Stand Atlantic – Lavender Bones
Stand Atlantic seem to be one of the few pop-rock bands racing for the top who are yet to completely shoot themselves in the foot; as a breakthrough EP, Sidewinder was decent, as was the reception that it largely got. It mightn’t have offered anything particularly new, but for catchy, easily-digestible pop-rock with a real vocal powerhouse in Bonnie Fraser, it got them off to a running start. And now, having signed to Hopeless and with a new album on the horizon, Lavender Bones feels like a strong next step, sinking into a bit more polish but largely sticking true to a very workable formula. Sonically, it’s still very much indebted to the myriad of pop-rock stalwarts that constitute the same list for so many others, but with an unavoidable crispness and generally a much bigger sound, Lavender Bones can feel a lot punchier, and Fraser once again remains this band’s best feature in how naturally she’s able to sink into it. That alone does a fair bit of heavy lifting to elevate this track above being just another cut-and-dry pop-rock song; even in a familiar lyrical framework focusing on heavy self-doubt, there’s more gumption that gives it that much more believability. It’s not quite the guaranteed megahit that Stand Atlantic could do with sooner rather than later (they’ll need to really push away from their influences more to reach that), but this is good, and it shows a band moving in the right direction for deserved success. As tempting as it is to instantly dismiss hype bands these days, Stand Atlantic at least seem to be doing better than many would give them credit for.
Machine Gun Kelly – Rap Devil
To properly understand what this actually is, it’s worth looking at Eminem’s surprise album Kamikaze and the well-publicised shots fired at numerous modern rappers, one of whom is Machine Gun Kelly which has apparently reignited a beef the two have had since 2012. As such, that’s now led to Rap Devil, MGK’s diss track in response which, after the travesty that was Bloom, is so much more biting and genuinely angry than anything on that album even hinted at. And given that this is a Machine Gun Kelly song, there’s still a fair share of lines designed to be hard but just end up as laughable (openly acknowledging the status and agreed-upon greatness of the target is hardly an intuitive move on a diss track), but it’s quite the surprise how much of this actually connects. For a song that was clearly made on the fly the detail and flow has an impressive amount of momentum, and there’s a sense of dread in the ominous, bass-driven beat to really hammer home how little MGK is playing around. It’s definitely not bad for what it is, and a fair amount of praise needs to be given for simply having the balls to go toe-to-toe with such a quintessential figure as Eminem like this. It’s just a shame that’s the impetus needed for Machine Gun Kelly to make good, hard-hitting music.
Behemoth – Wolves Ov Siberia
It’s no wonder that so many people are excited for a new Behemoth album. At this stage, they’re pretty much as big as it’s possible for a blackened death metal band to get, and even if God = Dog felt like something of a step down from what they’d achieved before on The Satanist, the fact that that album won so much critical acclaim has kept this band elevated ever since. As for Wolves Ov Siberia, it’s pretty much in the same boat as their last single, that being good without hitting the peak the band are capable of reaching. As ever, there’s the same ice-capped ferocity in the blasting guitars and Nergal’s roars, and when the faint horns come in towards the track’s end, there’s something about the poise they bring they allows the overall bloodthirstiness to hit that much harder. The main problem, however, is that it’s not a track that particularly evolves into much more than another death metal gallop that Behemoth are more than capable of at this point; even when the pace drops and the guitars are allowed to grind more deeply, it simply feels like another motion that, by all rights, should be there. None of that is say that Wolves Ov Siberia is bad, mind, but it wouldn’t hurt to see a bit more ambition from Behemoth; they’ve done it in the past, and they can certainly do it again.
Beartooth – Manipulation
Beartooth really have been struggling lately. None of the pre-release tracks from Disease have really stuck around beyond their initial release, and the just generally seems to be less hype around this album than either of their previous ones, even Aggressive. That said, there’s usually a sense of optimism when Beartooth release new music, and Manipulation seems to be the first time on this cycle where it’s really paid off. And to be straight, this still isn’t a great track; yet again, Beartooth are unable to recapture that intensity that made Disgusting so compelling. But with a riff that’s a bit more contorted to focus on more melodic, punk-inspired progressions, Manipulation is almost able to use how lightweight it is to its advantage for probably the stickiest hook to come from this album yet. And while a track about being used and abused for someone else’s gain could definitely do with some of that viciousness back, it’s probably best to take what we can get with Beartooth at this point. It’s still not what would be most preferable, but it’s not that bad either.
