Despite hailing from Norway, dynamic quartet Pom Poko will always have a Brighton connection. Not only are they signed to Brighton’s Bella Union and accidentally share a name with an iconic Brighton restaurant (they’re actually named after the Studio Ghibli film of the same name), but they played their first ever UK headline show on our sunny shores back in 2017. Since that occasion, which we described as “satisfying, vicious and addictive”, they’ve grown from an indie-pop outfit into a pop-punk behemoth. Their debut album, Birthday, is a showcase of this evolution with its spiky riffs, theatrical glamour and infectious pop sheen.
As every debut record should be, Birthday is brimming with a variety of ideas, and an utterly fascinating fusion of sounds. Eschewing Scandinavia’s recent obsession with mainstream pop, Pom Poko are grittier, wilder and something far more obtuse. A delicious platter of different sounds, from punk, to indie-pop, to post-punk, and everything in between, Birthday is an explosion of sounds that comes together to form a raucous and unstable project that hits more than it misses.
Opening with ‘Theme #1’, a bloodthirsty fusion of prickly guitars, and ‘My Blood’, an almost J-pop delight, it’s not until single ‘Follow the Lights’ where the album really reaches its groove. A dramatic, infectious cut of stuttering basslines, doubled with a moody vocal delivery, it’s by far the best track on the record. Yet, the Norwegian band’s unpredictability truly comes to light on ‘My Work is Full of Art’. Kicking off with a sonic wall of noise, before moving into a breezy, laid-back pop beat, with lead singer Ragnhild Fangel’s gloriously husky vocals taking the forefront, it’s a track that evolves from Rage Against the Machine anger, into floaty indie-pop, back into Paramore-esque pop-punk and it’s utterly absorbing throughout.
‘Honey’, however, turns things down a notch completely. A brooding, slow-burning pop song that sees Fangel croon delightfully all the way through it. A much slower, contemplative side to the band that we haven’t seen before, Birthday offers up different aspects of the band at every turn. Followed by the magnetic ‘Crazy Energy Night’, which has more energy than a toddler at bedtime, it’s the perfect summation of the erratic nature of Birthday. A squealing, scattershot post-punk number, with a wild cowbell lurking at its backdrop, it’s an atmospheric cut that is the polar opposite of ‘Honey’. There’s no doubt about it, the band have left every idea on the record and it makes Birthday a volatile, if uneven, blast. From ‘Day Tripper’s sinewy American punk racket, all the way up to final song ‘Peachy’, it’s an album that, impressively, maintains its energetic frenzy throughout.
Simply, what every debut album should be, Birthday is a collision of sounds and ideas that, extraordinarily, works on pretty much every level. From the slower moments that highlight just how brilliant Fangel’s breathless tones are, to the frenetic outbursts of Martin Miguel Tonne’s corrugated guitar lines, it’s a wall-to-wall sonic adventure into the minds of four exceptionally talented musicians. Raw, yet brimming with adolescent genius at times, Pom Poko is an unpredictable beast that becomes more and more interesting on every listen.