Taking time off from touring doesn’t necessarily mean time away from music – at least, that’s the case with Leigh Padley. Stepping away from supporting gigs with the likes of IDLES and Car Seat Headrest, Padley and his bandmates in Chichester band TRAAMS settled back home to recuperate. However, the itch to make music didn’t go away for Padley, so he decided to wrangle together a childhood friend and a local music scene acquaintance to form a new trio, Social Haul.
Padley isn’t a frontman in his other outfit, so taking the lead as a guitarist and vocalist on Social Haul’s self-titled debut is new territory for him. To get over any lack of confidence about expressing himself, he turned to the words of others – namely patrons in the pub, whose anecdotes and conversations inspired the lyrical content here. Consequently, the album can be a little wayward and dissociative, like sections are discarded slogans from political rallies, advertising campaigns, or corporate conferences (“Coincidental chemistry / We repeat this synergy”). Fuelled by a call-and-response set up with his bandmates, Padley can feel like an impassioned but slightly befuddled public speaker spouting Orwellian existentialist warnings about everyday life.
Wrapped up in post-punk efficiency and garage-rock flippancy, Padley puts in the work to try to be as credible as he can be with his staccato lyricism. On “The Ease” he leers, “I’m a thirsty boy / I play that quench and destroy / I play that poor me ploy” with a wry, infectious enthusiasm, and similarly on “This Is All I Need” he jeers “I wind people up deliberately,” like it’s half a nod to the characters he creates around the quotes he extracted from pub goers. That cheeky sense of humour is at its most evident on mid-album track “The Bayou”, the band leaving big gaps in the middle of it before returning with a crash and a smirk. It’s entertaining, but it wears a little thin after a few listens.
While Social Haul is certainly a fairly rousing and efficient 23 minutes, the main gripe is that it’s not often a thrilling listening experience. When the band locks onto a target or into a heavy chug, like on sections of “Prized From the Rot” or single and album highlight “Wet Eyes”, then it feels like all systems are go – even if all their systems don’t ever feel like they could overwhelm you. Padley’s guitar solos and riffs are lacking and hollow, and because his instrument is often so low in the mix, songs are left feeling like they are missing a vital ingredient. Daniel Daws on bass can often feel like the real star of the band who is doing the important legwork, with the heft and drive of song coming from his playing (as well as offering an engaging throughline to follow during instrumental moments where Padley is lacking).
“Social Haul is a collection of songs to get to know us by,” Padley has stated, and yeah, I suppose you get their gist by the time final track “I Have A Pen” sends the listener off on an uninspiring needly guitar riff. Though, the trio still sound closer to a tight-knit pub band with short anthems to boot than they do any kind of musical force to be reckoned with. But, Social Haul definitely sounds like it scratches that musical itch for Padley. It’s a fun excursion and exercise that shows there’s definitely potential life for him outside his main outfit. But if the band are to step up, then there might just need to be that bit more conviction and purpose next time round.