Bring Me The Horizon – Mantra
Considering that virtually everyone who heard That’s The Spirit – regardless of whether they liked it or not – said it would be the album that took Bring Me The Horizon to festival headliner status, it’s a bit strange that it didn’t. As by far their most accessible album to date, it could have, but perhaps with how polarising it ultimately proved to be after the unprecedented success of Sempiternal, there was a reticence to push anything too hard. But with rumblings that the band’s sixth album amo would fall between the sounds of those two albums, those predictions don’t seem like pipe-dreams just yet. Mantra would at least provide a bit of early supporting evidence, given the rumbling drums and dirty, low-slung riff that kick it off, culminating in an easy lead single choice that’s sonically nestled between Shadow Moses and Happy Song. And sure, it would be easy to moan about how it’s not particularly groundbreaking, especially when lyrically and instrumentally it touches on territory this band aren’t exactly unfamiliar with, but it’s really just refreshing to hear Bring Me The Horizon feeling like they can be a proper rock band again. Aside from the hints AutoTune on Oli Sykes that are unfortunately easy to pick up on, they’ve managed to find a good way to meld their rock and electro-pop sides in a fluid, virtually seamless manner. Even if it’s not the slobberknocker lead single they’ve become so good at capitalising on hype with, Mantra paints a bright future for Bring Me The Horizon, one where the distance between them and those vaunted festival headline sets is getting ever closer.
You Me At Six – Back Again
If You Me At Six are doing one thing exceptionally on the VI cycle, it’s proving how little Night People actually did for them. For what was intended as their big, grown-up rock album to cement themselves among British rock’s (not Britrock’s) upper echelons, they’ve turned their backs on it fairly quickly for – what else? – the lithe grooves and neon skip of The 1975. You can’t really blame them though (especially with how flat that album fell), and at least these songs actually sound like a band having some fun. That’s not to say that Back Again especially is all that great, because it’s not, but a more prominent bass groove and sharper, snappier guitars at least have some more infectiousness to them that’s easier to gravitate towards. And sure, from a writing standpoint it’s about as deep as a paddling pool with a leak in it, and Josh Franceschi’s falsetto on the chorus is unforgivably underdeveloped – particularly for a band going into their sixth album – but considering what came before and how poorly that’s aged only a year-and-a-half later, there’s no point in complaining too much.
Andy Black – My Way
For as limited as he can be fronting Black Veil Brides, Andy Biersack can be a good artist when he wants to. As scattered as his debut under the Andy Black moniker was, a sleeker, pop-oriented sound produced some great songs, a similar case to his cover of Adele’s When We Were Young last year. So with a chance to give his take on Frank Sinatra’s My Way, he’s only gone and done the most suboptimal thing possible and styled it around Sid Vicious’ version, a version that no one actually likes and is objectively worse on all fronts. At least Biersack is a better singer than Vicious (though it’s not hard), but the choppy pop-rock guitars totally gut all the poise and opulent triumph of Sinatra’s original, and there’s an uncomfortable sneer in his vocals that really doesn’t fit with the point of the song after all. As well as being way too overproduced – even so far as the guitars sounding like static at points – it’s just a mess of a cover that couldn’t be a worse way to kick off this second album cycle.
The Story So Far – Upside Down / Take Me As You Please
For as much credit can be attributed to The Story So Far for fostering the new wave of pop-punk in the early 2010s, they probably fared the worst in the long run. What might have been seen as game-changing in 2011 quickly became stale, and while the shift to grungier territory on 2015’s self-titled effort was at least something different, there still wasn’t a great deal there overall. Upside Down, though, is something much different again, opting for wistful, downplayed emo with Parker Cannon embarking on his mellowest post-breakup meditation to date. And it really does work, keeping to a much more even keel as guitars jangle and flutter unassumingly, and the contemplative, summery tone feels like the perfectly beguiling foil to the more upbeat efforts of previous single Let It Go. It’s all shockingly good stuff from a band who’ve band who’ve rarely produced much of interest in the past, but seem to be fully embracing this drastic new angle to the best of their abilities.
