I fell in love with Breakup Haircut before I heard even one note of their music.
Just short of three years ago, and only a matter of months after they formed, the London-based 4 piece released their debut EP What Did You Expect? I Got It Off The Internet. Without hearing even one song from it, I knew I was going to be a fan for life. I only had to look at its track listing and see quirky, witty song titles like ‘Why Can’t I Be Cool Enough To Move To Berlin?’ and ‘Mum, I Wanna Be A Greaser’ to be sure that this was a band whose future I wanted to be a small part of. And as a devoted BH fan, I like to think that I’ve done my part to make that come true. I may have missed their first few gigs, but since catching them at a LOUD WOMEN event at Kingston’s delightfully scuzzy Fighting Cocks pub just a few days after the EP came out I haven’t missed very many since.
Inevitably BH and I have also become chums, but if you think that automatically guarantees them a glowing review for their long -awaited debut album you’re wrong. OK, so I’ll be honest – it IS going to be a glowing review, but I assure you I left my personal bias outside my office door when I sat down to extol its virtues. The honest-to-God truth of the matter is that, even if I didn’t know them or know anything about them, I’m telling you that Breakup Haircut have produced a sensational first LP in Punk Dancing For Self Defence, and one that any and every band would be proud to put their name to and on.
Although their lead guitarist is French, Breakup Haircut are very definitely a quintessentially English pop band with the kind of lineage that can be traced as far back as The Kinks, passing through all sorts of notables of the past half a century or so including Buzzcocks, the Delta 5, the Monochrome Set, the punk era version of the Slits and most of all the Television Personalities. There’s also an American influence in their songs and the way they play them, taking in a pinch of Ramones and a big dollop of mid 70s Modern Lovers. If you were to stick all these bands in a blender and make yourself a musical smoothie, it would come out tasting of Breakup Haircut, although to be honest I think any audio resemblances to these bands are purely coincidental and my inner mind doubts if they have actually heard at least some of them…
Punk Dancing is a dream debut for both the band and their ever-growing army of fans. It features 15 cuts, most of which have been thoroughly road tested both pre-and post-lockdown, and almost any of which are what the music press used to call ‘singles material’. BH have in fact trailed the release of the album with three very strong live favourites, the usual set opener ‘On The Fence’ (the one with the chorus that goes “It Goes Both Ways”) and the song that frequently follows it ‘Marie Kondo’ (which in my ignorance I thought was called “In My Dream House”) plus the long-time crowd pleaser ‘Out Of My Way (I’m Not Getting On The Night Bus)’ which reveals itself to be a far funnier song than I already knew it to be, thanks to an excellent production that puts singer and songwriter Ishani high up in the mix and reveals lyrical wit and warmth that often get lost in an onstage audio mix. This is true of the whole album in fact. Most of BH’s songs have a lot of words, and sometimes those words get lost in the murk of a soundboard mix in a small club. Here you can hear every one of them loud and clear, which only serves to reinforce their quirky, pithy and frequently spiky nature.
Ishani gets the lioness’ share of the leads here, but BH is nothing if not a vocal democracy. Only drummer Jordan doesn’t sing (either live or here), so we also hear from lead guitarist Delphine on the rancorous catchy post-romance putdown ‘I Wish’ and bassist Ripley on ‘No Excuses’ and ‘Sugar Rush’ and a jolly good job they both do too. It should surprise nobody that BH have musically progressed in leaps and bounds since their agreeably shambolic EP debut nearly 3 years ago, and they have wisely remade two of its best songs here, both mentioned above. These versions of ‘Berlin’ and ‘Greaser’ are performed with a tightness that can only have come from playing them live at every gig. Even though they are two of the band’s earliest songs there’s still plenty of mileage in both, and I can’t see either being dropped from their set any time soon, happily!
Like their sets, the album flies by at a breathless pace, slowing only slightly as it draws to a close with the final offering ‘Valentines’ being the nearest thing to a ballad that it contains. You will not be bothered by the fact that the content is largely up-tempo – quite the opposite, in fact, you will be too busy enjoying everything it contains. If you saw BH live at last year’s LOUD WOMEN Fest, you will know how fabulous they were 10 months ago and can probably guess how much better a year’s worth of gigging after a previous year of enforced inactivity has made them. And you therefore probably won’t need me to tell you that “Punk Dancing For Self Defence” needs to go on your list of ‘Must Buy’s the minute you stop reading this…
How could anyone not want to?