Brisbane’s Columbus are a punk rock trio that certainly understand the fundamentals of the DIY ethic. The guitars are dirty, the vocals snarled, aggressive at times, but soft and heartfelt at others. Their new EP Heart Beat in Half Time brings back memories of crowd surfing and crushed ribs while watching local London punk bands thrash it out in a sweaty overcrowded basement underneath a half empty pub. After the first listen, you get the impression that seeing them live would be a wholly different experience. There’s an undeniable energy on the record that we suspect comes across more effectively on stage. Maybe it’s that the recordings themselves are a little rough around the edges. It’s clear that the lyrics themselves are of more importance than pitch-perfect delivery. Still, singer/guitarist Alex Moses does a great job of putting across the emotion behind each track. His performances on the last two of the five; Scars and Keep Your Friends Close, Your Enemies Closer are some of the higher points of this release.
Instrumentally, the band is clearly at that beautiful stage where things are coming together in a natural way. The last nuts and bolts could use a little tightening, but this comes with touring and a few years writing and playing together. Columbus have only just set sail, coming together in late 2011, they are definitely well on their way to greater things. They list the Descendants and Blink 182 as their top influences, however, they have traded Blink’s brash (and sometimes just plain offensive) immaturity for something a littler more heartfelt. The first track, Loving the Way (It’s Alright), is more reminiscent of a young Lagwagon or Bouncing Souls.
The title track is oddly the least exciting on the record. The unsurprising half-time chorus will get your head nodding in a way that is such a standard with bands of this genre that it’s become a little tired and over-used. Make it Shine, however, opens with a tom-rumbling intro and a blistering verse that stands out as the most distinctly original punk beat on the CD, along with the second most catchy chorus. Scars despite also dropping into that typical half-time chorus, gets the award for singalongability. Reminiscent of The Flatliners (Canada’s top punks) but with the rawness of the Sex Pistols; Scars, though too short, is my stand-out track from Heart Beat in Half Time and a song we will most certainly be going back to. The last (and longest) track Keep your Friends Close displays the most distinct guitar and bass parts. Softer and more melodic clean guitars make for both an ear-catching intro that is so refreshing that it’s almost a shame when Columbus drop back into the overdrive-ridden power-chord riffs that are the staple diet of their music. Fortunately the same crisp, clean riff reappears for a well-placed post-chorus dynamic shift and a melancholic final verse that ends the EP at an emotional peak.
It’s unfortunate that the final two tracks stand out quite so much. It’s like Columbus found their stride halfway through writing this EP. The previous tracks do both their influences and genre justice but in this era of punk, (where the now reformed Blink 182 have been together for over twenty years!), it’s the breaks from the standard rhythms and riffs that make bands like this exciting. Having said this, maybe it’s a ploy. Maybe this EP is a demonstration that Columbus aren’t just your standard DIY punk outfit. Maybe they’re hinting that they can do so much more. The last tracks show they are capable of writing some great hooks and demonstrate distinct moments of originality. If you like you’re pop-punk with a little heart then I’d keep your ears open and eyes peeled for these guys. We wish we were on the right side of the planet to go and see them live. Unfortunately I’ll have to make do with the couple of great tracks off this release and my fingers tightly crossed for a follow-up that entails the same grit and honesty that these songs prove they are capable of.