As for Take Me As You Please, it becomes even clearer that the band are wasting no time going down this route, chilling out and stripping back even further for a sun-kissed acoustic ballad more in the vein on State Champs than anything else. Granted, Cannon’s vocals do keep a lot more grounded to a rock song rather than acoustic pop, but compared to Upside Down, this is definitely the weaker one, jumping on the train of pop-punk ballads that have been derided into the ground at this point and doing nothing to really mitigate that. At least with the rustles of the percussion there’s a bit more in the way of depth, but if either of these tracks is going to rub longtime fans the wrong way, it’ll be this one. Hopefully the full album will shed more light on what the actual aim of all this is, but it’s going to be an interesting one all the same.
Atreyu – In Our Wake / Anger Left Behind
It’s about time that Atreyu released some new music, to be honest. Long Live severely underwhelmed a couple of years back, and the fact that was the band’s comeback album made that fact all the more bitter. At least with a new album ready to go there’s a chance for them to redeem themselves, even if the title track doesn’t seem to be doing much of that. These two new tracks seem to focusing on each individual aspect of Atreyu as a band, with this being the more radio-ready hard rock number that isn’t bad, but compared to the gall and sleaze of a track like Blow, these sorts of big, empowering platitudes do nothing to spark any sort of interest. No matter how much punch and rattle the drums have (even if the guitars could be given more room to shine), or how strong Brandon Saller and Alex Varkatzas’ shared cleans sound, without anything to definitively earmark this as an Atreyu song, and not just another throwaway butt-rock band, there’s nothing grabbing here.
At least Anger Left Behind is marginally better; Varkatzas gets more room to scream, and even if it isn’t much, he sounds suitably ferocious and galvanised in the opportunities he does have. But beyond that and the odd passage of rougher, gnarlier guitars, it suffers from the exact same problems as In Our Wake, namely a focus on bombast and scale that strips away so much of the gothic flair that made Atreyu different from so many other metalcore bands. It’s hardly a surprise that John Feldmann is behind the production desk given how watery the guitars sound, but for a pair of lead singles, neither of these tracks are even that memorable, the unfortunate downside of dredging the radio-rock well for as few merits as it has left. The worst part is if these were the prime candidates to build hype for a new album, there’s not much hope for what the rest is going to offer.
Blood Youth – Starve
Blood Youth never really hit the heights they could have on Beyond Repair, perhaps because such stark similarities to what Beartooth were doing around that time put so many off. At least they appear to be doing the right thing with a swift follow-up, dropping Starve and showing some clear improvements pretty much across the board. Sure, those comparisons are still valid with riffs that remain taut and sharp even through their thickness, and Kaya Tarsus’ largely sticking to a similar vocal timbre as Caleb Shomo in both singing and screaming, but compared to what Beartooth are currently up to, Blood Youth are able to convey undertones of discomfort much more effectively, both in the gnawing electronic pulse that keeps that sense of tension on edge, and a much more natural sense of anguish that builds up and ebbs back at just the right moments. Alongside the formidable groove that this band have always excelled at, Starve is definitely heading in the right direction to regaining some of the footing they might have previously lost.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Do It All The Time
Considering the furore surrounding I Don’t Know How They Found Me as Dallon Weekes’ return to music away from Panic! At The Disco, none of their singles have really lived up to the intense hype; they’ve been mostly good, but nothing to really take the roof off. Even though Do It All The Time isn’t quite there either, it might be the best they’ve done at least, with a move to Fearless Records fuelling the cocksure, tongue-in-cheek swagger of the lyrics, as well as a pretty slick pop-rock groove that may be a bit too underdeveloped for some, but ultimately feels like the best possible choice for a song like this. Weekes’ vocals are still a very acquired taste (especially the bursts of falsetto that come out of the blue to no avail), but beyond that, this is a decent enough track. IDKHow still need to hit their stride, but at least this is evidence of moving in the right direction.
