Archive for Taylor Swift

Review: For I Am

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2019 by Magadh

For I Am Late Bloomers (Bearded Punk Records)

[I dedicate the following lines to the two Belgian punk rocker guys who I met at a Christmas party in Berlin a few years ago. They must have been the only people there who didn’t speak German and, sort of in payment for chatting to them in English but also out of punk rock solidarity, they kept passing me bottles of Duvel until I was absolutely rat-arsed. I hope you lads are well…]

Punk rock, the internet, and a proctologist’s surgery all have one thing in common: one tends to find an above-average proportion of really unpleasant assholes there. Having spent a lot of time around the first two at least, I have (as one must) learned to ignore most of it. But there are moments, often in the late and solitary watches of the night, when the capacity of both the internet and the underground scene to distill the most repugnant qualities of human beings can bring one to an attitude of real loathing.

So it was the other night when, noodling around on Youtube, I found this:

I was pretty deep in my cups at that point, and I honestly can’t remember now why I decided to watch it. Taylor Swift is not really my thing and, as far as pop punk bands go the market is so saturated that it’s rare that one that catches my attention. But, lo, I was really pleasantly surprised. All too often, cover songs tend to be a kind of slavish homage, a lesser version of some greater original. More rarely, a band will take a cut from some other genre and, by translating it into their own, show the original in a new and different light. Leatherface were masters at this, for instance when they covered Abba’s “Eagle” or Elton John’s classic “Candle in the Wind.” But such brilliancies are few and far between, and altogether too rare.

For I Am’s driving cover of “Blank Space” is very much of the latter kind. While the original is very much in the mold of Taylor Swift’s (not unpleasant) more recent bouncy pop material, For I Am kicks out the jams, rendering it in aggressive, guitar-heavy double four time. Vocalist Hanne Terweduwe absolutely makes the whole production, both with her powerful singing chops and the sort of goofball demeanor that she effects. Swift’s original was an expression of her frustration at being painted in the (grossly sexist) press as some kind of man-eater. For that reason, it is important that is a woman delivering the lyrics.

Some gender-specific songs can have their valence reversed to useful effect (for instance Joan Jett’s cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”). By contrast, “Blank Space” is an attempt to highlight a kind of treatment specifically meted out to women. While there are (I have since discovered) quite a number of covers of this song floating around the net, the ones with dudes singing miss something important.

Anyway, my interest piqued, I headed over to Bandcamp for a little deeper dive. For I Am are from Antwerp. I must admit to my own embarrassment that I’ve probably only ever heard three or four Belgian punk bands. The only one that I can readily remember is Zyklome A, whose Made in Belgium was a classic of 1980s hardcore.

For I Am play pretty straightforward pop punk and just released their third offering, Late Bloomers. There is a refreshing self-awareness about this band. Their profile on Discogs.com features the line, “Does the world really need another pop-punk band? Probably not, but we started one anyway.” That’s fine. Rock the way you want to rock and if the field of pop punk bands is a bit crowded, quality tends to show through.

For I Am’s two prior releases are a 7 song EP from 2014 (15 Minutes Late) and a full CD from 2016 (All About Perspectives). The former was subsequently re-released with three added cuts under the title 15 Minutes Late (Again). These first two offerings have a lot going for them: catchy melodies, efficient arrangements, heavy guitars, a drummer who really knows what he’s doing, and Terweduwe who belts out the vocals with joy and conviction. Their songs cover both personal and political topics, the lyrics smooth and well-composed, especially for people working in their second language (if not their third).

It is one of the great failings of bands generally, and pop punk bands in particular, to find a formula and stick with it. One thinks here, for instance, of No Use For A Name, who settle on a workable approach with ¡Leche Con Carne! and then rerecorded it five more times. Say what you want about Bad Religion, the records that they released after No Control at least responded to the criticism that that record sounded almost exactly like its predecessor.

For those wondering what a new record from For I Am might comprise, I will say that they have resisted the temptation to rest on their laurels. They’ve retained the things that were appealing about their earlier releases while adding some nice touches and different textures. For I Am features a dual guitar attack and interplay is actually pretty subtle. The guitar sound is thick with overdrive. Late Bloomers features some more metallic-sounding techniques than and their prior discs. The songs tend to hit some pretty frenetic speeds, but the melodies are there still present and correct. Their bass player is surpassingly good, playing lots of chordal stuff that sounds at points like the guy from Face to Face (and I think that was about the best thing about that particular band).

Over it all, Hanne Terweduwe’s vocals are a powerful presence. At a couple of points in their web presence, they make the point that there aren’t that many female-fronted bands in Belgium. Probably true, because it’s true for punk rock in general. It’s always been kind of a sausage party, so it’s always nice to find women using the punk scene to amplify their power. The lyrics are smart and heartfelt in the way of modern pop punk, and there are some really clever elements as well. “P.I.G.O.T.R.Y.” makes a kind of cool, backhanded reference to Animal Farm, and this is only the best of a very good bunch.

I’ve been rocking Late Bloomers in my car for days now and it always makes me smile. I don’t always like pop punk, but For I Am makes the noise that my brain wants to hear. Maybe there are a lot of bands like this, but there is always room in the world for a band that rocks this hard.