Basement – Stigmata
Basement should count themselves lucky that their signing to Fueled By Ramen hasn’t seen them run into the ground like it did to The Front Bottoms or SWMRS. Instead, Stigmata feels like quite the opposite of that, seeing their emo-grunge tightened into a much leaner form without sacrificing any potency or weight. There’s still the fantastic juxtaposition between chiming delicacy and roaring, downbeat rumbles in the guitars that they’ve come close to mastering, and while it all feels the tiniest bit cleaner than previous efforts, that’s ultimately negligible compared to how much remains intact. And as the content shows, this is very much a Basement song through and through, with Andrew Fisher contemplating sadness when there’s really no reason to be sad, and how that can feel all the more hollow as exemplified by his excellently muted vocal performance. It’s the sort of result that you would expect from this tidied, honed Basement, but that doesn’t make it any less great.
The Faim – One Way Or Another
As terrible as The Faim’s Summer Is A Curse is, it seems to have done its job. Already it seems to be the springboard that’s sending them to new heights, the newest of which being having this cover of Blondie’s One Way Or Another soundtracking the latest Coca-Cola ad campaign in the UK and Europe. And it’s not hard to see why this of all their songs has been chosen – not only is it an instantly recognisable choice but it’s so safe as a cover that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than perfect for advertisements. Really, the last band to tailor themselves so blatantly shill themselves out was X Ambassadors with Renegades, and while this is thankfully not on that level – at the most severe of pushes, it could still pass as a workable song – it can’t be avoided how flimsy and uninteresting it is. Sure, Josh Raven is a good vocalist, but for a song that’s already mindlessly repetitive there’s barely any ground to stand on, and alongside their typical squeaky-clean production, there’s not even the slightest bit of edge that could save it. And that may seem like a moot point for a song used in an advert, but if The Faim really want to sell themselves as a rock band – something they’re already doing a particularly poor job of – they need to go in the complete opposite direction to this.
The Hold Steady – Confusion In The Marketplace / T-Shirt Tux
Given the number of bands nowadays combining rustic heartland rock and indie-rock with heartfelt punk, it’s no surprise that The Hold Steady are held in such high esteem as they currently are. They’re the de facto forefathers of the genre having inspired so many brilliant bands, and as these two new tracks show, they’re still not doing too shabbily themselves. Ultimately, there’s not a lot to really say about though, given that they bear a lot of the standard hallmarks that one would expect from The Hold Steady’s music – big, soulful guitars painted with slight hints of horns; an earthy production style with a lot of rustic character; and Craig Finn’s typically wry, intelligent lyrics, especially on T-Shirt Tux. But even with all of that, let’s be fair – these two tracks aren’t going to set the world alight in any capacity. They’re a pair of pretty low-key offerings, all things considered, but there’s such a pleasant familiarity with The Hold Steady that it really doesn’t matter. They’re still good all the same, and that shouldn’t be taken away.
Metric – Now Or Never Now
If there’s one band that’s illustrated the seemingly lawless nature of Canadian indie-rock scenes compared to most of the rest of the world, it’s Metric. Cuts from Fantasies may have made their impact thanks to various soundtrack features, but beyond that, this is a band whose greatest success has been very much confined to their home country. With a song like Now Or Never Now though, the possibility of changing that is more real that it has been in a long time, not just because of a pounding synthpop rhythm that could easily be seen to follow in the fruitful footsteps of Chvrches, but also because it’s just a genuinely excellent song. Any accusations about Metric being easy to ignore or middle-of-the-road are fully dispelled here, as a perfectly cutting synth meshes with a guitar line that’s still prominent without the whole thing ever being too busy. Alongside Emily Haines’ breathy but immediately ethereal vocals, this feels like the natural climax of the synthpop / indie-rock fusion that Chvrches tried this year, and the fact that it’s almost six-and-a-half minutes long while sounding like the most emphatic pop hit in the making is even more testament to how well it’s done. It’s honestly quite shocking how well Now Or Never Now works simply as a pop song, and the fact that it’s coming from Metric of all bands only adds to the surprise. But hey, why complain when it’s this good?