Clutch – In Walks Barbarella
Clutch are among one of the most reliable bands on the planet by a country mile, never releasing a bad album and always finding ways to temper a fairly standard blues-rock canvas with enough weirdness to really shine. It’s not like you’d expect the contrary from a song that coins the phrase “weaponized funk” either, but In Walks Barbarella is the sort of gloriously madcap track that you’d never want Clutch to cool down with. The sizzling horns and low-slung, southern-friend guitars are just insatiable from the off, and when Neil Fallon comes in as the zany preacher man that he’s been masterful at for years now, it’s all the typical Clutch excellence that’s incredibly familiar but no less exciting. Even if the lyrics are borderline nonsensical, that’s never been a hindrance before, and even on sheer size alone, Clutch still manage to casually walk away with another jam for their ever-growing collection.
Hellogoodbye – Let It Burn
There can’t have been many who weren’t utterly taken aback when Hellogoodbye revealed their drastic reinvention. The nerdy, saccharine alt-pop of Here (In My Arms) might have been a decade ago, but it’s not exactly a straight shot between that and slinky, smoldering funk jams. Of course, it’s hard to really complain, especially considering how much of a suckerpunch of excellence S’Only Natural was, and Let It Burn is pretty much the perfect follow-up. Once again, there’s such a standout classiness to the strutting bass alongside the restrained synths and strings, and with Forrest Kline sticking to a quietly confident lower range that remains unassuming to a fault, there’s a certain degree of sensuality and raunchiness that you’d never expect from Hellogoodbye. To an extent, it’s almost the equivalent of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky for the wallflowers of the world, both in similarities in groove that are admittedly pretty unavoidable, and in the slow simmer that could easily make for a world-beating smash. It’s still utterly baffling that Hellogoodbye of all bands are making a comeback like this in 2018, but when it’s as ridiculously good as this, what’s there to question?
We Were Promised Jetpacks – Repeating Patterns
There’s always going to be some part of We Were Promised Jetpacks that’s going to be compared to Biffy Clyro, two modest bands starting out in the Scottish indie scene before ballooning into massive, all-conquering juggernauts. Except the ballooning never happened for We Were Promised Jetpacks, because where Biffy channeled their inventiveness into arena-rock anthems, tracks like Repeating Patterns feel disappointingly staid. Credit to Darren Lackie for some particularly limber drum work, and the overall propulsion of the track isn’t bad, but there’s really nothing to propel it towards, just a pile of riffs that never changes or evolves and ultimately just comes across as a bit bland. It’s already something of a fan favourite live, and with the energy it’s got that’s understandable, but it ultimately struggles to translate to a recorded counterpart and feels too flat to spur on any emotions besides total ambivalence.
Rise Of The Northstar – This Is Crossover
It feels wrong to criticise Rise Of The Northstar for being as absolutely ridiculous as they are; they’re a ‘90s-style hardcore band influenced by manga, after all. But while Welcame was solid if unremarkable, their follow-up had to fully cement their sound as something great, and This Is Crossover doesn’t do that. Sure, the groove they fall into is absolutely relentless, and a verse in their native French is a nice touch for that seasoning of individuality, but it can’t hold together the rest of hardcore canvas dominated by tiresome posturing and breakdowns that feel recycled at least four times over. Alongside a hip-hop influence that Vithia’s non-English tongue just can’t seem to get around comfortably, This Is Crossover is an unfortunately messy cut from a band that need to do more at this point. A good groove can solve a lot in hardcore, but when everything that supplements it falls below par, more needs to be done.
Vodun – New Doom
If Vodun just built on their potential more, they could be a genuine force to be reckoned with. As a concept, voodoo-inspired post-punk is something that no other UK band is even close to approaching, and yet Vodun have always seemed to be slightly off from capitalising upon how great it could be. Even on new track New Doom, they’re not quite there yet, despite how potent their dirty, bluesy grooves end up becoming and with the added help of Turbowolf frontman Chris Georgiadis. The issue seems to be everything around that, with vocalist Oya having decent power but stuck in an upper range that isn’t flattered by how dirty everything else is, and while the themes of exorcising mental demons could so easily be built and applied around the voodoo aesthetic, that feels like a step that was skipped. The end result is a song that works in parts but seldom reaches a cohesive whole to do anything great. Perhaps when Vodun release their new album in a couple of weeks’ time, the context can provide some improvements.
