It seems to have dawned on many people recently that the 90s were twenty whole years ago – who’s going to tell them it’s been thirty in another few? Musically though, you can’t move for 90s influenced bands nowadays, whether those influences are Nirvana, Oasis or something completely different. And Bristol four-piece Milk Teeth are carrying on the trend with their brand of uber-90s grunge/punk/emo.
Seriously though, debut album Vile Child is so 90s anyone listening will feel like they’ve been transported back to when Spice Girls were number one and MTV was actually still ‘music television’. Crunchy guitars represent the grunge side of things while Becky Blomfield’s wispy vocal gives the album’s twelve tracks a shoegaze vibe. The likes of fast and furious Brickwork and more plodding Leona display her unique voice brilliantly. She mainly stays in the lower-pitched end of her range and is not afraid to go off on a bit of a tangent and hit a few bum notes. This is in no way a bad thing, as not only is it perfect for the music Milk Teeth make, but it’s distinctive in a world where female vocalists are constantly expected to be able to belt out pitch-perfect high notes on command.
But the other half of the vocals in Milk Teeth aren’t so great. The screams from (now ex-) guitarist Josh Bannister overpower everything massively. They’re full-frontal screams, too, and it confuses the overall vibe of their sound. It’s annoying as the first half of Vile Child features Blomfield on lead vocals (apart from opener Brickwork), only to have the sound your ears have adjusted to replaced by abrasive screams on the last few tracks. Vile Child is at its strongest with Milk Teeth’s female lead vocals at the helm, such as the likes of Brain Food and the fantastic Burger Drop.
And these screaming vocals do a lot more than confuse whoever’s listening. The tracks with Bannister at the fore get old very quickly, and the charm earned at the beginning of the record is lost. Cut You Up is the closest he gets to winning this back, as the vocals seem to have a more melodic edge. Repetitive Get A Clue is by far the most annoying track too, with the “this isn’t, this isn’t, this isn’t you” refrain pointlessly barked twelve times in the three minutes. And when you’re eventually searching for something else to focus on in desperation, it’s all too easy to see how the guitars in the heavier tracks use the same kind of ideas again and again. Tracks with so much going on shouldn’t be this boring.
It has to be stressed, though, how much the whole formula works with the screams taken out of the equation. It’s in-your-face and subdued at the same, and while Milk Teeth may not be the most accessible of bands, they’re definitely onto something. It just needs a bit of honing.
Milk Teeth’s premise ticks all the boxes – innovative, loud and interesting. But they’re obviously trying to tick boxes outside their preferred genre too. There are ventures like the acoustic Kabuki which show the potential they have to be creative with their sound. But the last few tracks on Vile Child are alienating and stick out like a sore thumb. It’s clear that a side needs to be chosen here, or trying to cover too much ground make take its toll. And it’d be a crying shame if it did.
For fans of: Nirvana, Wolf Alice, Tigers Jaw
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Vile Child’ by Milk Teeth is out now on Hopeless Records.