SPRINTS 'Letter to Self' review: The band arrives fully in bloom

How well does the new record hold up?
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One week into the new year and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that SPRINTS' debut Letter to Self will be in my top albums of 2024. For those of you who have been waiting for the Savages to put out some new music – something the London-based noise-rockers haven’t done in seven years – SPRINTS can definitely serve you well while you wait.

Or, put it another way: do you know that old Charlie Daniels song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia?” And do you know Ray Wylie Hubbard’s transgressive observation about the fact that the devil’s fiddle solo is actually the better of the two in that song? If you’re like Ray Wylie and prefer the devil to the good ol’ boy, then you have to listen to SPRINTS.

SPRINTS has a way of taking songs that are catchy enough to be hits and turning them messy and grungy and simply marvelous. I don’t know if that leads to mainstream success, but it absolutely leads to a devoted fanbase. Singer Karla Chubb has a tidal wave of a voice that can go from soft and romantic to fire and brimstone in the space of a phrase. She puts me in mind of Debora Iyall, the fabulous front woman of the ‘80’s American post-punk band Romeo Void. SPRINTS is messier and noisier than Romeo Void, but they are spiritual sisters.

That’s both a good and a bad thing. Romeo Void released several sensational albums, but only flirted with real success. Listening to songs like “Literary Mind” and “Up and Comer” from Letter to Self makes me think these could be real hits. But SPRINTS refuses to succumb to the earworms they might create. Colm O’Reilly’s guitar gets grungier and Chubb’s voice grows more harsh just as the song is about to be a hit.

SPRINTS brings a level of playfulness to Letter to Self

Which is exactly what makes the songs substantial and not forgettable. “Up and Comer” is Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” forty years later. “Never Say Never” is one of the best songs of the ‘80s, so I mean that as a serious compliment.

You can hear the Romeo Void influence on other tracks, like “Adore Adore Adore,” (which may or may not be an homage to the Savages), and you can definitely hear other Irish and British guitar bands like Fontaines D. C. and Pillow Queens in both the guitar and vocals. But Chubb and O’Reilly, along with rhythm section Sam McCann and Jack Callan, are also capable of creating songs like “Heavy,” which comes off as Wet Leg after a night of Bushmills and Mortal Kombat. They had hinted at this type of song in “Delia Smith,” from their 2022 EP. Here, it gets further development.

The slow burn of “Shadow of a Doubt” eventually explodes into a gothic Offspring-like attack of power chords. “Shaking Their Heads” shows off the range Chubb can get in her vocals while also giving O’Reilly a chance to seamlessly blend sweet acoustic chords with the noisiest of noises.

All this musical virtuosity fits perfectly with SPRINTS' lyrical concerns, which consistently delve into messy, noisy subjects like anxiety, obsession, and hypocrisy. These are heavy, potentially depressing subjects, but O’Reilly’s guitar is continually pulling us through the swamp.

SPRINTS is a smart band. You hear it in their lyrics. You hear it in the guitar. You hear it in interviews. They know what they want to accomplish. I really like the moments of playfulness that crop up from time to time on Letter to Self and hope they give that a little more free reign as they grow. But if they keep writing things like this:

“I wear your name like it’s a noose around my neck -- I spent your love like it’s money I haven’t got just yet -- I wear a smile like it’s a runner -- Your despise, like a badge of honor -- They say she’s good for an up and comer -- Say she’s good for an up and comer”

… they’re going to be just fine. With Letter to Self, SPRINTS is no longer an up and comer. They are already here.

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