Wedged between surging punk energy and serrated pop hooks, Sløtface found just enough room for pointed social commentary on the band’s new album. The Norwegian foursome has already proven themselves adept at striking that balance: Their 2017 debut Try Not to Freak Out had a feminist bent on songs taking aim at how women are portrayed in mass media and indie-rock’s dude-centric culture, among other topics.
The band refines its approach on Sorry for the Late Reply, tying in the socially conscious elements with personal ruminations and wry humor on 13 new tracks. The songs are leaner than they were on Try Not to Freak Out, with a streamlined, more straightforward feel that heightens their immediacy. Opener “S.U.C.C.E.S.S.” starts with a punch as singer Haley Shea fires out the refrain like a high-verbal machine gun. Over waves of scabrous guitar from Tor-Arne Vikingstad and a fast, jittery rhythm from drummer Nils Jørgen Nilsen and bassist Lasse Lokøy, Shea examines the idea that fitting in as an outsider—in her case, growing up in Norway as the daughter of American parents—requires surpassing expectations.
Elsewhere, “Sink or Swim” is an ecology anthem for the Thunbergian era as Shea grapples with the contrast between the urgency of climate change and its potentially disastrous long-term effects, and people’s widespread unwillingness to change their behavior—or even acknowledge the problem. “It’s not politics, it’s sink or swim,” she repeats toward the end of the song, echoing Greta Thunberg’s exasperated admonition to the United Nations, except that Shea is surrounded by buoyant chugging guitars instead of listless automatons in bad suits.
When Shea isn’t weighing the existential crises facing humanity, the singer is busy with more personal reflections and exhortations. With a blazing guitar riff, “Telepathetic” is a deliriously catchy reminder that you won’t accomplish much in life without actually getting out of bed and trying, while “Luminous” captures the feverish adrenaline of early infatuation with a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that revolves around a huge, melodic chorus. A couple tracks later, “Passport” embodies everything the band does well: Shea blends the political and the personal as she considers how that little blue identification document defines her, or doesn’t, in the context of present-day America with all its contradictions, while the rest of the band hurtles through a combustible blend of red-line guitars and a propulsive beat.
For all the barbed commentary on Sorry for the Late Reply, Sløtface never come off as strident or preachy. On the contrary, they sound like they’re having the time of their lives barreling through songs together, and their brio is contagious. If Try Not to Freak Out was the work of a band with great promise, Sorry for the Late Reply suggests they’re fully ready to live up to it.