The Dirty Nil – I Don’t Want That Phone Call
If there’s one punk band for whom the rest of 2018 is going to be extremely kind to, it’s The Dirty Nil. With some genuine coverage and a new album on the horizon, their status as perennial underdogs could be coming to an end at last, and it’s tracks like I Don’t Want That Phone Call that’ll undoubtedly be the primary driving force behind it. The Canadians have definitely adopted the scruffier, slacker-pop end of the modern punk spectrum, but compared to a band like Fidlar with barely any substance behind them, this is the sort of bracing but distinctly melancholic track that could go down an absolute storm. Luke Bentham takes an unpolished, impassioned vocal performance to a friend who he clearly knows won’t have much longer if he doesn’t change his ways of alcoholism and drug abuse, raw and real with no artifice whatsoever. Along with the sort of chunky bass and guitar work that’s big on both sentimental heft and instrumental grit, I Don’t Want That Phone Call feels vital without having to resort to cheap tactics or anything overly showy to get its point across. For a band like The Dirty Nil, it’s this sort of simplicity that will prove an invaluable asset.
Ghost – Dance Macabre (Carpenter Brut remix)
As of now, Ghost’s Dance Macabre is the best song released in 2018, a flawless mashup of ‘80s synthpop camp and gothic darkness for the most insatiable pop concoction imaginable, and given Carpenter Brut’s penchant for both the ‘80s and a similar brand of darkness, on paper, this remix sounds absolutely magical. And with the swirling, organ-like synths that bleed into the skittering beat and taut, neon baseline, it pretty much lives up to every expectation, no matter how high. In what’s gone from the best Duran Duran tribute imaginable to the best Human League tribute imaginable, there’s so much new life breathed into this song and a new perspective that’s just as compelling, amping up the seediness and letting Cardinal Copia’s gloriously and unashamedly poppy chorus shine in a neon coat. Even if the original still holds pole position, for a remix to come even remotely close to hitting an almost unassailably high watermark is high praise indeed.
Sylar – Seasons
Clearly Sylar are positioning Seasons as their big mainstream breakthrough album, and from lead single All Or Nothing, that looked to be accomplished by going down incredibly generic rap-rock paths with lyrics totally bankrupt of detail or any interesting wordplay whatsoever. To be fair to them, No Way is at least something of an improvement; Miguel Cardinal can effortlessly take the reins with a smoothness that drives a much cleaner, more openly anthemic instrumental, and while Jayden Panesso’s contributions primarily come down to a bit more spice to overall mix, they’re largely fine. It’s the lyrics where they really lose it though, pulling on self-esteem clichés about standing strong to gel with an overall smoothness that feels far too obvious to consider as passing. Bear in mind that Sylar’s sound could once be seen as something of a modern extrapolation of New York hardcore, but by drawing on underfed metalcore tedium that literally no one wants at this point, they’re doing no favours for themselves. Even if this is a marginal improvement on their previous single, that means next to nothing when it still isn’t very good.
Scarlxrd – HXW THEY JUDGE
With Scarlxrd being the official representative for SoundCloud rap in the alternative world (he screams more than the others, y’see), it was always going to be interesting to see if he could build on that; DXXM showed some interesting ideas in that vein, but proved too homogeneous to do anything significant. Well, at least with HXW THEY JUDGE there’s been some breakaway from the metal samples and speaker-bursting bass, now built around creeping, woozy guitars and bass-boosts that aren’t as actively destroying the mix around them. And in truth, it’s not bad; it has the potential to be more tolerable in larger doses, but factor in Scarlxrd himself who spouts all the usual edgy, nihilistic spiels, and his screaming becomes the only real defining characteristic. Give this song to Lil Uzi Vert or Juice WRLD and nothing changes, and while this is apparently the more hard-hitting approach to emo-rap, it’s hard to see how beyond superficial qualities. Even if this is another okay song to add to Scarlxrd’s ever-growing collection of okay songs, it’s hardly wrong to want more than that.
