Watch Commander plays a kind of punk rock that lives between the infectiousness of the genre’s poppiest and the sophisticated musicianship of its most respected. If you’re like me, that description is enough to elicit drooling desire, but better still is that the songs live up to the description. Clock and Compass is the debut album from the Worcester, UK quartet, and on it they prove they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Clock and Compass comes across as possessing the inherent positive energy present in much of pop punk without being able to claim a stake in the genre. The guitars are a little too busy, regularly playing ascending melodies and harmonizing. And the vocals aren’t sung, they’re bellowed– expelled from the lungs as if the words themselves were poison. Watch Commander is dripping with melody, but you can feel emotion come off their music.
“Atlantic” is a stand out track that features a heavily distorted chord being thrashed upon, before transitioning into a quiet verse. The song’s chorus is in stark contrast– loud and anthemic, with a strong melody that is sang counter to a whirling sea of guitar notes. It can be tempting to use chugging power chords as the foundation for a chorus, but Watch Commander avoid the most basic suggestion in the Punk Rock Style Manual and create a much more exciting chorus, channeling the likes of Hot Water Music.
“Stillwater” also begs to be remembered, featuring some of the band’s best and most dynamic guitar work. The main riff, a fast moving melody played with power chords, is instantly memorable and manages to build a motif that the rest of the song can be based around melodically. “Clock and Compass” is the title track and unfortunately not as interesting musically. It’s a fairly simple track compared to the rest of the album, resting on the vocals to carry it forward. There’s no real feeling of communication in this song between instruments, the music is an afterthought.
The last track on Clock and Compass is undoubtedly the best. “From the Lighthouse” opens with a hammer-on filled lead that expresses a certain amount of fluidity through the melody. But, its greatest moment is its arresting bridge, that demands your attention not only with its tunefulness but also its busy fretwork.
I love hearing a great debut. There’s something remarkable in hearing a band succeed on their first try, and for the most part Watch Commander does that on Clock and Compass. It’s true, some of the songs are better than others, and yeah, if you’re not paying attention some of the songs can run together in a sea of indistinction. But the songs that work are top notch, and most of the songs work.
Clock and Compass is an excellent debut from a band that has a superb handle on their own sound, keep the punk scene alive and purchase the album through their bandcamp.