Architects – Hereafter
As anyone who’s followed Architects in any capacity will know, their journey to become one of – if not the – leading lights in modern metal has been anything but easy, and with the tragic loss of guitarist Tom Searle to cancer in 2016, there were the first moments of clear uncertainty surrounding the band in years. But if any band knows how to pick themselves up from a fall – even one as devastating as this – it’s Architects, and Hereafter the manifestation of the most triumphant roar back to life imaginable. And honestly, it comes without being too drastically removed from anything they’ve done before; the razor-sharp tech-metal riffs rain down once again, and Sam Carter continues to prove himself as one of the most electric and versatile screamers in the game. But it’s the genuine pain that comes through in this one that makes it so powerful, seeing a band exploring the aftermath of a tragedy they don’t want to accept, and contemplating how to move forward from it. And considering how it’s only customary that Architects go harder than virtually any other tech-metal band as it is, it brings an even more tremendous weight that clicks so readily on such a raw level. And that’s the reason that Architects are among the best bands on the planet, not only for their ability to make such exceptional, affecting music, but to do it after being subjected to blow after blow shows a resilience that most other bands can’t even dream of. It’s just one more piece of proof that there’s not one band on Earth more deserving of their success than Architects.
The 1975 – Sincerity Is Scary
For as much artifice as The 1975 stack onto their music (and anyone who’s even vaguely familiar will know it’s a lot), they regularly do well when it’s all stripped back and it actually feels like a band making songs, rather than some neural network running on overdrive to stitch together as many “relatable” hipster-millennial clichés as possible. And it’s good to see they’ve finally returned to that well on Sincerity Is Scary, especially after the travesty of epic proportions that was TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME. It’s a lot easier to tell as well, as Matty Healy is given the floor to speak frankly about his relationships and drug abuse, coupled with the lowest, most vulnerable vocal performance that he’s delivered in some time. Even if The 1975’s typical trope of overcomplicated, up-itself imagery feels relied on maybe to an even greater degree than usual, it’s in the title that implies that it’s more of a coping mechanism than anything else, and the only way for Healy to face up to being sincere is to hide behind his own facade. That’s a potent message overall, and one that’s carried out well, particularly for a band who can have a bad habit of tripping their own intentions of grandeur. If the instrumentation pulled through this would be a genuinely excellent song, and while the saxophone and gospel choir create that wistful bubble that fits the overall mood, the woozy synth and awkward thud of the beat seem to try and unravel as much of that as possible. It’s definitely disappointing that that’s what ultimately holds this track back, but for the first time on this album cycle, The 1975 have come out with some that’s actually impressive and sticks the landing more often than not, and that can’t just be ignored.
Smashing Pumpkins – Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)
For as much as Billy Corgan has proceeded to run Smashing Pumpkins into the ground and do absolutely no justice to the name, you’ve got to give him credit for pulling this off; not only has he managed to bring both James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin in for new music for the first time since 2000, but getting Rick Rubin on production for a new album is definitely not a bad thing. And given all the forgettable, self-important crap that Corgan has put this band’s name to over the past few years, it feels so good just to hear a simple, straightforward rock song again, so much so that it doesn’t even matter that some parts sound uncannily like 1979. It’s not their best work ever – the overall mid-paced nature of pretty much everything is somewhat indicative of a band getting on in years – but Corgan sounds surprisingly great vocally, even if some of the lyrics tilt into overly-esoteric territory to fit with the radio-rock banger territory it’s clearly looking to inhabit. Still, for a well-played, well-produced song that’s actually simple enough to get onboard with, Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts) fits the bill, and the fact that it’s coming from the Smashing Pumpkins is even better. It’s been a while since this last could be reasonably said, but start looking forward to the new Smashing Pumpkins album.
