“When you write, you just write,” explained Sauna Youth singer and drummer Rich Phoenix in an interview with Loud And Quiet last month. “It’s only when you look back over that you start to discover that there are common threads running through everything.” Phoenix and his bandmates might not have conceived ‘Distractions’ as a concept album but with the benefit of hindsight, the art-punk foursome have chosen a marvellously apposite title for their second LP.

The London-based Brighton transplants have spent the last three years since their debut getting swept up in any number of side projects, whether that be Monotony – an alternate-reality, rudimentary version of Sauna Youth where they all swap instruments – through to contemporary punk outfits like Male Bonding, Primitive Parts, Cold Pumas and Feature. Bassist Christopher Murphy also makes t-shirts, Phoenix runs a community project while singer and keyboardist Jen Calleja edits an arts magazine and writes for The Quietus to boot. Oh and the band have switched labels since last time too. It should come as no surprise then that at its core, ‘Distractions’ is an album about escapism; about wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else and with someone else. “I try to leave but I couldn’t go through with it / I try to leave; distraction was never enough,” Calleja and Phoenix lament on ‘Try to Leave’. On ‘New Fear’ the pair sing about submitting to the path of least resistance, while ‘Monotony’ comes off like a straightforward, one-riff rant against boredom. At times, it actually seems like Sauna Youth want to escape themselves, or at least the band’s occasionally conflicted sense of identity. “These abstract notions have no place in pure thought,” Phoenix shouts on ‘Abstract Notions’, an 89-second Ramones pastiche that immediately follows a rather abstract spoken word introduction (another moody spoken word piece, ‘(Taking a) Walk’, follows later).

Take a step back, though, and it becomes apparent that the foursome have managed to parlay all these doubts, distractions and self-contradictions into a remarkably cohesive statement; 14 tracks of art-damaged pop-punk in similar vein to their first record, only considerably more immediate and energetic. Where last time around Lindsay Costorphine’s guitar was obfuscated by a layer of scuzz, now it buzz saws its way through virtually every track. There’s also much more focus here on straightforward riffs and song-writing, as opposed to the hazy dissonance of the group’s previous release. Mostly though – and perhaps ironically, all things considered – ‘Distractions’ showcases a band pulled in dozens of directions but one whose identity is stronger than ever; a smart punk outfit with literary proclivities who haven’t forgotten how to have a good time.


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