Review: Grade 2 get top marks with their self-titled album

It seems almost inevitable at this point that 2023 will be the year this trio from the Isle of Wight absolutely dominate alternative music. And their success is well deserved.

If you haven’t heard of/listened to Grade 2 yet then there’s two things to say:

1: You have really missed out as they’re an exciting, talented and impressive band that are doing great things.

2: You can rectify this immediately by putting their new self-titled album on your shopping list.

Grade 2’ is the band’s fourth studio album and seems to be a culmination of all the previous years spent honing their craft both in the studio and in their live performances. There’s a confidence and unrelenting swagger to this album that incorporates all the most infectious elements of the punk eras the band love so much. It trims the fat and just brings the best of the genre- energy, attitude and authenticity.

The band formed at the tender age of 14 when they would play along to their favourite punk icons such as The Clash, The Jam, The Specials and The Stranglers. This punk rock education explains how they have managed to combine the raw, frayed-edge fuzziness of punk with an impressive ear for melody (the album is super catchy, ‘Brassic’ has been in my head for days….)

The 35 minute, 15-track release starts off as it means to go on with an absolute blast of an opener- ‘Judgement Day’– showcasing in one and a half minutes what you can expect across the rest of the tracks. It’s a short, sharp song with rollicking drums and some deft bass work on display all presided over by Sid Ryan’s powerful vocals.

Second song is the aptly named ‘Fast Pace’– it’s all indie riffage and anthemic choruses. It’s modern sounding but there’s definitely a homage to previous generations of pop punk icons like Rancid.

Speaking of Rancid, there’s a bit of a Tim Armstrong-esque moment in the opening to ‘Under The Streetlight’ which then quickly sheds its Hellcat-influenced skin and morphs into one of the most solid tracks on the album, and very representative of Grade 2 and what they bring to the table in 2023.

The link to Rancid and Armstrong in particular, is not just a product of any fandom within the band, they actually have worked in collaboration with the legend, a perk perhaps of being signed to his label.

This will be the second album released under the legendary Hellcat Records, the label Armstrong founded in 1997 that has put out releases  (at various points past and present) by The Interrupters, Dropkick Murphys, The Distillers, Transplants….a who’s who of US punk and ska. And this band can sit comfortably amongst any of them. 

Grade 2- Sid Ryan (vocals and bass); Jack Chatfield (guitar and vocals) and Jacob Hull (drums)- already had an EP and album under their belts when they signed to Hellcat in 2018. After getting invited to work at Armstrong’s Ship Rec Studio for this new release, the band were chuffed to be back.  “Returning to Ship Rec Studio resparked that magic dynamic,” says guitarist Jack Chatfield. “When we’re in there I feel like we reach our full potential. Tim would offer tweaks and tips for some songs, while others he’d compliment the first time we’d play them.”

The pace does not let up- there’s no acoustic break or foray into stadium anthems that you can sway your lighter to, it’s all punk, all the time.

Grade 2

You’ll recognise the sing-a-long choruses of singles like ‘Brassic’ (“I’ve got nothing to spend/And nothing to do”. Damn, now it’s back in my head again) and ‘Midnight Ferry’ that maintain the upbeat energy that the band are known for.

There’s a little bit of a harder direction in ‘Gaslight’, much more reminiscent of some thrashing vibes from 80s American punk when it was all a bit harder and more aggressive but that track only lasts 58 seconds and accomplishes all it needs to in less than a minute.

As well as the sounds, the lyrics also reflect the punk staples of social commentary and youthful angst and disaffection (‘You Don’t Stand Alone’) as well as cheeky chappy personas (‘Streetrat Scallywag’).  But throughout any of their tales of being skint, pissed off and stressed out, there’s a message of resilience and encouragement, that punk solidarity for a modern age.

There’s definitely an intersection here of 1970s Oi punk with the maybe more sophisticated compositions and melody that defined 90s American punk (don’t come at me).

There’s a sense that everything has been put into this album- blood sweat and tears as every instrument pops and every song goes at it full energy. I can’t really think of anything more authentic than this really in terms of sound and attitude, and how it represents what punk looks like in this generation.

Virtually impossible to listen to this sitting down (as I can attest) and I know these songs will sound incredible live but that’s not to say the recording is any less exciting, it does a great job of capturing the thrust and power even in your bedroom (that sounded dirtier than it meant to).

But if you do want to experience the sound live, then you’re in luck as the band are heading out on tour throughout March so I would STRONGLY suggest you get your stompers out and get down there.

We don’t ‘grade’ releases here at Punktuation (get what I did there?) but if we did….what could I give this other than an ‘A’?

Grade 2’ is out on February 17th and is available to pre-order HERE. It really is going to be one of the releases that defines punk in 2023 so don’t deprive yourself!

Photo Credit: Ryan Mackfall

17.02 | The Fighting Cocks | Kingston
18.02 | Blacksheep | Ryde
03.03 | Vortex | Wakefield*
04.03 | The Cab | Newport *
05.03 | Mama Lizs Voodoo Lounge | Stamford *
06.03 | The Waterfront Studio | Norwich *
07.03 | The Lexington | London *
08.03 | Joiners | Southampton *#
09.03 | Cavern | Exeter *#
10.03 | Louisiana | Bristol *#
11.03 | Latest Music Bar | Brighton *#
12.03 | The Hairy Dog | Derby *#
13.03 | Redrum | Stafford *^
14.03 | The Lubber Fiend | Newcastle *^
15.03 | Yellow Arch | Sheffield *^
16.03 | The Grand Social | Dublin
17.03 | Voodoo | Belfast
18.03 | Classic Grand | Glasgow *^
19.03 | Star & Garter | Manchester *^

* = Clobber
^ = Gyp
# = Rats Nest

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