The Black Queen – Thrown Into The Dark
The beauty of The Black Queen is that it allows Greg Puciato to flex his musical muscles that otherwise wouldn’t have been worked in The Dillinger Escape Plan, but with this as his main project now, it opens so many doors for what new material could do. Of course, there’s also the other side of the coin where they could simply follow the darkwave-influenced pop of their debut once again, and judging by Thrown Into The Dark, it appears as though that’s going to be the case. Not that that’s a band thing at all, though, and while this mightn’t quite be up to the standard set on Fever Daydream a couple of years back, it’s still more evidence of how The Black Queen are once again close to nailing this sort of music. The big, echoing beats and chilly synths are the closest to straight-up ‘80s soft-rock that they’ve ever come, and Puciato’s hushed, seductive tones provide the perfect accompaniment in holding on to that razor-tight tension. Perhaps what works the most is how remarkably low-key it is, playing to Puciato’s restraint at an unsteady relationship that’s perfectly aligned with his delivery, keeping so sharp and emotionally focused at all times for maximum effect. To nitpick, it could do with an extra layer of crunch to really hammer home how enormous this track could potentially be, but as it is, this is remarkably potent song, hitting all the necessary beats but without feeling rote or predictable. For anyone who believed that The Black Queen would only be a one album deal, this is as convincing as a counterpoint gets.
Against The Current – Voices
If we’re going to proceed to judge Against The Current as a pop band rather than a rock band (which is really the ideal thing to do), they still haven’t been all that good by that standard. They’re at their best when playing to more upbeat, exuberant tones, and when they continue to default to the dull, self-serious tones that so much of modern pop is fixated with, they simply feel out of their depth. And while Voices is that in a way, with Chrissy Constanza addressing the nagging voices in her head with a typical lack of real songwriting detail, they’ve finally started to cut loose and play to instrumental strains that are enjoyable, namely with a ploughing bassline and scratchy guitar that has a fair amount of ramshackle groove that kind of works for them. It’s not all great – it’s still way too polished with the programmed drums and clinking synths over the chorus that really can grate – but playing to more restraint is a good look for them, and it’s a nice change of pace to have Constanza in a more reasonable vocal range than feeling the need to shriek her lungs out. So yeah, by the extremely limited standards of Against The Current, this isn’t all that bad; whether it stands up against any real competition remains to be seen, but it’s a start at least.
The Distillers – Man Vs. Magnet
The fact that The Distillers have released new music for the first time in fifteen years should be a momentous occasion, but it’s not hard to feel a bit let down by it all. For one, Blood In Gutters was already released on Brody Dalle’s solo album in 2014 (and therefore we won’t be covering it here), and while Man Vs. Magnet is already positioned as the bigger of the two as it is, even then, this is fairly disappointing. And in reality, it shouldn’t be, with a similarly ragged playing style and Dalle’s slurred sneers that made their earlier work so highly lauded among 2000s punk. But when the production that’s clearly aiming for a rattier garage rock vibe contrasts so heavily with Dalle’s far more cleanly produced vocals, the whole thing supremely jars. It doesn’t help that, on the whole, it doesn’t sound all the great either, with fluctuating tempos and volumes (particularly in the cymbals) clashing and making for a particularly uncomfortable listen. Perhaps it can all be chalked up to a case of ring rust, but The Distillers can do a lot better than this, and everyone knows it.
Fucked Up – House Of Keys
Fucked Up are always at their best when they go above and beyond what’s expected from a hardcore punk band, namely in their work that overloads on indie-rock theatricality to the point where any such hardcore influences come through in a faint trickle at best; it’s what made an album like David Comes To Life so excellent as visceral and thorough deconstruction of the genre. And while Dose Your Dreams looks like we’ll be getting more of that – both from the previously-released singles and because of how bloody long it is – House Of Keys isn’t exactly the expected or desired direction for a new song. Even in terms of more straightforward hardcore, there’s more of a sense of tact than with the vast majority of bands thanks to the squelching keys and lighter guitars, but compared to what this band have offered in the past, as well as the scope of it all, this can’t help but come across as throwaway. Even with Damian Abraham at his most enraged in his barks, this feels like Fucked Up reining themselves in to a degree that doesn’t sit too comfortably. They’re better and more ambitious than this as they’ve proved time and time again, and while the possibility of this being more of a filler track on the upcoming album is still there, it’s still a bit disappointing all the same. Not bad, but it’s not meeting this band’s usual standard either.