Youth Killed It – This Sounds Cliché
For as much as Youth Killed It’s resurrection of a strand of hip-hop-flavoured indie that should’ve stayed in the mid-2000s seems like a pointless exercise, the truth is that it’s good to have a band like this around. As drastically uncool as they may be, the songs have been consistently decent to good, and there’s such an endearing core that’s come with them almost across the board, and This Sounds Cliché is possibly one of their best showcases of that exact factor to date. Sure, references to The Streets and Jamie T make the inevitable comparisons even more blatant (particularly with the lightweight indie jangle that constitutes so much of the instrumentation), but past that, there’s a heartfelt post-breakup lament where Jack Murphy openly admits how trite his feelings may come across, but owns them anyway. There’s no moments of intense flash or arresting stadium choruses, but in terms of what an emotion-driven track as low-key as this can offer, Youth Killed It manage to nail it.
Capsize – Fragile
Considering their last single was released over a year ago, it’s good to have new music from Capsize. They’re definitely not big players in modern post-hardcore by any means, but they’re often capable of a high enough bar of quality that it’s good to have them around. That’s pretty much where Fragile falls as well; it’s appropriation of unashamedly clean production and modern styles can’t be ignored, and even if there are plenty of bands plying a similar brand of emotional hardcore with more gusto and heft, this is still fine. Daniel Wand remains a perfectly decent vocalist in some very elasticated transitions from cleans to screams, and the rest of the band are able to create enough bluster and scope around him to gee up the emotion in the lyrics and let it rise that bit more. It’s far from flawless or revolutionary, and toes the line between solid and too derivative so precariously, but there’s far worse out there, even if what Capsize are doing is never going to light up the world to any degree.
Fickle Friends – Broken Sleep
2018 has seen Fickle Friends do shimmering, sun-dappled synthpop better than anyone else, and considering how many others have popped up in that lane, that’s no small feat. But clearly the excellent You Are Someone Else wasn’t enough, so not only have the band set up their own label (as you do), but they’ve also scheduled a brand new EP reportedly to be released before the end of the year. And if new track Broken Sleep is anything to go by, this looks to be quite a different endeavour, leaning more towards euphoric club-pop without losing any of the neon slickness or incredibly tasteful restraint. The tight beat and bassline already bring that in droves, but with Natassja Shiner’s delicate vocals touched with the thinnest layer of AutoTune, there’s a quintessentially modern vibe without deferring all the way to mainstream territory. Of course, if that was to happen it wouldn’t be a bad thing – there’s an energy and exuberance to Fickle Friends at their best that’s always welcome – but Broken Sleep’s distinctly indie tones keep it grounded in pretty much the best way possible. Had this been released a couple of months earlier, it would’ve been a very real contender for song of the summer.
Chthonic – Millennia’s Faith Undone
For everything they’ve done and the directions they’ve pushed metal in, Chthonic deserve a lot of respect. Obviously the title of “the Black Sabbath of Asia” isn’t just handed out to anyone, and through the incorporation of traditional Taiwanese instruments and folklore into their brand of symphonic black metal, they’ve become possibly one of metal’s most unique prospects around. That notion can ultimately be extrapolated into the fact that there’s really no need for further drastic experimentation in their new music; as Millennia’s Faith Undone shows, there’s still plenty of mileage in what they’re doing. And if there’s one thing about this song that works above anything else, it’s the scope, as blaring power-metal synths and distinctly melodic guitar work give it an almost regal swell, while guest vocalist Denise Ho contrasts her belting with Freddy Lim’s forked-tongued rasps. If anything, he’s the primary factor that prevents this track from being great, with a delivery that can feel too curt and regimented to fit with this open-ended instrumental style. Even so, Chthonic continue to do what they’re good at with what feels like extreme ease, and while perhaps not as boundary-pushing as some of their past work (more prominent traditional instrumentation wouldn’t go amiss here), they’re continuing the make the most of the niche they’ve carved for themselves, and that’s what counts for most.
Greta Van Fleet – Watching Over
The hype train for Greta Van Fleet is well and truly chugging along now they’ve announced their debut album, even though they seem to be showing no intentions of letting up on their Led Zeppelin worship, something that’s become equally tedious to bring up in every discussion surrounding them as it is to listen to. It’s not as if they don’t bring it on themselves; surely it can’t be that hard to deviate from that one sound by even the smallest amount, and yet Watching Over continues to irritate in how blatant of a rip-off Greta Van Fleet are. What’s worse is that the same problems abound in every single one of their songs, that being solid performance with nothing behind it. Here, that amounts to a solid, spacious guitar line for something clearly in a ballad mode as Josh Kiszka once again displays a great command of melody and power in his vocals. And if this hadn’t have been done about four decades ago, it might be impressive, but the mercenary levels of musical graverobbing that Greta Van Fleet partake in isn’t effective or impressive, and instead just makes it all the clearer that this band don’t have a creative bone in their body.
