On paper, the Stress of Her Regard looks suspiciously like a mere rebranding of the established local band the Idle Hands, only pared down to half its size. In fact, this trio has returned to the scene with an invigorated batch of crisp Brit-rock.
“There’s a lot of freedom in being a lot more stripped down and direct. It feels really natural and easy, actually,” said Stress lead singer and guitarist Ciaran Daly.
The Idle Hands had seen some success on the U.K. indie charts. But in the middle of recording a second album, the other half of the band “flaked,” leaving only Ciaran, his fellow Irish-born, Midwest-raised brother Criostoir on bass, and Eric Wilson on drums. By shedding a few members, the Stress of Her Regard say they left behind some elements that complicated and stiffened the music.
“We definitely [still] want to have a really huge guitar sound, but we want to also keep it real simple, real direct,” said Ciaran. “We wanted the thing to be more spare and less produced sounding.”
The downsizing led to a more fluid writing process. “Honestly it’s more democratic writing now,” said Ciaran. “It’s more of a give and take between all of us than it ever really was in Idle Hands.”
Instead of creating a wall of sound on their new EP “Sport Marriage,” the band built each song around one or two earworm melodies. “[Criostoir] writes bass melodies that remind me of the Cure, where it’s like a really melodic bass line that you can sort of hang a song on,” Ciaran said.
“Class Warfare,” an angst-ridden shredder, is a galvanizing attack on the lack of upward mobility in the middle class. “You kind of move from middle-class to poor, that’s what seems like the trajectory,” said Ciaran. A tense rhythm pulses beneath sharp, darty guitar riffs.
Five separate producers with experience in Brit-rock – including Dave Trumfio (Jesus and Mary Chain), Tony Lash (Dandy Warhols) and BJ Burton (Poliça) – had their hands in “Sport Marriage.” For a less self-assured band, this could be complicated. “We just had really good communication with all of these guys,” said Ciaran. “It was kind of surprising how cohesive this all sounded.”
Coming into this refreshing musical relationship was not an immediate no-brainer. “When you’ve been doing something for a long time and then you have to start over and think of something new to do … there’s this moment where you have this internal question of like, are you going to give up?” Ciaran said.
Fortunately, he found inspiration in the Clark Ashton Smith poem “Sphinx and Medusa” (from which the band lifted its name) in which the threat of eternal silence is pitted against humanity.
“You have to make that decision,” explained Ciaran. “Does the sphinx win, does silence win, does it stare you down and you’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to go home and cry now’ … or are you going to decide to just go for it?”