Within Temptation ft. Jacoby Shaddix – The Reckoning
It’s safe to say that Within Temptation aren’t the band they once were anymore. They’ve made the transition from one of the most respected names in symphonic metal to some futuristic hybrid of that and modern metal that’s hell-bent on collaborating with whoever possible, a vision which led to the unfortunately lumpy Hydra a few years back. And clearly after not learning from their mistakes, they’ve only gone and done the exact same thing with The Reckoning, but at least it’s a bit more streamlined. Jacoby Shaddix isn’t the worst person they could’ve chosen (that song with Xzibit still exists, remember), but he’s considerably dwarfed by Sharon den Adel’s enormous vocal range that’s always the nailed-on stamp of quality on a Within Temptation song, regardless of what’s around it. And here, that’s a pretty underwhelming collage of modern metal tropes designed to sound as imposing and cinematic as possible, but falls beneath its overdone production and ends up as more mechanical than it should be. Thus, it leaves The Reckoning in a weird dead zone where it should be bad, but even if its redeeming qualities don’t do a great deal, it’s still not that awful. Maybe the album in December will shed some more light on where they are, but as of now, this is alright.
mewithoutYou – Another Head For Hydra
By now, mewithoutYou have been around long enough for everyone to decide whether they get them or they don’t. Even with new music out, that’s rarely going to change, and undoubtedly Another Head For Hydra will be yet another piece of fuel for the debate about whether it’s another stroke of genius from Aaron Weiss and co., or the same pretentious meandering that they’ve always been guilty of. To be fair though, this is at least a bit better, opting for a more muscular post-hardcore form that, with Weiss’ defiant, spoken-word delivery, it’s closer to something like At The Drive In than the usual comparison point of La Dispute, and that’s definitely a good thing. But with lyrics that just seem to swill around Weiss’ head with no filter once again and a lack of anything close to responsiveness in terms of connecting with the listener, it’s basically another mewithoutYou track through and through. Fans will enjoy it, none fans still won’t be able to stand it, and neither camp with be swayed in the opposite direction by one iota.
Rival Sons – Do Your Worst
To many, Rival Sons are the face of revival rock that blatantly rehashes the past while doing nothing new with it, and those people wouldn’t exactly be wrong. They’re certainly among the bands who’ve had the most success from it, and by churning out a new album every few years or so, they can ensure that continues to happen. That seems to be what Do Your Worst is leading up to, as this certainly hasn’t been recorded through any sort of creative intent or inspiration. Rather, Rival Sons are sticking exactly where they are with old-fashioned blues-rock that isn’t precisely bad, but lacks any necessary spark that could see it comfortably integrated in any modern scene. What’s more, there’s somehow even less going on here than before, with both of the band’s unequivocally best features – the guitar work and Jay Buchanan’s vocals – being tamped down for what’s little more than another radio-rock stomper that’ll be forgotten as soon as it’s ended. It’s not as though anyone expects greatness from Rival Sons, mind, but vaguely competent is still preferable to this.
Anti-Flag – For What It’s Worth
The reason that Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth has endured as a protest song is because it’s become so emblematic of resistance in all forms, from the Sunset Strip riots in the ‘60s that inspired its creation all the way up to now. And thus it comes as no surprise that Anti-Flag have opted to cover it, a band so unflinchingly locked on to tackling political unrest wherever it may arise, though it’s difficult to see what this version actually brings to the conversation. Naturally it’s a bit heavier and Justin Sane has some more oomph in his vocals than Stephen Stills, but this largely seems to be a case of function over fashion, keeping the exact same steady pace when something more raucous and punked-up would’ve been a much better alternative. Ultimately it becomes such an obvious choice that there’s really no reason for it to exist; it’s fine enough, but this is the lowest of low-hanging fruit that Anti-Flag could’ve picked, and with a cover that’s honestly pretty lazy in its execution, it really shows.
