Following the release of their fourth LP, 2019’s Your Church On My Bonfire, PAWS – the Scottish DIY indie rock songwriting partnership of Phillip Jon Taylor and Joshua Swinney, toured briefly, and as the world began to shut down, they slipped out of sight. Phillip retreated north to the Highlands where he focused on his painting, solo work and the rewarding demands of fatherhood. Josh headed south to London, pursuing his other passion as a chef at the highly acclaimed Plimsoll. It would have been easy for both to settle into their new lives, but PAWS never died…and neither did the tie connecting the two friends.
Having missed playing together for too long, a plan was set and in October 2022 Josh travelled to Phillip’s home studio in his Crofters cottage where work began on the band’s fifth self-titled LP. Relying on a set of phone demos and chemistry honed after years on the road the songs came together surprisingly fast. “Remembering just how much we enjoyed writing and recording together was the driving force” explains Josh. After recording previously with both Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus and Frightened Rabbit’s Andy Monaghan, the band once again seized control of production duties as they had on their second album, Youth Culture Forever. “The thing we were hoping to achieve with making this album was to be able to be creatively free and to have fun writing and recording” Josh continues. “We wanted it to happen quickly and not be a stagnant process.” Utilising all they had learned and adding their own DIY ethos into the mix, the music was done in a week. Josh headed home and Phillip set to work on the lyrics.
The resulting record finds the band as grounded and assured as they ever have been. Marrying the deafening assault of youthful abandon with the whispered reasoning that comes with getting older; swaying from anger and exasperation to wide eyed optimism.
The caustic sample that opens the album on “Helen Back” comes as a bold reawakening, a textural onslaught that tees up a cacophonic ending as Phillips guitar slams into frenetic drums. A disorientated alienation stalks “Disenchanted”. “What and who are we as human beings?” Phillip sings above a full throttled punk assault that drops before the two-minute mark while the duo still have breath in their lungs.
While PAWS is bookended by two tracks that hark back to the guttural passion of the band’s early records, the album is also one of dynamism and depth. “Elemental Attributes” – featuring Jane Blanchard on vocals – holds an earthy ambience that underpins the songs themes of unconditional love and awe. And across its five-minute run time, the instrumental centrepiece of “Sound Aye No Bother” – a personal favourite of Josh’ – finds hope in the magic music provides, reminding us it is often our greatest weapon against dark times. It also encourages the listener to lean into the record. “Some would say it’s instrumental but there’s some sneaky vocals at the end there” he notes.
It’s hard to sit by as the world loses its grip on reality, as we all scramble for keys to escape the capitalist cage. And on “One Nation Under DOG”, in a blur of Desaparecidos power chords and lead lines lifted from Guided By Voices treasure chest, PAWS dish out some brutal home truths. “There’s no hope / Only fire and brimstone / If acquiring and selling is all that we have to live for.”
PAWS is a succinct, razor wire encased documentary chronicling the pains of modern living. Delving into the dark underbelly of 90s alternative rock, painting with evocative instrumentals and revelling in celebratory indie punk, the band also embrace sordid pop and ambient electronics. And while it pays homage to where they have come from, it also signals a clean slate for the pair.
Two friends united over distance. After some time apart, all they needed was a spark.