Even as UK pop-punk continues to flourish as its own subsection of the genre, similar patterns continue to remain between it and its stateside counterparts. It seems as though there’s one paragon band for each scene, the band that’s taken their sound to the greatest heights, and thus get droves of hangers-on cribbing their formula and milking it for all it’s worth. Those bands are The Story So Far and Neck Deep, and while the fact that the latter were only elevated from virtual also-rans by embracing a new style speaks volumes, they’ve hardly been a bad band to take cues from lately. But then there’s Boston Manor, who’ve distanced themselves fairly far from genre expectations by adding splashes of modern emo to their pop-punk. It might not sound like much, but it pays off on their debut full-length Be Nothing, especially with regards to finding their own identity – it’s certainly darker and more foreboding than most pop-punk to surface this year.
This is in no small part down to the production and execution which, not to oversell them, are absolutely perfect when accompanying Boston Manor’s wheelhouse. Whereas a lot of pop-punk can feel overly processed and mollycoddled, Be Nothing is anchored in darker shades, giving these songs plenty of room to brood and rumble as well as erupt. There’s a much more intense and overpowering atmosphere on this album compared to others in the genre – pop-punk’s stereotypical sun-kissed guitars are extinguished in favour of a healthy dose of gritty realism, and even though the cardinal sin of double time drums on Burn You Up and Stop Trying, Be Nothing still don’t sound good, they at least fit into the heady abrasiveness better. Of course, without a competent singer to tie everything together none of this really matters, and fortunately Henry Cox is the perfect fit for this sort of sound. It helps that the retention of his natural English accent has a weariness and a general jadedness that integrates well with the darker musical canvas, but he has such a vast emotive range on tracks like Broken Glass to the point where he’s almost screaming that makes him pretty untouchable in terms of other pop-punk vocalists.
As has already been mentioned though, to call Boston Manor just a pop-punk band is unfairly reductive. The emo and alt-rock influences are prominent musically, but even lyrically their essences manage to weave their way in, subsequently pushing aside the throwaway nature that’s typically associated with traditional pop-punk. There are still more joyously massive melodies than you can shake a slice of pizza at – Lead Feet and This Song Is Dedicated To Nobody immediately stand out in that regard – but it’s an album brimming with weight and gravity, especially in the lyrics. There’s an all-encompassing loneliness to Laika and Fossa, and Cu‘s cutting self-loathing hits like a ton of bricks. The emo sentiment is pretty much flashing on this band’s sleeve at this point, but there’s such a believability and vehemence in Cox’s delivery that it’s hard not to be floored by its power, only amplified by the dourness of the instrumentation.
It’s the kind of highly personal writing and intent that makes Be Nothing stand in the top tier of 2016’s debut albums. At a point where British pop-punk is the most fruitful and influential that it’s ever been, Boston Manor take the kind of sharp left turn that’s needed to keep the genre interesting. That’s how Be Nothing, even at a glance stands out amongst its peers, with a rugged, mature take on a genre that’s getting close to being interchangeable at this point. At more than a glance, it’s a fantastically layered, captivating album that establishes its creators as shining lights in their scene. Don’t be surprised if there’s a Neck Deep-esque explosion in popularity for Boston Manor on the cards.
For fans of: ROAM, Columbus, Real Friends
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Be Nothing’ by Boston Manor is out now on Pure Noise Records.