by Chris Bryson
Over the course of their career Tough Age has been refining and evolving a style of jangly indie pop with a fuzzy, lighthearted punk edge. Originally planned for release earlier in the year but postponed due to the state of the world, Tough Age’s newest album, Which Way Am I?, finds the band in tried and tested form, with some added twists.
Jarrett Samson (vocals/guitar) says his record collector history and musical curiosity is part of what has led the band into new directions. “A lot of the stuff that I like is very varied and what I’m drawing from is not often from music that sounds like what we’re making,” explains Samson, “I think I just wanted to push against the expectations of what it is.”
Samson mentions folk rocker Richard Thompson as a huge influence, although he says it’s not a through line that he thinks anyone would draw. He likes to have his influences a couple steps removed, and to look at them from different angles.
The band’s pushing against expectations is most evident on the second half of Which Way Am I?, with an overall mellower vibe, which pairs nicely with the album’s thematic dichotomy. “I can only speak for myself. Penny’s songs I can’t speak to the motivation. But in the way we sequenced it, it was like the first side is fighting against acceptance, and the second side is sort of like acceptance,” says Samson. “It’s sort of like both sides of defeatism. A-side and B-side of self-defeat and self-flagellation.” Samson wanted the first half of the album to be more singles-oriented tracks, and the latter half to be more coherent altogether.
The second half of the album, the acceptance half, finds the band deviating from their sound with rewarding results. From the krautrock groove of “Repose” to the dreamy ambience of “Mathers Ave,” to “Possession’s” fluttering flute, the weaving and winding melodies of “Patience Of Mind” and the bubbly shimmering guitars of instrumental closer “In A Desert,” Tough Age are growing beyond their roots.
Although Samson says there won’t be anything to commemorate the release of Which Way Am I? quite yet, he’s happy enough just to have it out for people to enjoy. Which Way Am I? was released August 7 on Mint Records.