The four guys in the punk-leaning foursome New Lives have played with each other in a handful of locals bands (Bestfriends, Icon & Anchor, Scouts Honour) but formed this group, in part, to channel the discordant, forward-thinking music of their youth. A few ‘90s underground stalwarts are name-checked in the band’s bio, and the weight of influence is initially hard to cast off — Fugazi comes through most prominently, with traces of Hum and Seaweed right behind. These songs have the economy of punk but find space to modulate and shift in a relatively short space. The quartet can hammer out its crunchy, ragged riffs with punishing force, but it has the good sense to temper these moments with on-a-dime stops, grimy textures and emotive vocals.
As befits an EP whose physical incarnation is on cassette tape, many of these five songs run into each other — the brief come-down squall lingers for a time and flips back into the next song’s count-off. It’s a compelling bit of thread to connect these five tracks, though at fifteen brief minutes, In Passing struggles to distinguish song from song. That’s not a huge problem, as each track finds ways to teeter between attack and release.
After a nicely disorienting lift-off, opener “Sink” settles into the comforts of modern, melodic punk rock. Singer and guitarist Ian O’Leary is at his rawest and most direct on “Wounds” — his full-throated performance hits its marks with Ian MacKaye-like force while still finding room to bring his scream back down to a near-whisper. The rest of New Lives — David Shanle on guitar, Tyler Wait on bass and Justin Brown on drums — do well within the confines of these songs, with the rhythm section providing vital pivots every few minutes.
The light flanging effect on the modest, mood-setting guitar figure on “Pacemaker” offers a post-punk sheen to contrast the distended wallop carried by the rest of the song. But, as becomes New Lives, the nuanced tail of “Pacemaker” becomes a platform for In Passing’s title track, which pairs up the band’s several dichotomies into one bruising final number. O’Leary’s double-tracked vocals show both of his approaches, one layered atop the other, as the guitars crunch, collide and momentarily take flight.