boygenius – Bite The Hand / Stay Down / Me And My Dog
To some, the concept of boygenius will be something so tantalisingly exciting that there’s not a single possibility that it could fail, the collaborative project of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus that brings together the earthen indie-rock subtleties of each for a six-track EP, half of which has already been released. And while there’s often the stipulation that this sort of indie-rock can succumb to how understated it is and start to run together, boygenius offer a remarkably stable foundation. Bite The Hand is probably the best example of this stability, with Dacus’ even, calm vocals leading over a steady drumbeat and rickety guitar progression, but with Baker and Bridgers providing an almost ethereal backing that breaks off into its own off-kilter lines, and a buildup into more muscular, stormy guitars, there’s a pathos and a sadness that’s exemplified to great effect.
It’s a similar effect as on Stay Down, another very solemn cut led by a gorgeous fragility in Baker’s vocals backed by pianos and the tiniest hint of guitar, burnished in the production for a warmth and intimacy that’s usually done superbly in this genre. The buildup is arguably better as well, giving the pianos and guitars the chance to breathe and swell before the final almighty crescendo, and a sense of drama that feels earned. There’s still the steadiness and overall DIY feel that prevents it from exploding too readily, but for how barebones the composition ultimately is, the payoff is staggering.
That leaves Me & My Dog, probably the weakest cut here simply by virtue of not having the potential to grip as easily as its two other counterparts. It’s still far from bad as Bridgers leads with yet another stellar vocal performance (if there’s one area this upcoming EP will shine in, it’s how well emotion is relayed in the vocals) before another set of beautiful harmonies emphasise that pin-drop delicacy once again. Instrumentally though, it’s a bit less impressive, with the single, basic guitar loop feeling unnecessarily laborious and forced alongside another steady percussion line, and brief cameos of pianos and banjos that ultimately could’ve contributed more than they do. As it stands though, the evidence that boygenius has offered with these three tracks looks to be incredibly promising indeed, not exactly primed to break out the indie scene to cause a bigger stir (because be honest, who in that scene is?), but it’s definitely more substantial and fully-formed than what a lot of similar acts have delivered recently. There’s definitely the potential for something great to come from this, and the upcoming EP could be just that.
Bearings – Aforementioned
It feels like Bearings are on the very fringe of become Pure Noise’s next big moneymakers. They’ve got decent melodic instincts without sacrificing too much of pop-punk’s punk side, and while they’re yet to release anything to really wow, the potential is there. Whether that’ll be their upcoming debut Blue In The Dark is an open question though, particularly off the back of lead single Aforementioned. On the plus side, those melodies are definitely the star of the show, opening out into slightly more gentle, Jimmy Eat World-style tones with gritty yet heartfelt instrumentation, and vocalist Doug Cousins, with a vocal timbre not too unlike As It Is’ Patty Walters, is able to play on the wistfulness of changing times and hardships while coming out strong in the end. But there’s still something here that relegates Bearings to the B-tier at best, whether that’s the lack of explosiveness they’ll ultimately need in roping in bigger audiences, or just the fact that there are no defining features to elevate them above their influences. At the end of the day, Aforementioned isn’t a bad song, but Bearings are going to have to do more to get to where they clearly want to be.
Bad Omens – Careful What You Wish For
Bad Omens’ 2016 debut was fairly well received but it didn’t set the world on fire or anything, probably because of just how similar they sounded to what Bring Me The Horizon had already been doing a few years prior. Fast forward to now with Careful What You Wish For and not much has changed; they’ve definitely moved with the times, but this is more akin to the Sempiternal era than There Is A Hell…. And it can bear some uncanny similarities, like in the sweeping, synthesised instrumentals or how closely Noah Sebastian is pushing his lower range to Oli Sykes-esque vulnerability, but divorced from all of that, this is fine enough. Bad Omens don’t come across as the sort of band prioritising fashion over function, and thus the big, emotional sentiments do feel genuine more often than not, particularly in the overtly angrier screamed choruses which sound really great against a more bombastic, heady mix like this. So even if Bad Omens aren’t pushing the boat out that far, they’re working at a rate that benefits them and gives them the room to make decent music, and all things considered, it’s hard to begrudge them of that.
