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ALBUM REVIEW: Clothbound by The Sonder Bombs

From tender rock, to angsty pop-punk, and ukulele indie rock tunes, Midwesterner upstarts The Sonder Bombs offer a glistening second album, Clothbound, that serves an array of their musical aesthetics while consistently bringing clever, honest lyricism. For fans of bands we love like Pinkshift, Charly Bliss, and PUP, Clothbound serves a much-needed dose of punk rock that'll have you hosting a private moshpit in your bedroom in the name of nostalgic teenage angst.

Clothbound, released on January 29th, follows up from their 2018 debut record MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR, and matures the band's uke-pop-punk roots in a display of immense talent, while keeping that same earnest private-diary level of vulnerability that you know to expect from The Sonder Bombs. Produced in Philadelphia during quarantine, their new album captures a band burning at both ends, turning those sweet COVID-related anxieties into a record that epitomises that itching frustration we've all felt this past year.

The Cleveland quartet began as a duo in 2016, with vocalist Willow Hawks and her writing partner Jimmy Wilkens (guitarist) trading off abrasive and melodic punches against a DIY universe which places gender politics at the bottom of a list of priorities. Their debut defined a new era of socially-conscious pop-punk, with its all-caps, unapologetic attack on a male-dominated punk scene, MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR dissected sexism and mental health while brandishing a ukulele and dry wit as its chosen weapons.

If the first record introduced unapologetic sensitivity, Clothbound doubles down on this and polishes their self-confidence through self-analysis method of song-writing. Clothbound, like the title suggests, weaves a different narrative than The Sonder Bomb's debut - one of loss, letting go, and losing patience. The record opens with Papillion and its soft, sorrowful guitar riff, with Willow Hawks' voice soaring as the chorus takes flight. It's an shining start to the record, but doesn't give away the uniqueness of each track as Clothbound twists through musical styles with ease.

Crying is Cool could be considered the entry point for the album - a spirited highlight reel of Willow's vocal capabilities as the melody dips into doo-wop cool, for fans of the Californian surfer punk-rock aesthetics of The Regrettes' Feel Your Feelings Fool!, before it reaches for the rafters in an emotionally-driven chorus. It's The Sonder Bombs at their most earnest and educational, broaching the importance of listening to your feelings instead of ignoring them. The track operates on a singular syllabus, where feeling is fine, as long as you’re letting yourself feel at all. It voices those words of comfort you need to hear from a good friend sometimes, so is the perfect song for turning on when you need a little self-care.

"Crying is Cool is all about validation and vulnerability," says lead singer Willow Hawks. "Being there for friends when they need it, as well as being cared for. That solidarity is such a beautiful thing and we really wanted to capture the goodness in that with the video! Our director Ben Lieber had the brilliant idea of a weekend cabin getaway with friends which fit so perfectly with the message of the song and then our genius stylists Chlo and Mick just brought the full vision to life! We’re so excited to share Crying is Cool and this next chapter of The Sonder Bombs with the world!"

Vegas, BABYYY!!! is the track we most need to hear live, with its alt-folk verses building to an angsty, heavy, emo-esque chorus that sees the band's combined harmonies presenting another layer of depth to their sound. It's nostalgic, it's edgy - it's everything. Following it is single What Are Friends For? which was originally released back in September as the first taste of the new record. It's a short, lively uke-pop-punk track that feels like the perfect bridge between The Sonder Bomb's debut and sophomore albums.

Halfway into Clothbound, we slow things down with Scattered, melding tender acoustics and soft melodies into a beautiful display of instrumental artistry. It's a calming breather, before we dive right back into some headbanging punk rock with high-energy The Brink, reminiscent of the early days of a relationship before communication breaks down and you're facing its inevitable end - it's full on angst, what's not to love?

Like Vegas, BABYYY!!!, Swing On Sight feels like it was made for the stage, with its raucous percussion just made for a sea of well-timed claps from a crowd in a sweaty venue. The track is a fucking banger, and a big 'fuck you' to those toxic people in your life, with a chorus repeating the line "I know things about you that I can't unlearn now" - you can just imagine yourself shouting it over and over at a Sonder Bombs gig in the future.

Next we see the most recent singles - The One About You, a dreamy, soothing lullaby, and k., with its brilliant juxtaposition of soft ukulele and crashing riffs and drums, and yelling backing vocals, that descends into a heavy breakdown. These two side-by-side is the most fitting example of the musical whirlwind that The Sonder Bombs take you on with this record. Lastly, Clothbound ends with upbeat Play it By Fear, voicing anxieties of uncertainty, feeling trapped, and wasting time, with Willow summarising that "I'm too big of a nihilist for a world like this, I know" - and in the world we live in, where the future is so unknown, we get it. And sometimes it's comforting just hear that honest defencelessness from someone.

The Sonder Bombs showcase a rollercoaster of indie-rock and pop-punk with Clothbound, wearing their heart on their sleeve to offer touching expressions of their fears and vulnerabilities. Where MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR tore down the barriers of a male-dominated DIY punk scene and carved itself a home, Clothbound sits comfortably and confidently with complete self-assurance in the band's talents. And they've definitely fucking earned it.

Stream Clothbound on Spotify and Apple Music

Review by Chloe Robbins

Photography by Sumner Howells

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