If what lies at the heart and soul of punk music is a vivid expression of individuality—a forceful, snarling rebuke of society, conformity, and anything that prevents you from forging a path as your own, unique person—then Sprints’ full-length debut Letter To Self might well be one of the most powerful expressions of that heart and soul since 1977. It takes just under 40 minutes for Sprints to bundle depression, elation, and oh-so-much catharsis into a white-knuckle narrative that will leave you feeling grateful they didn’t keep this letter to themselves for long.
The album throws us in at the deep end, with the first few tracks sketching out a world defined alternately by empty numbness and scorching anxiety. “Maybe I should check the weather / Maybe I should bring a sweater / Maybe I should cut my hair off,” wonders vocalist Karla Chubb in opener “Ticking”—but it’s clear from her monotone, zombie vocals that she’s barely there, addressing both everyday considerations and the more outlandish ones with the same dulled, sleepwalker timbre. Track 3, “Cathedral,” expresses the sheer anguish of a life lived in service to the expectations of unsympathetic external forces, with the Church (not an institution with the proudest record on acceptance and inclusivity) serving as a reference point for any system that indulges in misogyny, homophobia, or any other neat trick designed to keep people rigid and uniform inside increasingly ill-fitting boxes. “When am I gonna be happy? Is anybody happy? / Can anybody be happy?”
As the album rolls on, the songs remain steadfastly and remarkably bleak. The light-hearted irony that many contemporary punk bands like to sprinkle over their social commentary is notably absent from Letter To Self; the songs are open, they are honest, and they are dark. Chubb declares on “Can’t Get Enough of It,” quite simply, that “this is a living nightmare.” There’s not one fiber of your being that disbelieves her.
Just as we’re hitting a kind of bleakness event horizon, the album takes a sensational turn with “Literary Mind,” where, after more than half a record of feverish emotional torment, Sprints hit us with a burst of good old-fashioned romance. Sweet, genuine, and entirely unexpected, it is an unspeakably joyful celebration of queerness, refreshing in its heartfelt uniqueness, yet at the same time bearing all the hallmarks of every classic love song ever written. You don’t need to understand the gender or sexuality of the narrator for “Literary Mind” to resonate—just the feeling of butterflies in your stomach.
This shift in tone leads into the album’s final act, heralding tunes such as “Up and Comer,” a defiant diatribe against music industry sexism, as well as the blisteringly powerful title track, which turns much of the lyricism of the opening songs on its head to reveal to a solution—beautiful in its simplicity—to the problem of all these rules which constrict our self-worth, our self-expression and our happiness; that maybe, just maybe, those rules weren’t actually written for someone like you or me.
And here is the real magic of Letter To Self. It isn’t just that it raises questions about the forces that dictate our lives—it’s that it actually attempts to answer those questions, and does so with electrifying conviction. It’s a record from a band utterly unafraid to embrace the limitless sincerity it needs in order to discuss the misery that festers under the weight of all these pressures and commitments we never even asked for. And, better yet, it clings tightly to that sincerity when expressing just how good it can feel to shake free from those commitments, and to look forward to whatever comes next.
Label: City Slang
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