Narrow Head Are a Different Kind of Heavy Band

The Texas band's third album 'Moments of Clarity' is an urgent reinvention

Music Features Narrow Head
Narrow Head Are a Different Kind of Heavy Band

Heavy bands don’t always get credit for their pop music bonafides, but Narrow Head are one of today’s best pop bands. This Texas outfit aren’t really a pop band per se—their songs have so many layers of pummeling hard rock guitars that they’d give the infamously dense Be Here Now a run for its money—but they have an impressive sixth sense when it comes to pop hooks. Their songs are packed with so much intoxicating force that it would make even the most sane, sober person want to joyfully punch a hole through a wall, but frontman Jacob Duarte dishes out catchy, crushingly beautiful vocal melodies as if his sole purpose is to break your heart, sew it back together and send you back into the moshpit more amped than you were before.

Since Narrow Head formed in 2013, listeners have often grouped them into the “grunge-gaze” phenomenon, and while they certainly owe a great deal to bands like Hum and Swervedriver, they sound more diverse than most bands given this tag. On their forthcoming third album Moments of Clarity, you’ll hear everything from abrasive alt-metal and touching slowcore to swaggering Britpop and thrashing hardcore.

Narrow Head’s Texas hardcore roots run deep, as Duarte’s résumé also includes work with groups like Skourge, Sex Pill and influential crossover thrash act Iron Age, and you can hear the genre’s influence in their muscular, unrelenting energy and sporadic throat-shredding vocals. However, their hummable melodic tenderness prevents them from comfortably calling themselves a hardcore band. And as much as they’re stamped with the shoegaze label, their guitars are far more chunky or metallic than billowy and Duarte’s vocals noticeably sit at the front of the mix.

“We don’t identify with that at all,” Duarte says of the frequent shoegaze comparison. “I still don’t really get how we’re classified into it.”

“There was a write-up where someone wrote ‘reverb-drenched’ and I was like, ‘Man, there’s no reverb on this song!’” adds guitarist Kora Puckett, who was a regular live player and is now an official member, having been a part of the creative process behind the new album. “People just don’t really know what to call [our music], which I’d like to think speaks to the originality.”

Narrow Head are hard to pin down, though perhaps their records make the most sense next to the hardcore-pop of Higher Power or the snotty dream rock of L.A.’s Clear Capsule. To further underscore their heavy rock misfit status, they’ve shared bills with bands of many ilk—death metal, hardcore, power pop, shoegaze and alt-metal—and now they’re playing on some of their biggest stages yet, opening for Kentucky’s White Reaper, who play a mix of ’70s and ’80s-indebted, capital-R rock. “In Dallas, we’re playing this huge venue that’s for concerts, not ‘shows,’” Duarte jokes.

“We’re all very optimistic about this tour,” Puckett adds. And although he says it’s not ideal that they’ll be on the road for the better part of 2023, including a summer headline tour, festivals and U.K. dates, he says the band are in agreement that “the record deserves it, so we’re going for it.”

Narrow Head’s previous record, 12th House Rock, was born out of difficult circumstances—and not just because the pandemic prevented them from touring as much as they would have. Though the LP is what got them signed to a big-name indie like Run For Cover Records, who released the album in 2020, the band rushed through its creative process and were worried that too much time had elapsed since their 2016 debut full-length, Satisfaction.

“We’ve learned so much since then,” Duarte says of 12th House Rock. “We were really trying to get that record out because it had been so long since Satisfaction and we didn’t want to be forgotten about, so it was just a struggle. It got mixed a thousand times. It’s not my favorite, and it just brings me back to a weird time, too. We were almost forcing it to happen. I think you can hear it in the record that we were just trying to get through it.”

Moments of Clarity, on the other hand, brought a series of firsts. Not only were they able to take their time in both devising and chasing a specific vision, they also worked with an outside producer for the first time, who they credit with helping them find a more evolved sound. Sonny DiPerri—who’s apprenticed for Flood, engineered for Trent Reznor and My Bloody Valentine and produced records like DIIV’s landmark Deceiver—recorded, mixed and produced the album and spent a week with the band in pre-production, painstakingly chiseling away at the songs like ice sculptures.

“We got an Airbnb in Sherman, Texas, and we just brought all our shit and played until the sun went down,” Duarte says. “It was pretty taxing, but it was fun.”

