overview of what was good throughout the year.

My biggest hope is people don’t sleep on this, because that would be criminal. Cheater is easily going to be in your end-of-year algorithm when that time comes.

Cheater is released on vinyl, CD and digitally through Bella Union on January 15th 2021.

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