Acres – Medicine
If Acres had been around about ten years ago, they’d probably be one of the hottest-tipped bands in the UK. Right now though, as clearly enamoured with Funeral For A Friend and early We Are The Ocean as they are, it feels like every possible permutation of that sound has been done to death; it was the biggest issue with the EP In Sickness & Health, and it’s returned for Medicine. And this isn’t a bad track – there’s a good sense of scope and balance between alt-rock and post-hardcore passages, and Ben Lumber is the sort of vocalist for whom sheer power supersedes a lack of real individuality – but this sort of bluster-over-everything approach wears off quickly, and to say that Acres are even milling around the very tail end would be generous. As well as production that could definitely afford to emphasise the heft more and bring the screams out to a greater degree, Acres continue to lag behind the post-hardcore pack. They could get there eventually, but it’ll have to involve an almost total shake-up, because this clearly isn’t working for them.
Wild Nothing – Canyon On Fire
To date, Jack Tatum’s Wild Nothing seems to have enjoyed a similar level of success to many indie and dream-pop bands, namely a handful of albums that have roped in a decently sized fanbase and struggled to even make a dent anywhere else. It’s not difficult to see why with a track like Canyon On Fire either, given that this dives headlong into the camp of “not for everyone” without even a second thought. On its own, it’s not too bad with the jangling, gentle synths that provide much of the easygoing production which is easy enough to sink into, but without a whole lot of steam or drive, it just drifts by like a lot of shoegaze in this vein does. It doesn’t help that Tatum’s vocals seem buried to the point of illegibility sometimes, culminating in a track that’s pleasant but more inactive and unresponsive than it should be. But then again, that’s not exactly a new concept for Wild Nothing.
Evil Scarecrow – Polterghost
Given how contentious our thoughts on Nekrogoblikon turned out to be (for some reason), there really isn’t much hope for Evil Scarecrow in this situation, who are essentially falling into the same niche but this time are going on about ghosts instead of goblins. And let’s not beat around the bush here – there’s plenty here that truly deserves the same sort of thrashing (the fact they don’t have their own mascot to take the focus away from the actual band only marginally lets them off the hook), but the truth is, at this point, it’s just not worth caring about. There are bands like this all over place, both better and worse, and a by-the-numbers metal song about ghosts that serves as one tiny piece of that whole is, in the grand scheme of things, worthless. Evil Scarecrow won’t get the same sort of coverage, and while that’s undoubtedly a good thing, it also makes any response other than totally ignoring them a waste of time. At least they acknowledge how stupid it all is.
Hippo Campus – Bambi
As deep into the indie-pop canyon as Hippo Campus go (touring history with Walk The Moon and The Mowgli’s say a lot in that regard), there’s at least been something of a rock edge to them usually, no matter how tenuous. New single Bambi seems to throw all of that out the window though, driven by small, tactile beats and slight fragments of weaving guitar for a deliberately confined sound. It doesn’t sound too bad either, particularly in working with Jake Luppen’s unassuming, introverted vocal delivery and subject matter than tilts into self-doubt in a way that the deliberately awkward and off-kilter instrumentation benefits. It might come across as a bit too small at points, particularly for a single and particularly considering some of this band’s previous work, but if this more refined indie-pop direction is one that Hippo Campus want to proceed with, they’re at least pretty solid at it.
LANY – I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore
From a cursory view, LANY seem like the sort of band that would be accepted in the alternative world, but begrudgingly. They are, by technicality only, alternative, but like Imagine Dragons and AJR before them, they’re far more suited to out-and-out pop than anything else. At least LANY know how to write a decent song though, as I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore is miles superior to anything that those other two can muster. Soft, liquid electronics and gentle waves of guitar make for a minimalist but gorgeous alt-pop landscape, with Paul Klein’s breathy vocals carrying the reservation of someone whose relationship has ended and wants to move on, but can’t. It’s almost obviously simple, pretty much across the board, and in truth, that does cause LANY to breeze by rather than worming themselves into the brain that much deeper, but for a light, loved-up pop song that’s still able to earn its melancholy, this is definitely a move that’s worked.
