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Slash Fiction: Gender, Trauma & Friendship - First Instincts Review

First Instincts is a series of reviews where I listen to an album for the first time ever, and note my initial thoughts as I listen. These are my unfiltered reactions upon hearing the project for the first time in full. No skips, no replays, just my first instincts.

Slash Fiction are the self-described beating heart of Sheffield’s queercore emo scene. After releasing their debut EP in 2018, they blew up with 2019’s stellar single For Matt, an intensely personal reflection on grief that became their most popular song to date. After a successful headline tour in early 2020, they retreated to the studio with producer Gordian Stimm, and the result is their debut album Gender, Trauma & Friendship, released through Amateur Pop Incorporated. If lead single How’s This For Heartbreak? Is any indication, they’re destined for even higher heights.

Going in to this listen, I’m hoping for the band’s trademark heart-on-sleeve lyrics, vocal interplay, and brutal instrumentation. If any of the songs I’ve heard live previously make it onto here, then I know I’m in for a treat.

Here we go, I’m pressing play…

1. Pick My Stitches We begin with a lovely clean, country-esque riff. The gang vocals! I love this already. You can practically feel the tension vibrating in every note. This is the sort of song that’s going to go off live. Whoa, the crunchy guitars are nice, super gritty sounding. The lyrics are beautiful, about remaining true to yourself and standing by your friends. The drums at the end are powerful…

2. I’ll Get There, if I Leave Everything But My Bones Behind ..and without skipping a beat, we’re onto track 2! “I’ve never felt more secure than when I’m with you, I’ve never felt less alone than when you’re with me” is a beautiful couplet. The vocal production is really nice on this album so far, with lots of different tones. This song feels both intimate and massive. This chorus is phenomenal. Ha, love the Lord of the Rings reference, you don’t get enough Lord of the Rings references in music any more. The second verse reminds me of I Don’t Know If Heaven Exists, the closing track of /Fic’s debut EP. “I’ll spend my thirties like my twenties, trying to be less depressed, safe in the knowledge I look great in a dress and you’ll be with me” WHOO!!! Yes! This is brilliant. This feels like a lost Hotelier track circa Home Like Noplace Is There. What a song.

3. How’s This For Heartbreak? The lead single. I was already familiar with this ahead of release. I’ve heard it live so many times and I was so happy to see it on the album tracklist. The alternating vocals from Dan Stringer and Beans Webster sound so good. The keys are really doing the most on this track so far. I can see why this was the lead single, the melody is so ridiculously catchy. The band’s Wonder Years influence really shines through here, but it doesn’t eclipse the band’s singular vision. The chorus is unforgettable. You can really tell that the band are close friends. “I’ll be okay, and you’ll be okay again.” God, this album is going to mean so much to so many people. The release of the final chorus is exhilarating. More!

4. Ten Feet Tall The distorted squall to begin is a nice touch. The riff is huge in this one. The basslines are phenomenal here, it really reminds me of peak Pixies circa Doolittle. The garden metaphor is a beautiful one. “A sunflower can grow to be ten feet tall, and so can I.” I love all the backing vocals on every track so far. “I will take your rotted garden, what’s left is mine to use” is one of my favourite lyrics thus far. A major theme so far seems to be self-confidence and defiance. A beautiful outro.

5. Footnote “Are you afraid I’ll never turn out like you wanted me to?” I’m less than a minute in to this one and I can already tell this one is going to be an emotional listen. The dynamics are incredible. You know that the band mean every single word they write in these songs. The guitar work on this is my favourite so far. Oooooh. The shift in the instrumentation midway through is stunning, it really took me off guard in the best way. “Blood isn’t thicker than love and my friends are the family I choose” is a fucking incredible line. This is a massive song. The keys are absolutely stunning here. The song keeps ascending! I can’t put into words how incredible it’s going to be screaming along to the chorus of this one. Slash Fiction make beautiful, crushing music. The percussion at the end is divine. An amazing track.

6. The Lighthouse The studio chatter in the intro of this one made me smile. The riff feels familiar in a way I can’t place. This feels super intimate after the gigantic Footnote. I’ll always love maritime references in songs. This is the most minimal track so far, and it works so well. The backing vocals! Angelic! This is beautiful. So different to the songs that came before, but it works so well. An immediate highlight.

7. The Space Between This segues perfectly from The Lighthouse, I always love it when albums have transitions like that. I remember hearing this song played live for some of the first times, and I’m so excited to hear the final version. I love that there’s so many different vocalists on each of the songs. Oh my god the riff in this one is so good. “Let’s pretend that this body is my body.” Every band member is doing the absolute most here. The time change between verses in this is phenomenal. Every single song on this album is hitting me emotionally. The bass! I can’t get over how great every single band member sounds on this song. I could single out every part I’d like, but it would be literally every part of this song. “I am not a blank slate.” This is the longest song on the album so far but it doesn’t feel it – there’s not a wasted moment. “We are more than our bodies.” The vocals soar here. What a beautiful track.

8. Cross My Heart Whoo, a change of pace from the previous tracks here. The fuzzy riff is cutting through like an axe through wet tissue paper. Somehow, it’s reminding me of Julien Baker more than any other artist. You can thank the devastating lyrics for that. “I wanna let you reach inside my head, rearrange the circuitry and help me to forget.” This is a certified banger. Whoo! The guitars are carrying this one and bringing so much energy. I WANNA BE MYSELF AGAIN! One of the most relatable moments on an album full of relatable moments. Please let this get the single treatment it deserves. Short and sweet.

9. Headaches Jesus, this is a dark one. You wouldn’t know it from the instrumentation – it’s one of the brightest sounding tracks yet, but God, these lyrics. “I spend my life so afraid to die, I’m not sure I’m living.” The keys in this one are incredible! The lyrics are heartbreaking. Death is another major theme of the album: both fearing it and coping with the aftermath. The juxtaposition of intensely specific and personal verses with a chorus made for shouting along is a potent one. The handclaps! The outro sounds like a robot having a nightmare in the best possible way.

10. Needle & Thread …and we flow perfectly into the finale. The clean guitar throughout this album is stunning, thank you to Gordian Stimm and KOJI for their incredible production. This feels big already. “What if old haunts could become new hopes?” This song is reminding me of a time I saw /Fic live at a friend’s basement. It was full of people shouting every word back to them, a room full of love and emotion. It’s songs like this that highlight what the band do best. The friendship in the album’s title is clear as daylight here. The countermelodies in the backing vocals are sending me to heaven. The guitar solo! Yes! An anthem. Always end on an anthem is a motto I’m going to take forward through this year. The bass has been a consistent highlight of this album. An uplifting ending. Was that the riff from Pick My Stitches? And it’s over.

When I think of my favourite emo albums, I think of songs that feel at once intensely personal yet relatable, and I think of skyscraper-sized choruses. It’s no surprise that /Fic are inspired by some of my favourite emo artists such as Jimmy Eat World and The Wonder Years, as all three bands do this so perfectly. Slash Fiction make a case for themselves as being the best band of emo’s current wave. It takes just one listen to know how important these songs are going to mean to so many people. I can certainly vouch for how much they already mean to me. Heartbreak never sounded so life-affirming. Listen to this album.

Highlight tracks: How’s This For Heartbreak?, The Lighthouse, I’ll Get There…, The Space Between

Key lyric: My friends are the family I choose.

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