Personality Cult: New Arrows


[Dirtnap Records, Feb. 14]

Album release show: Friday, Feb. 28, 8:30 p.m., Nightlight

Carrboro’s Personality Cult walks a fine line between celebration and foreboding. One of the most memorable songs on the pop-punk band’s 2018 debut was largely built around a single line: “I’m a heart attack/ Waiting to happen.”

The track,  “Heart Attack,” runs only a minute and a half, but it’s representative of the kind of hooks Ben Carr has mastered with his latest group: compact, catchy, and just a little bit dark.

The band’s second album, New Arrows, which Dirtnap Records released on February 14, picks up where the self-titled debut left off, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The first record was basically Carr’s solo project—a new direction after his previous bands, Last Year’s Men and Natural Causes.

But on New Arrows, Personality Cult has expanded into a true four-piece, with drummer Colin Sneed (a Durham fixture by way of Mississippi’s Bass Drum of Death), bassist Johnny Valiant, and guitarist Stephen Svacina (formerly of Austin, Texas’s Missing Pages).

Jeff Burke, of label-mates The Marked Men, produced the album, and it’s obviously a good pairing. For 20 years, Dirtnap has been a standard-bearer of a certain strain of punchy, hooky punk; Personality Cult joins a lineage that includes The Marked Men, The Exploding Hearts, Radioactivity, and the U.K.’s Martha. Sonically, New Arrows is a step up from the debut: The rhythm section hits harder, and the guitar arrangements are more densely layered.

Pressure is a big theme on New Arrows, introduced on lead single “Pressure Point” and then cleverly echoed on album closer “5:30.” The 25 minutes of the album are an exercise in escalating tension, with canny sequencing that sends each track sprinting headlong into the next.

Release comes as quick, rhythmic punctuation, such as the oblong broken-record repetitions that make up the chorus of “Pressure Point.” Only well into the last track does the group finally take a breath, when the guitars suddenly drop off for an extended outro that seems to spiral in on itself and caps a gripping, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it listen. See for yourself at the album release show at Nightlight on Friday.

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