Menace Beach – Satellite
With a band like Menace Beach, there’s really no general consensus on how well they’ll stick. Theirs is the sort of weird, fuzzed-out indie-rock that some people just can’t get enough of, but on the same token it’s an open question as to how much appeal they really have beyond that crowd. It’s an even more pertinent issue with a track like Satellite, which appears to be following suit with the previous tracks from Black Rainbow Sound in its insistence on shoving its thinned-out, woozy synth right to the front of the mix. This time though, with the droning low end and incessantly rustling percussion, the whole thing culminates in a blocky, overdone mess that makes it unnecessarily difficult to hear Liza Violet’s already thin vocals. For a song surrounding the extrasensory potential of human relationships, Satellite feels way to busy and impenetrable to make any sort of connection with whatsoever, and only leaves the already obtuse perception of Menace Beach even more so.
Attan – SoMe Riefenstahl
It’s frankly quite shocking that more people haven’t tried to be the first there to break Attan, particularly those who were early champions of bands like Employed To Serve or Conjurer. To be fair, this Norwegian quintet aren’t quite at that level of brilliance just yet, but even from this one track, they’re already making some serious moves. What it’s most reminiscent of is a band like Svalbard in its throwing of incendiary, unkempt hardcore into a black metal blizzard, though slightly dialing back on some of the more melodic leanings. It all leaves SoMe Riefenstahl as the sort of corrosive hardcore track that’s definitely good on its own, but really needs the wider canvas of an album to fully unlock that greatness that’s evidently there. Thankfully that’s coming next month, so expect that to be the case with Attan much sooner rather than later.
The Tea Street Band – Feel It
The Tea Street Band have already won over plenty within the local Liverpool scene, but they could easily spread further than that. It’s true that alternative dance isn’t as in vogue as so many other genres at the minute, but there’s enough of a core to a track like Feel It that could potentially strike a chord with a more dedicated indie set, pitting fragments of dreamlike guitars against scratchy beats and a chopped-and-screwed vocal line that could be reminiscent of a modern incarnation of the Klaxons. It’s definitely better than that though, the sort of low-key little number that really is quite unassuming with little to offer beyond an entertaining, homegrown few minutes, but that in itself isn’t objectionable and a focus on warmer production styles immediately gives The Tea Street Band a sense of confinement and levity that packs in a lot of charm. If this had been released earlier in summer, it could have been in the running for 2018’s indie sleeper hit, but even now, it’s still a good time.
The Marcus King Band – Homesick / Welcome ‘Round Here
Even from blind first impressions and going in cold, things do look promising for The Marcus King Band. Their upcoming album Carolina Confessions is being produced and mixed by Dave Cobb after all, one of the most renowned country producers around, and a seemingly perfect fit for this sextet’s brand of southern soul. This pair of new tracks prove that to be the case too, and though Homesick is probably the weaker of the two, it’s certainly not by virtue of the production, which lends a rich, organic warmth to the shuffling guitars and touches of horns, while King’s formidable pipes manage to pierce through with tremendous range and soul. Rather, it’s more a case of a track overstaying its welcome; all things considered, there’s nothing too showy or instantaneously grabbing here, and thus a six-and-a-half minute runtime could easily be cut back with minimal issues.
Welcome ‘Round Here is a lot better in this regard, tightening up in a more traditional country-rock vein and letting the horns and carving guitar grooves fully let loose, particularly in a solo that’s the one deserved moment of ostentatiousness. Alongside a similar production style to accentuate its ruggedness and earthy grit, it really does sound fantastic, with the only slight point of contention being the fact that King could definitely follow suit with some bigger belting. Overall though, these are two tracks that feel as though they introduce The Marcus King Band in the best way possible, bringing a sense of depth and nuance that’s greatly appreciated while just being generally great across the board.