William Ryan Key – The Bowery
William Ryan Key’s solo career away from Yellowcard didn’t get off to the greatest start with Thirteen, an EP that showed the subtleties in his writing but could feel exceptionally gutless and forgettable more often than not. Even so, he’s earned plenty of good will thanks to his past work, and it’s good to see him moving on quickly with another EP due in just a couple of months. And already, The Bowery feels like a much more stable foundation has been hit, an ode to New York City and the love that Key has found there over the years that already holds a lot more depth and poignancy than so much of his last EP. Even the instrumentation, which is largely more of the same in dainty indie-folk guitars and rustling percussion, has a greater sense of warmth and begins to shuffle away from the overly-twee affectations of Thirteen, something that Key’s more solemn but inviting vocal delivery helps ground. It’s not amazing by any means, but it’s a case of rapid artistic evolution that’s really worked well, more so than his last EP ever even hinted at.
itoldyouiwouldeatyou – Gold Rush
While their Get Terrified EP was far from a straightforward listen at the best of times, detailing Joey Ashworth’s experiences of prejudice and marginalisation as well as their own thoughts of self-doubt, there was a deep sense of intrigue and light thematic consistency that made itoldyouiwouldeatyou such a compelling band. And now with their debut full-length ready to come out, it feels as though the seven-piece have kicked pretty much everything up a notch. Once again tones of angular emo and math-rock form the basis, but often going off on even more acute tangents and spurts, making way for roiling drum work and nimble guitar flutters in an even greater capacity than before, to the point where it’s potentially the most overwhelming the band have sounded given the volume of sounds and directions they throw in. But again, that’s probably the point, given that this song is about Ashworth longing to be liberated from their body and having someone to fight the intolerance they face alongside them. Thus, the confused, almost over-complicated instrumental choices make a lot of sense, and it leads to genuinely satisfying moments when it all clicks together. Even if it’s not for everyone with how unconventional it is, Gold Rush really is a gripping and powerful listen that sets the bar high for that upcoming debut.
Oxygen Thief – Graffiti; Irony; Lists
It’s somewhat appropriate that Oxygen Thief have built a career of mashing together every Xtra Mile-ism possible, given how well it’s worked for them, making the jump from Barry Dolan as the punk-inspired folk troubadour to a full band affair in line with the 2000s post-hardcore the label put its name to back then. And it’s pretty blatant given how much this track sounds like Reuben, both in the snarling, angular guitars and Dolan hitting Jamie Lenman’s vocal timbre and cadence almost beat for beat. That’s far from a bad thing on its own though, especially when Graffiti; Irony; Lists is probably the closest that any band has come to capturing that same brilliance since the genuine article. Of course it’s not quite to that level (simply by virtue of not quite having the same degree of innovation), but with this sort of timeless post-hardcore slam along with pertinent and smart lyrics surrounding the regression towards backwards ideals in a post-Brexit UK, this more than suffices as an alternative. Even if Oxygen Thief aren’t exactly a new band, they’re sounding particularly galvanised here, and that’s certainly a good thing.
