Album Review: Tough Age – Waiting Here

Vancouver indie poppers Tough Age embrace their melodic side with excellent results

Jangle has many homes. San Francisco, Liverpool, Glasgow, Dunedin… the enclaves are flung far and wide, scattered at random around the globe. British Columbia doesn’t often get a mention, but Vancouver indie pop band Tough Age are here to change all that. They’re not the first Canadians to plant a melodic flag in the metaphorical sand, but Waiting Here should be the album to cement their place in a fertile scene that includes Kiwi Jr, Ducks Ltd, Alvvays and Motorists (with whom they share drummer Jesse Locke).

Tough Age – now a trio of Jarret Evan Samson, bassist Lauren Smith and drummer Locke – have always done their homework. On 2017’s Shame, the left-field pop influences of New Zealand’s Flying Nun label started elbowing their way to the front, vying for dominance with scrappy, tense post punk. On Waiting Here, their first release for Spanish label Bobo Integral, Tough Age have completely embraced their best melodic selves, diving headfirst into the Dunedin sound, stopping off en route in Athens, Georgia and New Jersey to absorb a bit of early R.E.M. and Feelies magic.

Tough Age
Tough Age (from L-R): Lauren Smith, Jarret Evan Samson and Jesse Locke

Not to suggest that Waiting Here is a brightly signposted trip along well-worn highways. Tough Age are adept at filtering these influences into their own recognisable sound, one that now boasts greater clarity and cohesion than ever before. A distorted hum ushers in opener ‘In The Garden’, opening up myriad possible directions before blossoming into a skittish drumbeat and blissful guitar line. It’s only two minutes long but could go around twice more and not outstay its welcome.

From there, Waiting Here doesn’t wait around at all. Everything rushes past at pace, a blur of melodic bass, glistening guitars and propulsive drumming. Ideas are kept simple, just one or two that hit with maximum impact in the almost universally short running times. The only exception is the hypnotic, atmospheric ‘Getting Closer’, which rides its two-chord Television-esque groove for close to three times the length of its companions. Not a second is wasted.

Waiting Here is the sound of Tough Age leaning into their strengths. It takes the best bits of their previous albums and ties them to valuable lessons learned from albums like The Bats’ Daddy’s Highway, R.E.M.’s Murmur and The Feelies’ Only Life. The result is the musical equivalent of Raymond Carver prose, everything unnecessary trimmed away, leaving just simple, economical brilliance.

Released: 16 June 2023
Label: Bobo Integral
On Tour: TBC