A common question asked about bands is, “Are they as good live as they are on the record?” Before listening to Irontom’s Partners, I had a different question on my mind: “Will they be as good on the record as they are live?” In October, I had seen Irontom opening for Finish Ticket and had been blown away by the rock band’s relentless talent and energy. Many of the songs that I had watched them perform were songs from the Partners tracklist, so I had high expectations when sitting down to listen to the album (the band’s debut LP).
Thankfully, my expectations weren’t just met—they were exceeded. Partners is the kind of album that would make you stop whatever you were doing and ask, “Wait, what’s this?” if you heard it emanating from someone’s stereo. Sounding like a 21st-century Led Zeppelin album with more hooks than you could count, it glows as brightly as the stars on its cover art.
Sometimes, you need to listen to an album a few times before you truly appreciate it. With Partners, that’s not the case. From the first few seconds, each song screams, “This is something exciting; this is something you haven’t heard before.” Whether he’s shouting, crooning, or somewhere in between, Harry Hayes sings every lyric as if he just jotted it into a journal in a whirlwind of emotion. Meanwhile, Zach Irons, whose name should come up more often in conversations about great contemporary rock guitarists (and who, incidentally, is the son of former Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons), barrages the listener with a series of unforgettable riffs. Dane Sanborg (bass), Daniel Saslow (keys), and Dyl Williams (drums) are also indispensable to the album’s unique sound, helping to create the appropriate atmosphere of urgency, sincerity, or glee in every track.
For those who have listened to Irontom’s older EPs, this excellence won’t come as a surprise. In 2013’s “Boy Born,” Hayes showed off an impressive range over haunting organ sounds, a gorgeous bassline, and a driving beat; in 2014’s “The Minista,” Irons provided both captivating hooks and an awe-inspiring guitar solo. On Partners, the band presents a similarly enthralling collection of tracks—tracks that are somewhat less avant-garde than their previous releases, but packed with earworms and ready for many replays.
Whereas Irontom’s earlier EPs were largely loud and hard-hitting, Partners is well balanced between energetic songs that are sure to get concertgoers dancing and vulnerable ballads that might inspire listeners to stare into the night sky and contemplate their pasts. Out of the upbeat songs, “Live Like This” is a definite standout.
Hayes’s rapidly-sung verses, which pull the listener into the world of the album immediately, are bookended with energetic shouts of “Go!” and intensified with melodic backing vocals. They contrast perfectly with the song’s slower chorus, which wraps up a difficult situation in one simple repeated phrase that will be perfect for crowd participation when the band goes on tour in a few days: “It takes a lot to live like this.” The song ends with a fantastically non-subtle lyric, screamed with passion: “IRONTOM! IRONTOM!” It’s the final kicker ensuring that you won’t forget this band’s name after being introduced to them.
“Be Bold Like Elijah” is another particularly strong track. Its lyrics are straightforwardly encouraging, but it never sounds cliched due to the fact that it’s centered around the vaguely Biblical-sounding, but totally original refrain “Be bold like Elijah,” a phrase that has most likely never been sung by any other band. In my 2016 interview with the band, Hayes explained that “Elijah isn’t really a particular person,” and “be bold like Elijah” is “something you could sing to pump yourself up before doing something extreme”. Indeed, the song serves as an effective motivator thanks to its Black Keys-meets-Pink Floyd vibe, its powerful riff, and the dramatic “ohh!” that closes out each chorus.
Although Irontom is best known for its more intense songs, Partners‘s calmer songs are just as enchanting as the rest. “Brain Go,” the album’s first official single, was a slightly surprising change of pace when it was released, but it boasts all the characteristics that make classic Irontom songs work so well: atmospheric backing vocals; a chorus that’s repetitive but anthemic rather than annoying; and, of course, a five-star riff.
“Not in Front of My Eyes,” another single, probably has the most graceful intro on the album. The buildup begins with a bass line; then vocals and drums are added; then a chorus of voices shouts “Hey!,” a handclap beat can be heard, and the crescendo is complete. Driven by synths rather than guitar, it stands out from the other tracks. “Old And New Songs,” the final and the longest song on the album (seven minutes), brings thematic closure to the listener with heartfelt confessional lyrics about the complexity of relationships (a concept that unifies many of the tracks), guest vocals from Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION (who produced the album), and a lyrical throwback to the album’s title track. Although it starts out sad, moments like the chorus—”It is always a good day when I sing”—and the magnificent guitar solo give it a hopeful resonance, making the final lyrics—”We’re partners”—seem content rather than conflicted despite the album’s often tumultuous content.
It should be noted that in addition to being obviously musically talented, the members of Irontom are adept at finding the perfect words to encapsulate a variety of situations and vibes. In “Live Like This,” a distressed mental state is described with the questions, “Are you married to madness? Are you cheating with sadness?” In “Love Curse,” Hayes confronts the painful nature of romance by stating, “Love curse, now I know how you work/The better it is, the more it will hurt.” A mix of personal anecdotes and universal statements that some ardent fans have likely already shared on their social media accounts, the band’s lyrics add to the distinctiveness of each individual track. You won’t find yourself mixing up songs or thinking, “What did that one sound like again?” here; every track has its own unique sound that will linger in your mind long after the music has ended.
Catchy, insightful, and larger than life, Partners is the debut LP that Irontom fans deserve. Elijah, whoever he is, would definitely approve of its boldness.