Our Hollow, Our Home – In Moment
Our Hollow, Our Home have been on the cusp of much bigger things for quite a while now, but have seemingly been scuppered at every turn, whether that’s other bands taking the limelight before them, or simply the fact that British metalcore has largely fallen out of favour at this point. But clearly Bury Tomorrow’s renaissance has been something of a catalyst for them to up their game, and In Moment is the sound of a game being severely upped. And yes, the parallels to Bury Tomorrow are there in earnest, from the scream-sing dynamic that could’ve been lifted directly from one of their songs to the steely production that remains sharp and clean without diluting the sound. But if you’re going to take from anyone, why not take from the best? It’s definitely had an impact here, particularly for how utterly huge and formidable it sounds, particularly in the case of clean vocalist Tobias Young and the power in his hooks following the loss of his father to cancer. Honestly, for a metalcore song, this is probably as good as Our Hollow, Our Home could’ve possibly done; they’re clearly through with being also-rans at this point, and more songs like this will ensure that tag well and truly goes away.
Napoleon – Ignite
The biggest problem with Napoleon – and with plenty of other tech-metal bands at that – is that they seem to prioritise technical wizardry and flash over actual songcraft. It’s what seriously hindered Newborn Mind from being anything more than an overly long, overly complicated display of skill which, on its own, is impressive, but doesn’t necessarily make for compelling listening. And on Ignite, not a lot has really changed, only now that Napoleon seem to be going in a more wiry, SikTh-style direction which could potentially do something, but not here. As always, the instrumentation is top quality, particularly the razor-edged screams which lend a further sense of precariousness, but looking past that, it really just devolves to a pile-up of guitar work with barely anything to back it up. Even digging into the lyrics, they’re really not all that interesting, seemingly because Napoleon know that they’ve got a prime diversion from that already. And there’s bound to be an audience for something like that, but a lot more could be done to actually make decent songs, not just flashy displays of guitar technique.
Living With Lions – The Remedy
Like Fireworks and Transit before them, Living With Lions have been vastly overlooked in the world of gruffer, throatier pop-punk, and given they’re basically the ones bearing the torch at this point, it’s up to them to do as much as possible to turn some heads. And with the right push, The Remedy will do exactly that, the sort of uncomplicated but impossibly anthemic punk song that you can never have too many of, and that Living With Lions are veritable masters at producing. There’s no real novelty here, but in the surging, dusty guitar lines and Chase Brenneman’s sour rasp of a vocal performance, the Canadians tap into such a primal well of emotion that it’s hard to stop paying attention. Even so, you’d be hard pressed to consider this among the best of these sorts of tracks, simply due to the sheer amount of them, but Living With Lions still come pretty damn close. And with a new album right around the corner, the time couldn’t be better to get onboard with a criminally underrated band.
P.O.D. – Rockin’ With The Best
It’s not as though you go into a new P.O.D. song expecting anything spectacular. Sure, they had their customary handful of nu-metal hits back in the day, but they’ve also met the same fate as the umpteen other bands who did by fading into general irrelevance. And while Rockin’ With The Best is hardly going to combat that, it at least feels like P.O.D. are trying, with Sunny Sandoval actually having a fairly decent flow in what might be some fairly general (and largely unsubstantiated) bragging that does connect to a surprising capacity. Unfortunately it’s all padded out by the most derivative and greasy of nu-metal grooves that’s clearly being jerked into place by its production, and leads to the whole thing feeling strangely anaemic for what it’s trying to be. But then again, what would anyone expect from a past-their-prime nu-metal band trying to scramble together some vestige of relevance nearly two decades after the fact? It’s predictability makes it less disappointing, but it also doesn’t make it any better.
Catch Fire – Petrifaction / Malignance
If Catch Fire had started to break out a couple of years earlier, they could have been absolutely huge by now. When angrier, cathartic UK pop-punk was at its peak, they definitely threw their hat in the ring with a couple of well-received EPs, but sadly couldn’t sustain that momentum for too long. That explains why they’re only just releasing their debut full-length now, but if these two new tracks anything to go by, they mightn’t be totally out of the race just yet. Sure, there’s absolutely nothing new here whatsoever, and anyone who’s been keeping tabs on UK pop-punk in any capacity for the past few years can pretty much time their watch to every single beat of where they both go, but Petrifaction feels so forceful in its sense of sadness, and Malignance arguably does it even better, shapeshifting through different forms and ploughing through its own sense of tension. The emo influence in both is definitely easy to pick up on, but that’s hardly a bad thing, especially when the gamut of emotions feel so thoroughly dissected as they do here. From this evidence, Catch Fire could still have some gas in the the tank to do some great things.