Hellogoodbye – Close
It’s still unbelievable how Hellogoodbye have become what they are now. They’ve fully metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly that loves funk and disco, and it’s incredible to witness, if only because it’s such a stark contract to how wimpy their past efforts were. With Close though, Forrest Kline and co. are entirely through the looking glass, trying their hands at a sexy slow-jam that would’ve been impossible to even conceive only a few years ago. And yet, if there was a moment that could confidently be described as a slip for this new era of Hellogoodbye, it’d be this. That’s not to say it’s bad though, as the marvellous knowledge of subtlety and restraint is fully brought onboard here in the softened beat and blur over the synths and Kline’s vocals. But where previous cuts kept that tightness and paired it with something kinetic, that isn’t really the case here, and to have a five-and-a-half-minute-long song simply amble by doesn’t make for the most engaging listen. It’s not bad, and you definitely see what Hellogoodbye were going for, but if that upcoming album is going to falter at any point, it would most likely be with this one.
Sylar – Shook!
The rollout for Sylar’s Seasons thus far has been botched to unbelievable degrees when that really shouldn’t be the case. After all, this is a band who are more than capable of bringing some fat grooves ripped directly from New York hardcore, and yet they’ve seemed all too comfortable in defaulting to drab, unrewarding metalcore and rap-rock tropes that have seen them go nowhere. And then there’s a song like Shook!, which not only continues down that route in unfortunately efficient fashion, but reaches a point where they’ve basically morphed into Hollywood Undead at this point. The rapping is as boilerplate and devoid of wit or colour as it gets, and propped in front of some bog-standard nu-metal thrumming that feels oddly slow and lumbering, this could well be some recently-unearthed rarity from Adema or any such no-mark, if it wasn’t for the insistence of modern phraseology to seem relevant or cutting edge. Sorry Sylar, but no one’s going to be left shook after this, not when it’s as painfully boring and uninteresting as it is.
The Struts – Bulletproof Baby
After The Struts proved that working with Kesha was a serious motivational tool to make good, energetic music, it was always going to be interesting to see how they’d follow it up. And it looks like the answer is that they’ve gone right back to where they’ve started, ploughing the barren glam-rock furrow with all the urgency of a crippled snail and hoping that something miraculously appears. Bulletproof Baby may be one of their most blatant attempts of that to date as well, as the lazy guitar line is drizzled over clattering drums and fake percussion, and Luke Spiller blurts out his lines with so little tact or even care. It’s such a messy song, a far cry from the tightness that The Struts are capable of but seem reticent to return to, and an embrace of the all style, no substance approach that’s gotten them this far. But even for how weak and annoyingly blaring it is, it’s pretty forgettable so you won’t be burdened with it for too long.
Fish – Man With A Stick
It looks as though Fish is enjoying a bit of a renaissance at the minute. The digital releases of his entire back catalogue seem to be going down well, and with a career that’s long since seen him known as an artist in his own right rather than just the former singer of Marillion, such longevity can definitely be applauded. It doesn’t look as though he’s resting on his laurels either; he’s been keeping steady within old-school prog rather than making a Phil Collins-esque pivot to soft-rock, and that makes it all the more ironic when Man With A Stick comes off as a cross between In The Air Tonight and I Can’t Dance, with its big, powerful percussion lines broken up by wheezing synths and the occasional sharp burst of guitar. It honestly sounds quite good and far from the tired, rushed fare of many artists in their sixties, though Fish’s bad habit of overly-verbose and highfalutin lyrical content hasn’t exactly gone away here, even in what’s supposed to be a tender song about his father passing away. Still, it’s on-brand enough that it never gets in the way too much, and the fact that Fish continues to break away from the conventions of his former prog peers and stick to his roots is commendable all the same. On its own though, Man With A Stick is far from essential, but at least it’ll go down well.
Light Years – Burning In My Blood
There’s often been something about Light Years that’s taken modern pop-punk and pushed it some of the way towards alt-rock in a way that’s tended to really work for them. It hasn’t always seen them gain the greatest amount of attention, but for a more low-key alternative to the big boys, they’ve been fairly consistent. With Burning In My Blood though, that might have been pushed past its limit, because this is perhaps the first time that Light Years have felt too placid to really work. The more emo-inspired guitar tone is nice, but Pat Kennedy’s rather understated, nondescript vocals and a lack of notable progression, it all feels a bit more toothless than it should. It’s certainly not terrible and Light Years are very clearly comfortable in their own lane, but that seems to drifting into complacency more than it rightfully should.
