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Album Review: Cartel - In Stereo EP

Cartel’s life-span has been something of a cautionary tale, starting so well with their full-length debut, 'Chroma' with its near universal acclaim and then hitting a perceived bum note with the ‘Band in a Bubble’ episode. In fact, the resulting self-titled album was a solid pop album – but it seemed people loved to hate poor Cartel. An indifferent third album got fans longing for the 'Chroma' sound to come back. Well, now Cartel have split from their label and taken on production duties themselves (without a bubble in sight) and gone back to basics with their latest EP, ‘In Stereo’.

One thing that has remained constant is Will Pugh’s quite extraordinary vocal talents – which are showcased on the rip-roaring opener ‘Lessons in Love’. It features the best chorus on the album and, while lacking a bit of studio shine (so does the entire EP), it’s great to see the old Cartel confidence return.

On a five-track EP it’s important not to have a weak track and Cartel just about avoid this – though the chorus of 'American Dreams', which is slightly bland and meandering, while the title track doesn’t shine – it’s a solid album track, but it has nowhere to hide on an EP.

However, it’s ‘Conduit’ that hints at a golden future for the band. It’s an impressive track – demanding repeat listens and showing the band’s sound is more than the happy-go-lucky pop punk that won them so many fans initially. Just remember, this is the band who wrote the incredible ‘Q+A’ and the darker, slightly more brooding sound on ‘Conduit’ is something the band should pursue.

Without being patronizing, it’s great to see a hard-working band find their feet after a series of set backs, and even better when that band produces something that should make people really sit up and take notice. Perhaps, stripped back from the industry mess, Cartel are approaching their vintage years – there are certainly moments on this EP that suggest that, and, despite an odd missed step, it’s a promising release.


'In Stereo' is out now.

Nick Robbins

Alter The Press!