Poets Of The Fall – Dancing On Broken Glass
It’s fair to say that most post-grunge has aged about as well as a pint of milk left in the summer sun, but Poets Of The Fall’s modern incarnations really have disappointed even by those standard; what was once a band that could bring extra layers of symphonic bombast and a distinctly European flair has transitioned into a sterile, stale indie-rock band. Dancing On Broken Glass seems to be going even further down that route too, with an acoustic jaunt that genuinely isn’t that far from a Mumford And Sons track, and sickly sweet production to steamroll over even the slightest hint of texture. At least Marko Saaresto’s vocals sound clean and strident at the front of the mix (almost in a Gary Barlow sort of way, funnily enough…), but he’s well and truly on autopilot for an utterly forgettable and generic ballad that couldn’t be playing it safer. It’s inoffensive enough not to get all that worked up about, but Poets Of The Fall could deliver some really powerful stuff once upon a time, and this is the complete opposite of any of that.
Bearings – Blue In The Dark
The main problem with Bearings’ last single Aforementioned was that, for as obvious as their intentions of being the next pop-punk world-beaters was, it saw them falling into a holding pattern of overall decent but forgettable Jimmy Eat World-isms that didn’t portray a band really pushing their abilities. It’s clear on Where You Are that they’re at least trying to move past that, but instead the issues have gone in the complete opposite direction, in that this is a surprisingly bitty track that certainly moves past a rote pop-punk formula, but fails to connect in any other way. There’s a pleasant weight to the guitars on the hooks, particularly in their more unconventional winding into weirder sounds, but when placed next to very regimented, staccato pop-rock strums without so much as a transition between them, it really can be jarring, particularly for a rather basic love song that sounds as oddly sour as it does. You can at least applaud Bearings for being proactive and moving away from the shuffle they were in great danger of being lost in, but a lack of workable structure is hardly a pleasant alternative.
The Twilight Sad – Videograms
It’s no wonder that The Twilight Sad have previously caught the attention of The Cure’s Robert Smith given their penchant for a similar brand of dark, meditative bleakness, and clearly touring together has rubbed off even more on the Scottish duo, as evident in new single Videograms. Of course, it’s not all that different with the echoing post-punk guitars, hollow synth lines and James Graham’s numbed yearning, but in its layers, Videograms is able to capture the almost theatrical sense of pathos that The Cure have long since been masters of. The progressions feel almost new wave-esque or like something The Pet Shop Boys would come out with, and melded with such a solid post-punk foundation with this makes it all the more imposing and portentous. And while The Twilight Sad will never be a wholly accessible act, it’s not too hard to imagine Videograms capturing more experienced gothic fans’ attention, especially seeing as it they do it so much justice. Even from just this one track, it leaves a lot to look forward to for that new album in January.
Scarlxrd – SX SAD
It looks as though the fate of Track Pack is just to review new Scarlxrd tracks as and when they come, because that’s all that seems to be happening. This is his third new song in the space of three weeks, and if TELL ME YXU LXVE ME was rapidly encroaching on burnout territory, SX SAD is doing nothing to remedy that. Sure, there’s a quicker flow that’s definitely a nice attempt to switch things up, but when it’s surrounded by what feels like a copied-and-pasted beat from every one of his other songs and the same depressed, self-destructive content, it puts a serious cap on how good this can actually be. Honestly, the main thing that SX SAD does is serve as a reminder that Scarlxrd is currently spreading himself way too thinly; what he’s got can work in small doses, but at the rate he churning songs out with little variation between them, what’s the point in even paying attention anymore?
Cursive – Under The Rainbow
For as seminal as Cursive’s The Ugly Organ is considered in some scenes, the decision to move away from it rather than rehash it is a smart move. Not only has Tim Kasher been fairly vocal about his former dislike for the album, but in terms of where Cursive are as a band a decade-and-a-half later and how galvanised they’ve become by the current political climate in the United States, there’s so much more to be said. That’s what Under The Rainbow feels like at least, with Kasher’s bedraggled vocals swamped in the chaos and discord, and choked by how it’s all seen as the way to – as it were – make America great again. And that does explain the instrumentation, a weighty, lumbering indie-rock track that places pounding drums and grinding riffs at the forefront, but it doesn’t make it all that attractive. Granted, that’s probably not the point, but without a cohesive sense of flow, Under The Rainbow feels more heavy-handed than it really should. Again though, for what Cursive are trying to do, this does work, and it’s not like those flaws are what this track lives and dies upon. It still averages out to a pass, and in this case, that’s good enough.
