Album Review: Polevaulter – Hang Wave

[Self-released; 2024]

As a robust outfit with guitars and drums as weapons of choice, Leeds’ Polevaulter, near the beginning of the pandemic, scraped by as another plug-and-play post-punk act – part of the growing and homogenized swathe of emerging bands that more or less sound the same. But in the aftermath of global disaster, they assumed defeatism and a period of deformation to form anew.

They’d argue nothing about them has changed, aside from the number of individuals involved with the project, but in all reality mere life happenstance had caused the now duo to carve out and shape an identity that’s become unmistakably their own. This was not by reimagining their music more sparse or scant, but by honestly leaning into the nagging, labyrinthian anxieties sprawling like crabgrass within them. 

It’s 2024, and a thousand storms are still brewing inside Polevaulter; their music suggests so — it’s suffocating, chaotic, and yet, somehow, one adage prevails: less is more, and it couldn’t be any truer of Hang Wave. The band’s oppressive, devouring debut, despite its modest composition — two dudes, a guitar, and a drum machine — has all the might and bite to rip one’s head right off their shoulders. 

Immediately emerging into the frame with an angered weariness, years of the duo’s toll and labor are viciously made clear. Thump, thump, thump — the pulsating bass drum kick of “Mia Goth Made Me Do It” ushers in Hang Wave’s all-encompassing dread with ruthless compulsion, tearing itself asunder to spew everything ever pent up, “Arrogantly wailing / Eyes on the podium”; but not without antagonizing too, “We’re here to cause an argument / and make knees vibrato.” Your knees will be shaking too, and that’s before ever arriving at the door of the record’s more brutal moments. Cue up “Pissed In the Baths”.

Drowning in the queasy haze of howling synthesizers, pulverizing industrial beats, and the antagonistic barks of Jon Franz, the climate-conscious “Pissed In the Baths” fulfils its titles viciously unhealthy promise – and they throw in a plugged-in toaster for good twisted measure. The result is serrated art-punk at its most perilous and electrified, a malicious cut that invites listeners to bask in its sinister waters as Franz repeats with a shrilling, declarative yelp, “We’re going swimming”. An unsettling eagerness to launch direct into the deep end of assured death ensues.

Yes, Polevaulter are swimming far and wide, backstroking through the poisoned oceans we’ve defiled for ourselves and future generations, no doubt. But the band is also “On a trend /That only goes in one direction”, Franz announces on “Trend”. The future we are offered is nothing short of bleak; this hasn’t changed.

Still, there’s no stopping the critical and creative velocity of Polevaulter; they’re making the days ahead seem like a thrill to endure as they operate with a grinding inertia that makes Hang Wave feel uncontainable — insatiable even. “The tank’s too small for the fish to swim,” Franz laments to close out the record. They know where the future lies for the world at large. All they can do in the meantime, however, is convey and unleash their truth in the most gnarled manner they know how.

Polevaulter have arrived, irritable, unruly, and with a mountain-sized chip on their shoulder that has made them into an uncompromising duo. They’re fully confident in who they are as artists and as pained humans with socio-political convictions, secure in their words and the misshapen sounds bending through and around them. While some lines about doing lines on a horse’s dick, or others of the same self-deprecating, facetious temperament, may border on the ridiculous and incite a few chuckles, Hang Wave‘s unrelenting power and throttled demeanor will reveal that we — you, me, and anyone who listens to this record — don’t know actual persisting and tormenting pain.

Sure, It takes stamina to endure unrelenting lashings of high-strung, dark, and brooding punk music that often leans industrial. But let’s not forget, there’s privilege and freedom that comes with indulging in art of such full-bore brutalism and honesty. Polevaulter would admit this too. But even if they’d acknowledge that this record is a faint echo of agony withheld for far too long, there’s no denying Hang Wave as a byproduct of bile chucked up after heavy bouts of anxiety. Here, they’re hitting pause to decipher the disarray and see the bigger picture. 

With fire burning in their bellies and chests puffed at max inflation, the band’s pissed-off disposition somehow tips the richter scale into calamity the deeper one traverses through Hang Wave’s enclosing grip of self-confidence and topical precision. It’s often hard to make out what they’re ranting and raving about, but Franz’s purgative delivery – half spoken word and half hollering – is potent, never coming come across as obnoxious. There’s nuance and emotional complexity to the many blaring, quick-witted statements and violent compositions throughout Hang Wave; it’s more than its endless shouting and aggressive, engravable platitudes. 

Hang Wave is not a record that talks down to its listeners; it merely exposes a dark world through the duo’s personal strifes and insecurities. The duo draw from this world a profound longing. In fact, hovering just above the electrified air of Polevaulter’s industrial-jagged Hang Wave is a mournful howl of a ghost whose forlorn hand grasps for something stable and substantial — some would even say hopeful. However, this ghostly essence can only observe the chaos from above, while Polevaulter remain dead set on making the angriest and most propulsive art rock of 2024.