Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Mark Vennis & Different Place mix angst with signature guitars in new single ‘Small Town Vampire’

"Small town vampire, big time dreams/Just another blood-sucking scene”: the catchy refrain on the new single by Hampshire punk-rockers Mark Vennis & Different Place immediately captures the state of mind of anyone who has happened to spend their formative years beyond the edge of suburbia. 

The rather specific brand of angst that comes from feeling both out of place and destined for something bigger is perfectly channelled by the lyrics, bringing a personal dimension, and a very relatable one, to a track that has the band’s fingerprints all over it. 

Vennis’ lyrics have a very distinctive blend of dark humour and stark sincerity to them that places them exactly at the crossroads between the classic punk snarl and a deeper, more introspective attitude that would not be out of place in a blues ballad; this in a sense matches the sound, which has its clear roots in the punk-pop tradition of England, but blends in a series of suggestions which have come from America. 

There are echoes of Green Day, for instance, both in the lyrics and in the vocal delivery, and in this particular track also in the way that the tempo is handled, delivering a strong staccato in the chorus that makes both memorable and an inviting singalong; there is something of the more classic Blink-182, too. You might even hear a hint of Misfits in it, in the spirit as much as the sound - that slightly dirty-around-the-edges quality that the music takes on as the sung sections veer into spoken. But there is another element also, one that is unequivocally British, which brings the track to both not take itself too seriously and incorporate surprising elements that elevate it above a simple punk-pop tune: there are sections in it that are almost spoken word, and which contribute to the feeling that this song is, very earnestly, telling a story.

Vennis and the band are not new to this kind of devices; this single is drawn from their forthcoming fourth album, also titled ‘Small Town Vampire’ - the choice of title also points to this track being in some ways a manifesto of sorts - and when compared to their previous offerings, and particularly their most recent album, ‘Fighting on All Fronts’, there is an evident growth. Seeds of ideas that were already present in their previous work are now in full bloom in a track that feels more confident and more daring, but which is ultimately also another chapter in a continuing narrative. From the point of view of sound, the red thread tying this latest single to the previous production is to be found in the distinctive use of guitars, which is also where the blues element more distinctly comes through: full of broad strumming and almost-metallic chords, it even manages to incorporate something that is musically adjacent through country, but sharpened to obtain a much harder edge. The vocals, by contrast, maintain all the bark that one would expect from a punk-rock track: it is here that the frustration and the oppressive feeling of growing up at the edge of the suburbs most strongly comes true. 

The song is punchy, energetic, and quick: barely over three minutes from start to finish. Anything that was unnecessary or redundant has been pared away, and this increases the effectiveness of what is left, delivering the track and the story that it tells like a punch to the gut. This does not mean, however, that any space for reflection is lost: on the contrary, especially towards the end, there is room for something more intimate, in the more narrative sections. It is a song that will speak to every goth teenager who has received dirty looks while walking down a street in a too-small town, but also to every adult who feels out of place when stepping in the office every new morning. It is also an intriguing calling card for the new album, which is to be released in the new year: it is hard not to think of this as only a chapter of a bigger story, which the long player will no doubt be able to tell. 

Chiara Strazzulla


Image: ‘Small Town Vampire’ Official Single Cover

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