Street Chant, the trio of Emily Littler (vocals/guitar), Billie Rogers (bass) and Alex Brown (drums), is a poppy New Zealand punk band with a penchant for instrumental sections that most likely kill when played live. Means, the band’s Stateside debut, plays well when the band plays to its strengths, which mostly revolve around its high energy and velocity.
When the songs are tight, the album succeeds. Two-minute barnburner “Scream Walk” rumbles through chord changes like lightning, with Littler barking at a million miles an hour. The band even has time for a breakdown that makes the song stretch out longer than it is—when it’s over, it feels like you’ve been listening to a 138-second song for far longer than 138 seconds. “You Do The Maths” is an example of a longer song carried by a really tight instrumental performance and a catchy chorus, never losing its way or its all-important propulsion. On the flip side are some of the more meandering sections in other tracks, which sometimes evoke Sonic Youth without the experimentation, sense of purpose or tunefulness. There is a free-form component to the music that sometimes stalls the album and at other times invigorates it.
Littler’s voice is good at a few things (delivering lots of lyrics quickly, singing in a drawling monotone that puts her in line with punk gods) and not good at others (variety, sounding pretty, holding a tune). But with Street Chant not concerned with gorgeousness and the songs being mostly catchy enough on their own, Littler is a strength to the band. The rhythm section of Rogers and Brown is loopy and jumpy; their inventiveness makes up for the fact that they are not always on top of things.
Means is 38 minutes long, and while that’s usually a short length for a record, for Street Chant it might just be a little too long. The band strikes an interesting balance between power pop and garage punk, but it often indulges in long instrumental jam sections that rarely add much to the songlets. Inexplicably, the songs become longer toward the end, with the 4:40 bordering-on-free-form “The Password Is Password” topping off Means. Littler’s vocals are not mixed strongly enough to carry the song, leaving the burden on Littler’s chunky guitar chords, like on “Stoned Again.” However, this is a promising start for a blazing little New Zealand punk band that’s just getting started.