“We just drilled all the songs and dissected every part of every song and did anything we could to make the songs as good as possible,” Puckett says. “So for people like us who write songs, it’s kind of a dream to have that luxury … And it’s nice to have a person that you trust to tell you what’s working and what’s not, so you don’t have to sit and fucking analyze yourself forever.”

Moments of Clarity sounds like a band who’s firmly in the driver’s seat. Their pop melodies are more shameless, their hardcore leanings are more pronounced and their vision is both more clear and fully realized. Duarte’s vocals have more personality than ever, twinkling, soaring and snarling with the zest of an inspired performer, not just a vocalist—a quality DiPerri consciously worked to instill. Plus, their typically dejected, gritty lyrics about trying to cope with everyday realities have taken a more self-reflective turn, including a few bursts of momentary happiness acting as much-needed counterweights.

The album’s title track, which Puckett says is “maybe the most Jacob song on the record,” is perhaps the most confident they’ve sounded in their decade as a band. “We want it all / And I don’t care how / It’s okay to say you want more,” Duarte sings in the song’s opening line, which reads as much like a personal emotional breakthrough as it does a band’s declaration of rock-star ambitions. Its chorus is unforgettable, soft-hearted but ferociously delivered, as the band’s booming, coarse guitars surround but never overwhelm it.

“That song came together because I wrote a Narrow Head song in standard tuning, and it was supposed to be a Rival Schools-type jam,” Duarte says. “It was one of the first ones we wrote, and it didn’t change very much, except for some stops and some melodies.”

Then there are songs like “Fine Day” and “Caroline,” which mark satisfying pop milestones. The former track’s one-minute outro features Duarte at his most beaming, demonstrating that he has the vocal chops and euphoric capacity to front a power-pop band, while the latter displays a knack for vulnerable, no-frills melancholia. But such benevolence turns into something much more wicked when “Caroline” transitions into “The World’’ and a distorted synth from the depths of hell rings out. This synth-via-guitar-pedal sound is an anomaly in their discography, as it sounds much more akin to the electro-shoegaze of They Are Gutting a Body of Water, but it’s a welcome one.

“We fucked around with it for honestly a long time,” Duarte says of this synth sound. “It was just hours of turning knobs until it sounded cool.”

They also try their hand at acoustic, syrupy slowcore on “The Comedown,” introduce drum machines on “Soft to Touch” and tear into their most batshit, spine-tingling, hardcore-forward song yet on “Gearhead.” However, the merciless screams of “Face the guilt now!” that give “Gearhead” its extra edge don’t come from Narrow Head, though they do keep it in the family. It’s the voice of emo rapper lil aaron, born Aaron Jennings Puckett, younger brother of Narrow Head’s Kora Puckett, and it’s not his only appearance on the album—he’s also the source of the electronic beats on the LP’s closer.

“My brother is my best friend,” the older Puckett says. “Both places where he appears on the record were just really organic. There was one song that we were working on a demo and we needed a beat behind it. I was like, ‘Man, my brother’s pretty good at this kind of thing,’ so I called him and he came over and made a beat for it, and it ended up on the record because we liked the demo so much. Then the one that he sang on, that was just a part that was too high for all of us.”

As for the album’s end product, Duarte and Puckett feel proud of what they’ve accomplished and thankful for DiPerri’s guidance. “We know exactly what we are trying to do at this point, whereas before we were kind of just throwing around every influence we had,” Duarte says. “Now we’re just doing our thing, and I think [Sonny] helped us figure our thing out.”

“I remember when we first met with [Sonny], he asked us what we wanted out of this record,” Puckett says. “We all said that we wanted the heavier parts to be heavier and the poppier parts to be poppier, and he took that and really ran with it. He helped us push our sound forward, and I also think he helped us consolidate our songwriting … I think this record is the coolest collaborative art that I’ve ever made.”

For all of Narrow Head’s punishing grit, it’s hard not to smile or get teary-eyed when their music blares, especially when you hear a band as thoroughly in their element as they are on this album. Many bands are trying to perfect their own brand of pop-oriented heavy rock, but Narrow Head sound prettier, more urgent and more diverse than much of the field, and they’re only getting better. You could call their music a number of different things, but as long as you need a physical or emotional jolt, Narrow Head will be there to detonate that bomb.

Moments of Clarity is out on Feb. 10 via Run For Cover Records. Purchase the album here.

Lizzie Manno is a music writer, Coldplay apologist, bread lover and Spongebob memer. She’s a former Paste editor, with bylines at Stereogum, Billboard, Flood Magazine, The Recording Academy and Cleveland Scene. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno

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