In the past four years, Sløtface have emerged as one of the finest indie bands not just from Norway but on the entire planet. Their debut album, the fantastic Try Not to Freak Out, showcased the Stavanger-based group’s ability to mix catchy, anthemic music with immensely clever and thoughtful lyrics. The approach echoed the great pop-rock bands of the ’90s, in which Sløtface still placed a premium of moving people with their stories as much as the catchy hooks and fist-pumping rhythms. Consequently, Haley Shea (vocals), Lasse Lokøy (bass), Nils Jørgen Nilsen (drums), and Tor-Arne Vikingstad (guitar) delivered one of 2017’s most outstanding albums, and the quartet show no signs of slowing down with their sophomore effort, Sorry for the late reply.
While their first record alternated between tackling social issues with stories of the band’s youth, Sorry for the late reply is largely a politically-charged effort. But unlike other artists and bands who pair their tough lyrics with equally hardened, protest music, Sløtface turn the message into an exhilarating event. They’ve opted to share their views through music that will encourage people to dance, jump, or even mosh, and the combination is an astounding success.
The album’s opener, “S.U.C.C.E.S.S.”, is one huge middle finger at anti-immigrant, right-wing parties and individuals. But instead of telling them to fuck off, Shea directs her message at the newcomers into countries. Through Vikingstad’s flaming guitar and Lokøy’s booming bass line, she delivers words that belong on a billboard:
“You better represent, be the best damn immigrant. (repeat)
You’re going to be a S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (repeat)
Why be good enough when you can be the damn best?”
The head-shaking, hip-gyrating “Telepathetic” sees Shea target the apathetic and her fellow Millennials and Gen Zers. She tells them to get up and take charge instead of “wishing for something to happen”. The head-bouncing “Stuff”, meanwhile, tackles over-consumption and materialism, where we buy things to fill the empty spaces in our lives. Its chorus has a Death Cab for Cutie vibe, where you might catch yourself singing, “Ba-bum”, while contemplating how to de-clutter your closet.
Introspective moments are also present on the album, such as the Bully-esque “Luminous”, which Shea offers a rare story of how one person made her heart hurt. The slow romper, “New year, new me”, recalls all the promises and plans Shea has made, but she’ll never keep them. Although this her story, the confusion is to which we all can relate. The fast and furious, fun and bodacious “Tap the pack” focuses the vulnerability in each person. As the guitars and rhythms get supercharged, Shea delivers some biting lyrics about herself, where she realizes that she doesn’t know as much as she thinks.
Sløtface, though, are at their best when they look outwards and tell tales or share their observations. The groovy “Laughing at funerals” is Shea at her storytelling best, as she recalls the interactions at the passing of a family member and the thoughts streaming through her mind. Her story is something out of a Spike Jonze movie.
The punk-pop number, “Passport”, bursts with a terrific, over-driven guitar. Shea, in the meantime, reflects on the state of the world, particularly the USA, and “this manifest destiny, this bigotry that keeps flashing across our screens”. As the “land of the free” spirals into turmoil, she expresses her gratitude for living where she does. The gritty ear-worm “Sink or swim” is a criticism of the world’s, including Shea’s, inaction to save the world and the resulting climate change. At one moment, she sings, “It’s too warm for October”. She then ponders what her inactivity means, “Keep seeing my grandchildren die, but I can’t seem to turn the lights off / When I leave the room.”
It is on “Crying in Amsterdam”, though, where the band reaches their zenith. Two renditions are offered. The first is a Slothrust-like, urgent rocker. As the instruments howl, Shea describes how one’s world falls apart, as someone dear has passed away while our protagonist was in another place. Through the mourning, she consumes herself in alcohol and drugs, and she, thus, swirls into her own vortex of problems. The second version is a raw recording of Shea alone at the piano, and it sounds like Ben Gibbard doing a solo interpretation of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. It’s a beautiful, heart-breaking account, whose power lies in Shea’s words. It is also a reminder of the talent of Sløtface. They are unlike many bands around today – gifted musicians and entertainers yet thoughtful, insightful songwriters.
And Sorry for the late reply is unlike many albums you’ll hear today.
Cover image by Helga Brekke
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