As hard-working musical outfits go, they don't come much more conscientious than Leeds foursome Pulled Apart By Horses, a band whose nomadic tour schedule could have been devised by Alan Whicker. Having spent the last three years permanently on the road, stopping every now and then to record in between toilet breaks and such like, their relentless quest looks set to pay dividends. Aside from playing just about every festival known to man, they've also somehow ended up on the daytime Radio One playlist; take that harbingers of doom dressing the coffin and laying the wreaths in preparation for the so-called death of UK guitar music.
Not that their impending rise to rock's premier league should come as a surprise to anyone that's witnessed Pulled Apart By Horses in the flesh. Exciting, dynamic, enthralling, sporadic - just four adjectives bordering on superlative that describe their impeccably consistent live delivery. And then of course there's 2010's self-titled debut, a record that still packs an incendiary punch despite the band's recent admittance that it was more a collection of the songs they had finished at the time than a carefully constructed album. While the saying "some things are better left unplanned" springs to mind, the same most certainly cannot be said of its successor.
Having spent the best part of 2011 juggling the touring with crafting album number two, they've emerged with a record that can lay a serious claim to having released the first must-own long player of 2012. While not exactly rewriting the rule book or reinventing the wheel in terms of style or sound, 'Tough Love' does everything you'd expect from a Pulled Apart By Horses record and more. Without wishing to take anything away from the band themselves; after all, if the songs aren't there, chances are the album will fall short somewhere along the line regardless of who the producer may be. The decision to recruit long established studio technician Gil Norton - a man whose CV can boast such artefacts as 'Doolittle', 'The Colour And The Shape', 'Echo Park' and my own personal favourite 'The Comforts Of Madness' among its impressive list of credits- proves to be nothing short of inspired here.
While their calamitous intentions remain the same; the eleven songs that comprise 'Tough Love' clock in at a combined total of thirty-two minutes flat; there is a more structured yet varied degree of songwriting that elevates the record above its predecessor or indeed any other homegrown rock ensemble you'd care to mention at this moment in time. The caustic fury of 'V.E.N.O.M.' regular listeners to Fearne Cotton's mid-morning show will know and love already. It's on the Fugazi inspired 'Wolf Hand' that things take a stuttering turn for the unexpected though. "Nothing changes..Nothing ever seems to happen!" spits Tom Hudson over a jagged riff that recalls Californian hardcore combo Excel's 'Split Image'.
With all of the band sharing the writing process, bass player Rob Lee's 'Shake Off The Curse' mixes heavy attitude without the pointless aggression, while the ninety seconds worth of squat punk that is 'Some Mothers' recalls the days when Mega City Four and Thrilled Skinny vied for floor space down the local pool hall two decades ago. Both 'Epic Myth' and 'Night Of The Living' may be inspired by haunted houses and such like, but the former mixes 'Whole Lotta Rosie' style excess with a call and response chorus to die for while the latter screams itself hoarse by its supercharged climax.
And so it goes through The Damned influenced malevolence of 'Wildfire, Smoke And Doom' through 'Bromance Ain't Dead''s full metal racket and the ephemeral chug 'Give Me A Reason'. Listen intently to the melody driving 'Degeneration Game' and there's a definite homage to Nirvana's reading of Shocking Blue's 'Love Buzz'. By the time 'Everything Dipped In Gold' reaches its finale, dead on the four minutes mark there's little doubt its creators have unleashed one of the year's most pivotal rock albums, and we're still barely into January.
The bar's been raised, the standards have been set. If 'Tough Love' is anything to go by, the guitar isn't quite ready to give up the ghost just yet.