SELL YOURSELF SHORT – The Lowest Standard EP

Sell Yourself Short first formed as Best Regards in 2016. Various line-up changes and one rebranding later, the New Jersey punks re-emerged bigger and better in 2020 under their new band name. Their debut EP, ‘The Lowest Standard’ features three tracks that bounce between genres but, from a musical standpoint, bring the best out of the trio at almost every turn.

The title cut is an immediate attention grabber. The main riff thrashes forth at full throttle taking obvious cues from classic Pennywise, 98 Mute and the 90s skate punk scene. With its punk charged, sharp edges, the music automatically has a great presence, but the way Sell Yourself Short have taken a time-honoured sound an injected it with a few hardcore elements only makes it more powerful. Vocalist/guitarist Mark Siedlecki helps to shift between the two styles with ease, and his union with lead guitarist Tom Wilson ushers in some slower, crunchier breakdowns that call back to the great Ignite. Vocally, Mike is gruff yet accessible, further edging the band towards a melodic hardcore in a few places, and his sizable presence works well against a driving rhythm at all times.
Song wise, it seems to be more about the sound than the lyrics at first, but time spent allows some great hooks to take hold. Questioning whether the media is a poison, the song talks about building bridges and being strong, and despite dropping into an old “divided we fall” cliché, some gang vocals colliding with a few Pennywise-esque whoahs allow for a superb send off.

In a slightly more melodic mood, ‘(In These) Four Walls’ retains a street punk core and more rousing gang vocals, but from a musical viewpoint, shifts into more of a hard edged alternate rock sound. From the band’s perspective, it seems a natural move, since the main riff brings out a brilliantly dirty tone in Siedlecki’s rhythm guitar and allows bassist Brian Bernhardt more space to wield a meaty bottom end. On the negative side, the less busy style uncovers a limitation in the vocal; the Danzig-esque croon Siedlecki adopts on the verses really doesn’t suit him that well. Luckily, a rousing chorus, some brilliant lead work and a decent punch elsewhere really lifts the track. Last up, the slightly longer ‘The Bitterness At Hand’ shows a different side to the band yet again, opening with a slow, haunting riff that sounds a little like Hawkwind’s ‘Wind of Change’ with the violin replaced with a soaring guitar. The cleaner musical tones are lovely – if unexpected and really show the trio to have a very broad musical palate. As before some of Mark’s quieter vocals don’t always suit the role he’s given, but a Funeral Oration-esque croon into the chorus, where he’s joined by some enthusiastic shouting reminds everyone of Sell Yourself Short’s brilliant hardcore punk chops with a real immediacy. With the long coda bringing in a few alternative rock riffs and a melodic hardcore crunch, there’s also a strong link with the opening track, ensuring this EP retains a focus despite being constructed from three songs that could’ve been in danger of sounding as if they were written with different projects in mind.

Despite some of the vocals not quite cutting it, almost every element of the music is strong enough to make Sell Yourself Short’s hybrid sound work effectively at all times. The band also clearly know how brilliantly effective a gang vocal can be in driving home a hook or two. This trilogy of tracks is home to some great moments and – on the title cut, especially – has an unexpectedly nostalgic core that’ll almost certainly strike a chord with so many fans of 90s punk and hardcore. Although this EP isn’t perfect, its level of enthusiasm and well arranged tunes certainly promise bigger and better things to come.

November 2021