Gengahr – Atlas Please
Like many indie bands whose fortunes reached a peak a couple of years ago, Gengahr have spent the following time up to now trying to regain that footing, something that their sophomore album Where Wildness Grows mostly failed to do. That album only came out this year though, so they’re clearly taking a proactive approach in regards to releasing new music with Atlas Please. And like a lot of Gengahr’s music, this will appeal to a very specific brand of indie fan who’s more welcoming to washed-out, atmospheric tones above anything greatly propulsive. At least the bassline is good with that in mind, but the delicate waves of keys and Felix Bushe’s willowy, porcelain vocals lack a lot of body and really just sit on top of the mix with little movement. It at least fits the theme of reminiscence and memories, but it’s just so inactive and stagnant that it really just goes in one ear and out the other. It’s definitely on-brand for Gengahr, but that’s not really a positive.
Drenge – Fades To Black
Drenge have been doing quite well lately, particularly for a band whose number should’ve been up a good few years ago. They definitely feel revitalised on the material released so far for their upcoming EP, though Fades To Black seems to be the first one where they’ve begun to shake. It’s still not a bad track, this time planting both feet in straight-up indie-rock for something a bit more mellow (even reminiscent of Britpop at points) with Eoin Loveless at what is perhaps his most defiantly melodic vocally. And while that makes for a nice change of pace, it’s also probably the song’s biggest shortcoming; for a song standing against gentrification that’s ripping communities apart by taking the only social hubs they have away from them, it’d be nice to have a bit more firepower rather than a pretty but overall inconsequential plod. It’d probably be the cause of more worries if this was the consistent direction Drenge seemed to be going in, but as it stands, it feels more like a misstep than anything else. It’s still not awful by any means, but it wouldn’t be much of a loss if nothing else ended up sounding like this.
Future Lives – Wish You Well
It’s honestly wonderful to see Lonely The Brave getting back on the horse again. Jack Bennett is the perfect new addition on vocals, and after the unfairly long period of ambivalence they’ve had to endure, to see so much good will going their way is genuinely heartwarming. However, it seems that galvanisation has rubbed off on Future Lives too, the side-project of guitarist Ross Smithwick currently gearing up to release their debut full-length. The fact it actually got to this point is something of a minor miracle in itself, but kicking the campaign off with a track like Wish You Well shows a strength that only looks to keep coming. And to be blunt, it’s not like this is a fantastic track or anything – for one as deeply indebted to mid-2010s Britrock as this is, the general vibe is easy enough to estimate – but like with Lonely The Brave, there’s something far more bracing and powerful here, running on very real emotions that feel brilliantly weathered and lived-in. Even in the instrumentation, there’s a bit more here to work that tiny bit better, weaving in misty synths for some extra swell and scope that’s much appreciated. Again, it’s a little too cut-and-dry in its approach to be an outright winner, but if this is a sign of what’s to come, Future Lives could be sticking around.
ChuggaBoom – Growing Pains
Y’know, it’s a very real possibility that some people will stumble upon this new ChuggaBoom song without knowing that they’re ostensibly a comedy band and think this is the scene-kid-pandering anthem they need, rather than the ironic, trope-ridden lampooning that it (hopefully) is. And least when you look at it like that, ChuggaBoom are a bit more self-aware than so many other comedy-metal bands around, and while that does elevate this track to a higher rung, there’s still no way it can be called good. Musically it’s about as base as this sort of scene-metalcore gets with tumbling, meatheaded breakdowns that make way for clean singing that just has to be exaggerated, and for some reason what feels like an Eric Cartman impression about two-thirds of the way through. As for the lyrics, you can cut them a bit of slack, maybe, but they still aren’t that funny and largely default of a very Family Guy-esque brand of reference comedy that just gets annoying in a hurry. Considering that all of this is some of the better material for a comedy band, too, speaks volumes about how low that particular bar is, but at least ChuggaBoom aren’t even taking themselves seriously.