Scarlxrd – I NEED SPACE.
Here we go again, everyone. Scarlxrd’s back with a new song for the fourth week in a row, and it’s really just getting silly now. Sure, being prolific is good if you can handle it, but given that every single one of his previous singles has been a near-identical blown-out SoundCloud rap slog, it’s quite forgivable to go into this one without the highest of expectations. At least they’re met though, because once again he’s reusing all his old assets as he screams over the usual fat bass blasts about needing space without elaborating much on any of it, and cutting it all off just after the two-minute mark. It’s just tedious at this point, particularly when Scarlxrd refuses to switch things up even one bit, and because of that, none of these singles have stood out or are even the slightest bit memorable. Still, he’s probably going to keep churning them out for the time being, so same time next week, yeah?
Jetty Bones – Bringing It Up
There’s something so refreshing about Jetty Bones, even though what Kelc Galluzzo is bringing to the table isn’t really all that groundbreaking. It’s more about vibe than anything else though, and any project that brings memories of the dearly-missed Candy Hearts flooding back is definitely onto a good thing. As such, Bringing It Up occupies a similar area of irrepressibly-catchy, ‘90s-flavoured pop-rock, but with the sour, minor instrumentation and Galluzzo’s delivery that feels so much more tired and worn down, there’s a far greater sense of pathos that elevates this from being “just another pop-rock track”. As well as a clarity in the production (especially the vocals) that only makes how utterly infectious these melodies are ring out even brighter, it’s an incredibly straightforward but no less captivating track that’s really worth the time to take in. Hopefully Galluzzo will get her dues sooner rather than later, because songs like this prove that she deserves it.
All Them Witches – Diamond
At this point, All Them Witches might as well be the modern-day flag-bearers for stoner-rock, considering they continuously manage to get the sound and atmosphere on point with almost every track. Diamond is no different either, barely lifting itself below a crawling bassline and granite-forged guitars with little focus on immediacy or catchiness, but channeling that excess energy into a genuinely sinister track. Alongside Charles Michael Parks Jr’s hollow, immobile vocals, it’s the sort of monolithic track that relies on the ability take its time and drag itself out as much as it needs to, coated in eerie, hazy production that really does justice to a song about splitting apart different aspects of one’s personality. Even if it’s not going to make All Them Witches mainstream darlings, this could go down a storm with the right audience, and considering the lengths that the band are going to on this next album, that can’t come soon enough.
Sœur – Fight
With more of an onus put on cultivating and supporting independent and upcoming artists than ever before, it’s meant that bands like Sœur have far greater opportunities to grow their audience, and through touring and festival appearances, they’ve definitely been making the most of it. But like Black Futures before them, the music alone is something of an acquired taste, perhaps even more so on a track like Fight. It’s frustrating as well because the pieces seem to be there; there’s a looseness in almost a Queen Kwong vein that translates well to this sort of grunge, and dual vocalists Tina and Anya both have a wiry incisiveness that helps foster that punk edge. But it feels as though it could all be put together a bit better, particularly when the near-constant buildup of the track makes it feel like an intro to the explosion which really only lasts for thirty seconds. Even the lyrics have the right idea in rallying against a damaging cause, but there’s really no expansion on that, and the whole thing feels a bit flimsy and undercooked in all honesty. It’s not enough to write Sœur off by any means, but hopefully there’s more on their upcoming EP that’s a bit more developed than this.
