If we weren’t currently in the throes of an alt-rock renaissance that lets bands forge their path via their own creative means, Muskets would simply be another group of chancers consigned to the underground and fighting for a slim chance for recognition. Thankfully that isn’t the case anymore, and considering how well-received the Brighton-based quartet’s previous EPs have been, debut album Chew comes with the weight of expectation on its shoulders. Even the creative process is enough to at least stir up some curiosity, stemming from the drug-fuelled late-night musings of frontman Alex Cheung and bassist Dan Smith’s stint of living in a squat, and crafting their individual pieces on the spot in the studio for a uniquely raw feel.
When it comes to the latter point, the band’s primary inspirations were Nirvana’s Bleach and the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, and while Chew is closer in line to Nirvana’s later material than the loose madness of Bleach, Surfer Rosa stands as a solid shout, at least sonically, slightly off-kilter in terms of grunge and alt-rock, but differentiated by hints of emo and hardcore that are pretty much part and parcel with coming through on Venn Records. The resultant album is the sort of heady, enjoyable alt-rock that’s always good to have around, and with the results of that live recording process certainly being noticeable, Muskets are doing a lot well here already.
For a start, there’s a full, rich sound to Chew that shows how beneficial its DIY process has been, like the squalling guitars of Decay and Truck, or the fat riffs and basslines that dominate on Frankie Stable. There’s a feeling that this is a band just teetering on the edge of falling into total discord, and yet with tracks that have such a clear melodic foundation that are unashamedly flaunted like on You’re So Cool, Muskets just about manage to keep themselves on balance. And while the whole process of grunge worship isn’t exactly a new one, there’s a flair and an effortless charm to how Muskets pull it off that makes Chew really stand out.
Granted, that does come dangerously close to coming back and biting them at points, particularly when the band drift into territory that isn’t exactly congruent with the album as a whole. The lyrics here might be particularly obtuse as Cheung rattles off his streams of consciousness, but especially on a track like Umbilical against a lighter, more chiming instrumental, there’s a vibe that’s created there that connects with the instability that’s already imbued into the album as a whole. Instead, it’s Cheung as a vocalist who can feel a bit more off-balance than would be ideal. To his credit he’s able to find stable footing fairly early on, but with both Pond Drop and particularly the woozy 17 Years opening the album in a fashion that highlights that instability in a less-than-favourable light, it can lead to some of the edges around Chew feeling a bit too rough.
But then again, that’s the consequence of working in such a lo-fi environment, and it’s honestly a surprise that more of Chew doesn’t meet a similar fate. Even through its haphazard creation, Muskets’ debut is exactly the sort of alt-rock listen that’ll go down well and ultimately open plenty of doors for them; the sonic similarities to Milk Teeth aren’t exactly hidden here, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Muskets take a similar path and really establish their place in the alt-rock landscape. It’s unassuming, sure, but there’s spirit and passion here that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
For fans of: Milk Teeth, Basement, Black Foxxes
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Chew’ by Muskets is released on 20th October on No Sleep Records.