Super American – Chris From Walmart
Super American’s Tequila Sunrise is right around the corner now, and so far they’ve done a pretty good job at previewing it as a light, easily-listenable pop-rock album with very few frills to speak of. And that’s ultimately fine; if the songs are good, there’s no reason why the album should be castigated for any lack of depth or complexity, and Chris From Walmart feels like the next logical step in that thought process. Matt Feeley talks about how the titular Walmart worker flirts with his girlfriend to no avail, and while the slight taunting of the fact errs dangerously close to unlikable maliciousness, it’s played with such levity and a comedic sensibility that it manages to circumvent that almost entirely. Instead, with the warm, jangling guitar melody and breathier vocals, it’s very wistful in its execution, using its lightweight nature to the greatest of the duo’s abilities. It’s another solid track overall, not reinventing the wheel but seeing Super American embrace their skills for something that’s impressively enjoyable all the same.
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam – All The Way Over The Edge (Bros Don’t Talk About Everything)
There’s hardly a shortage of bands like Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam around at the minute, the sort of bands pulling heavily from ‘90s indie-rock and power-pop, and dousing them with their own quirky millennial twists. That’s not a bad thing either, particularly when so many of them turn out to be good, and this Birmingham troop is no different. And it’s really the general looseness that gives it a certain rough-hewn charm, with fuzzy, deliberately imperfect guitars and Pete Dixon’s unkempt yells making for a similar brand of chaos as a rockier Los Campesinos!. It’s a gripping sound, particularly when the little flecks of synth are thrown in for added effect, and it’s definitely a bit more fleshed-out than bands of this ilk tend to strive for. Even the content manages to hold together fairly well, with Dixon celebrating the open discussions he has with his male friends regarding mental health, and breaking the stereotypes of men having to bottle their emotions up. Altogether, it’s a pretty great little track, running along with a good sense of rambunctious energy but never descending too deeply into outright farce. With any luck, it, and their upcoming album, will see this band get the due credit that’s eluded them for far too long.
Antarctigo Vespucci – White Noise
As when any established artists come together, there are certain expectations about what Jeff Rosenstock and Fake Problems frontman Chris Farren will bring to the table as Antarctigo Vespucci, and on White Noise at least, it doesn’t feel like a lot of them are met. This isn’t the rollicking, riotous fare that both have put their name to in the past, but it’s still deeply indebted in shades of US indie-punk, and it’s still predictably good. It’s the sort of innocuous little track that digs further in with every listen, formed of incredibly simple guitars, percussion and the slightest hint of wheezing synth, but combined, it’s a bittersweet shot of power-pop that never feels the need to add any unnecessary bells and whistles, and is all the more charmingly potent for it. Admittedly it could go just a bit longer – just over two minutes isn’t a lot of time to make a significant impact – but for what we get, there’s already enough to suggest that Antarctigo Vespucci’s upcoming album will be one to look forward to.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – GNT
Yes, that name is quite something, and the primary reason that Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs will be talked about most of the time is for that reason alone. The fact is though, they’re not a bad band in their own right, and while GNT’s ponderous brand of sludge-metal is nothing all that new, it still works. The guitars have enough lumbering weight and deliberateness to form the central crushing stomp, and Matt Baty’s primal, monosyllabic bellows from midway in the mix packs in a great deal of menace that’s hugely beneficial for a sound like this. Admittedly it can feel a bit rote and one-dimensional at times given the natural restraints of sludge-metal, and compared to some of the standout up-and-comers, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs can fall to the wayside because of it. Still, it’s not bad, and for anyone who still has a craving for something a bit grislier, GNT should suffice.
Hypophora – Smiling (Numb)
Nothing about Smiling (Numb) gives away that Hypophora are a post-hardcore band; going in after hearing that description without taking in their previous single Spires, a Dance Gavin Dance-style mind-melter, would almost be guaranteed to leave you thinking that this is the wrong band. But no, this is indeed it, a very smooth, unassuming track, sliding along on beds of jazzy, high-end guitars and Katie McConnell’s genuinely beautiful crooning. But even in isolation without the benefit of further supplementary knowledge, nothing about Smiling (Numb) really screams out that it’s a single, more the odd-one-out interlude track if anything. It’s very pretty, that can’t be denied, and the production has the sort of glassy sheen that this sort of track needs more than anything, but it just sort of slinks away instead of making any long-lasting impact. Maybe it’ll work more in the context of the album, but right now, it feels a bit flaccid.