Pkew Pkew Pkew – Passed Out
To those in the know, Pkew Pkew Pkew’s self-titled album was a true hidden gem in 2016, and perhaps if had just been released a few months later, it’d hold the same hugely underrated but enormously appreciated status that bands like Spanish Love Songs have gone on to inhabit. Well, perhaps signing to Dine Alone and Big Scary Monsters for their next will help, and judging by Passed Out, there’s already some seriously impressive stuff on the horizon. This is the sort of thing that fans of The Menzingers or anyone of that ilk will be clamouring for, the sort of rough, disheveled pop-punk that never takes itself too seriously but has enough wit and self-examination to completely avoid being throwaway in the slightest, and with the charged, perfectly imperfect guitar work, this is modern alt-punk at its absolute most enjoyable. It’s about time that Pkew Pkew Pkew got the attention they so greatly deserve, and this is the best introduction possible.
Lite – Zone
It’s a sad fact that, regardless of some very clear talent on display, so much instrumental math-rock and post-rock just refuses to click beyond the initial dazzling appeal of it all. Even a band like Lite who’ve been going for well over a decade are yet to really stick in the brain all that much, simply because there’s very little to latch onto. And on Zone it feels like they’re actively trying to make this a forgettable exercise, cutting the track down to under two minutes to give even less room for already obtuse sound to land. Sure, the frenetic guitar work is impressive enough, and at a push there’s a certain charm to be found in the delicacy of it all, but this is a very acquired taste and one that just isn’t sitting well at all. Lite fans will probably be totally onboard with this, but to everyone else, you’re not going to find anything that really appeals here.
Seasonal – Strangers
It’s easy to feel sorry for a band like Seasonal, especially in the knowledge that they probably would’ve enjoyed enormous amounts of success only a few years ago. But given that British rock scenes have moved towards more real, interesting material, this sort of straight-down-the-middle Britrock doesn’t tend to fly anymore; just look at how many of those bands have had to call it a day recently, simply because it’s not sustainable anymore. And that’s a shame, because Strangers is definitely one of the better tracks to come out of this scene lately, simply through more realistic subject matter of frontman Matt Truseler detailing how he never knew his paternal grandparents, and how his life might be different if he had. It’s just a shame that’s paired with the sort of bog-standard pop-rock framework that’s become increasingly tiresome with each release, topped off with a coat of polish that sands off any remaining grit from the already big, airy swell. It’s not a particularly good look, especially nowadays, and Seasonal really need to work on that if they hope to get anywhere close to prime time. They could feasibly do it, but it’ll take a lot of work.
Prey Drive – Foxes
For what is ostensibly a new band, Prey Drive already seem to have a good idea of where they want to go as a band, and while pulling from the early 2000s post-hardcore of Hundred Reasons and the like is nothing really new, there’s not many new bands who can pull it off with this level of panache. And yet, Foxes never feels like a rip-off, favouring intricate, shapeshifting guitars and a great delicacy in Brad Jones’ voice that lends a natural reference point to their vaunted Circa Survive comparisons. In terms of melodic rock, bands rarely sound this professional and ready for prime time pretty much out of the gate, but Prey Drive feel like that band, not exactly pushing the envelope but testing its pliability just enough to work. This is the direction that Britrock needs to be taking, and 2019 will see Prey Drive achieve their fortunes in droves.
The Uncharted – Revival
With a bit more application, The Uncharted could be onto something pretty great as this song shows, basing their tech-metal framework around a passage from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, discussing the decision to live even if life means nothing. That sort of profundity and existentialism is typically nowhere to be seen in most modern music, and the fact that The Uncharted are casting their net this widely while only going into their debut EP deserves plenty of praise. Unfortunately most of that is offset by the fact that Revival appears as little more than another run-of-the-mill tech-metalcore track, working around more complex instrumental moments with dexterity, but ultimately failing to shine among the scores of others doing more or less the same thing. Then there’s the vocals, and while Peter Lee offers some serviceable if slightly plain growls, Arron Carter’s cleans feel imported from a lower-tier scene metalcore band and really prove to be the weakest link here. Still, even with those flaws being as prominent as they are, there’s promise here, and The Uncharted have an excellent lyrical foundation to build on if that’s where they want to keep going.