Bleeker – James Dean
To hear that Bleeker are as big as they are in their native Canada without that translating to the rest of the world isn’t really a surprise. In terms of rock music, there tends to be a propensity for big, uncomplicated hooks and populist intentions (see either Nickelback or Marianas Trench), but what’s even stranger is that, for most of their lives, Bleeker were a post-grunge band. It’s a total mystery as to what wires were crossed here then, as James Dean comes across more as starved lovechild of Imagine Dragons and Awolnation – colourless, overly lumpen and packed to the gills with widespread messages totally void of details of any variety. It’s genuinely baffling how a song like this has managed to actively surface; it’s not like there’s a shortage of them, and even if Bleeker are looking to break into that market (for some reason), they’re not bringing anything even remotely interesting with this. It’s a sellout if there ever was one, and one that will hopefully be forgotten sooner rather than later.
Pohgoh – Digging
While Pohgoh aren’t the only ‘90s emo band making their modern-day return by any stretch, they’re definitely among the ones who deserve their second chance the most. After breaking up in 1997, vocalist Susie Ulrey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and thus upcoming album Secret Club represents the culmination of converting that pain into great art. New single Digging feels like a microcosm of that exact ethos, building from Ulrey’s tired, worn vocals and a gentle guitar melody into roaring, crunchy emo that feels genuinely triumphant in its explosion. Alongside J Robbins’ typical rough-and-ready production style, Pohgoh feel so deeply ingrained in the classic emo aesthetic while simultaneously having grown, matured and experienced, and they’re able to capture those feelings in a great return like this.
Cheer Up – Big Hugs
The issue that a lot of people have with math-rock is that the fiddliness and over-technicality doesn’t usually translate to the most engaging of music, doubly so for the acts that present themselves as quietly and meekly as possible. Philadelphia’s Cheer Up seem to be bucking that trend though, even though on a compositional level, they aren’t deviating too far from it. Glassy guitars and roiling drums dance around with erratic verve without settling too comfortably on a stable rhythm, and Nick Holdorf’s vocals barely take up any space in an already compact mix. But maybe it’s the more direct, hook-focused melody or just how much it’s off-kilter sensibilities work in its favour, but Big Hugs feels a lot more appealing that a good deal of math-y emo numbers, putting a bit more energy at the forefront and pushing along at a good pace. It’s not life-changing or anything, but within math-rock’s overall staleness, Cheer Up could be a project worth keeping an eye on.
Just About Done – Strain
It’s tough to talk about pop-punk in any capacity now, seeing as so many bands have filled pretty much every corner of the market and leaving the new crowd to simply retread the same ground. So here we have Just About Done, whose only standout feature is Samantha McGee’s Australian accent that offers some relative diversity; otherwise, Strain feels disappointingly formulaic, almost like the work of a band focus-grouping a sound to work out what will have the greatest appeal. Pop-punk diehards will of course find plenty to like here – there’s obviously an abundance of solid melodies, and some surprisingly meaty guitars prevent it from being a complete wash – but for bands like this for whom a distinct identity is the most valuable thing imaginable, Just About Done are worlds away from that. It’s fine in a vacuum, but you’d be hard pressed to give even a basic recollection of it before long.
Free Money – Up In The Sky
As much as the promise of a new and exciting indie band is starting to feel more and more oxymoronic, it’s worth appreciating how much buzz Free Money have received up to now, despite this incarnation on the band only existing for just over a year. And while a track like Up In The Sky does justify that buzz to an extent, the vibes of “next big thing” aren’t there yet. There are definitely flashes of what could be in a slightly scuzzier, more powerful guitar presence and the desire to embrace a more tangible strain of rock ‘n’ roll swagger, but strip back those handful of layers, and what remains is a fairly standard, functional indie band that would slot in on any sprawling Reading and Leeds undercard with minimal fuss or care. Maybe with a few more strings to their bow, Free Money could be something worth investing the effort into, but at the minute, that’s not exactly a priority.
Words by Luke Nuttall