Forgotten Sons – Pennies In The Water
To say that there’s nothing really novel or original about Forgotten Sons might sound like that’s to their detriment. And usually it would be, but for a band like this, they really don’t need anything like that, and can thrive on the sort of burly, big-hearted alt-rock tinged with windswept melancholy that could only come from Scotland (in this case, the Shetland Isles). And just like Fatherson and The Xcerts before them, Pennies In The Water works simply by committing to its melodic stride and doing it so well. There’s a sizable rumble to the guitars outlined by slightly chillier touches of math-rock, and Robert Burgess’ strident but wounded vocals are just rounded enough to play to their advantage for a song about helping a loved one find hope again. For as little as there is to ultimately say about it, that’s honestly fine, because Forgotten Sons seem more than happy just to show what they’re great alt-rock songs can do.
Why Everyone Left – Bouch
It can sometimes feel like the only time that pop-punk produces anything interesting to say is when it falls flat on its face. As far-reaching as the quality spectrum can be (on good days, at least), even the best albums rarely amount to much more than ticking those boxes better than others. That’s why it’s at least good to have a band like Why Everyone Left around, because at least being critical of what they’re doing wrong makes for some sort of conversation. And to say that Bouch does utterly fail would be incorrect; the Italians are at least aiming towards the right end goal, but they veer so far off course to get there that it’s a wonder the end product is listenable at all. The only moment of stability comes in the chorus which, as a nailed-down benchmark for everything else to hinge on, is perfectly fine. Other than that, there’s a handful of truly pitiful attempts at breakdowns with no muscle whatsoever, and an awkward, overdone quality to the verses that makes it really difficult to grasp any sort of cogent, comfortable flow. It’s all incredibly messy and royally kneecaps itself because of it, and while Why Everyone Left certainly have their roots planted firmly enough, it’ll take more than that to really succeed.
Typesetter – Monogamy I (Gliss Happening)
Typesetter’s self-coined genre of “brewgaze” really couldn’t be more appropriate for what they do, taking the introspective, typically beer-fuelled punk of The Menzingers and feeding it through waves of modern emo-touched shoegaze. On paper, that sounds like a decent combination too, especially with the relative proximity to each other that the two genres have nowadays, but something about Monogamy I (Gliss Happening) just refuses to click. It’s not the melody, which takes the form of liquid but forceful guitars replete with ‘90s indie jangling, but when that’s paired with a general sense of distance (something not helped by the vocals being midway in the mix almost at all times), it doesn’t work as often as it really should. What’s more, actually putting these two genres together shows just how at odds with each other they really are, with the more spacious, atmospheric qualities of shoegaze doing nothing for a style of punk that’s supposed to be deeply combed through and paid attention to. Granted, Typesetter do fairly well with what they’ve got to work with, but the result still feels unfortunately lopsided, and while they deserve some sort of credit regardless, the fact that this isn’t great hampers how much can be given considerably.
Future Generations – Out Loud
Delve into the details surrounding Future Generations, and there’s a very clear reference point for their sound. As a band from New York City whose upcoming album was produced by Justin Gerrish and sees them delving into off-kilter, bohemian art-pop territory, it’s hardly surprising that thoughts of Vampire Weekend immediately come flooding in. That’s where the similarities really end, though; where Vampire Weekend can filter their sound through snappy, infectious indie-pop, Future Generations can’t seem to do that here, and as a result Out Loud feels like it’s trying too hard to emulate a sound it can’t get to. And the potential is there with the rippling synths and firm bass that almost feels like lounge music in its laidback smoothness, but the lack of any real modulation really does hurt it, and Eddie Gore’s abuse of the talkbox for his vocals might have worked in concept but does the total opposite in practice. It’s at least possible to see what Future Generations are going for here, and with a few more redrafts it could’ve worked, but ultimately they struggle to get there.
Arlington – Don’t Mind
Arlington represent the current peak of Rise Records’ diversification, For a label once known almost exclusively for prolific (and generic) metalcore releases, a band like this playing to more organic blues-rock and Americana sounds is a welcome change, particularly when their current crop of singles have been pretty solid so far. As for Don’t Mind, it might just be the best yet, with Tyler Benko’s strident, slightly nasal vocals really doing a lot to stand out against the sharp grooves and guitar licks of a surprisingly compact and layered instrumental. Clearly there’s been a lot more thought and creativity gone into this than usually gets attributed to blues-rock, and the trio play with an off-centre sense of rambunctiousness that brings some youth into a typically older-sounding genre, and it works really well for it. They mightn’t be changing the world at this point, but with their debut album imminent, Arlington could prove to be ones to watch, especially going into 2019. Don’t sleep on them just yet.
Words by Luke Nuttall