Wolf Girl – Maths In The Real World
There’s something that clicks so emphatically about Wolf Girl’s Maths In The Real World, namely how in a genre like indie-punk where there’s always a clever twist that can be put on daily mundanities, the comparison between the rehearsal of knowledge to keep it fresh and the attention and care put into a relationship to stop it from fall apart is just so clever. It really is the standout aspect of this track, not because the rest is bad at all, but it’s also not really rising above what many of the other bands in this vein are currently doing. At least it still sounds good though, with the poppy yet ever-so-bristled guitar cutting through the uniformity of the bass and drums, and Healy’s vocals having the sort of homegrown personality that’s become such a staple in this sound, and for good reason. Overall, Wolf Girl aren’t really revolutionising the sound, but a track like this that’s so openly catchy and smart is at least doing it better, and that’s worth a lot.
TV Smith – No Hope Street
As frontman of The Adverts and a well-established political singer-songwriter in his own right, there was no chance of TV Smith going dark in the current political climate, particularly with the reputation he’s garnered of taking social and political injustice to task in his four-decade-long career. With that in mind, No Hope Street is pretty much exactly the sort of song you’d expect, going down the Billy Bragg-style lane of folk-driven, street-level commentary on the rise of uncaring, right-wing ideals, and how having seem similar situations in the past has left him disheartened and worried. It’s an interesting tactic of using an advanced age to draw parallels that most other artists are unable to use, and while the language is pretty plain and Smith’s vocals sound a bit worse-for-wear at this point, it lends a poignancy to the sentiment that’s at least different. Perhaps Smith’s isn’t the most drastically vital voice anymore, but this is still worthwhile that’s maintained the grasp on realism that’s taken him so far.
Estrons – Body
For a band that seem to be designed as sonically straight-laced as possible, there’s not much to really say about Estrons beyond that fact. They’re definitely good at it – this track alone has the sort of killer indie-rock riff that’s so easy to sell a song on, and Tali Källström hits the note of wild-eyed, rambunctious vocalist almost perfectly – but beyond that, Estrons aren’t doing a whole lot to really set themselves apart from the crowd, at least sonically. Quality-wise, that’s a different story, particularly when they’re already picking up national airplay and a burgeoning fanbase from it, and for a track like Body that’s a bit scuzzier and openly raunchier, it’s easy both to like it and to see where so much of the adulation is coming from. On the whole though, Estrons do feel a bit up in the air with regards to the direction they’re taking themselves in, but if it works, it works, and this is a good example of a band doing just that.
Buke And Gase – No Land / Pink Boots
There’s no real adequate response to what Buke And Gase is beyond “listen to them yourself”; it’s the sort of weird, wonky indie-rock that could only really come from unique, handmade instruments, and the fact they’ll be supporting Shellac later this year is only more justification. Even in the five years since they last released music, they’ve not smoothened out by any measurable degree, as this pair of new songs will attest to. And even from the start, this most certainly won’t be for everyone, particularly on Pink Boots with Arone Dyer’s discordant, contorting vocals and the jerky, stop-start motion of pretty much the entirety of the instrumentation. Depending on which way you look at it though, that’s not a bad thing; as much as No Land smooths that general approximation over a small bit (and is honestly the more listenable of the two), it’s a profoundly unique identity that this duo have for themselves, regardless of how alienating it can be. So while these aren’t magnificent, life-affirming avant-grade opuses or anything, for a pair of genuinely different and really quite interesting indie-rock tracks, they suffice nicely.
Four Stroke Baron – Planet Silver Screen
Credit to Four Stroke Baron – the fact that they’ve signed to Prosthetic Records with no online presence and simply an album on Bandcamp just shows that there’s something impressive waiting in the wings here. Of course, that should become apparant on their new album in November, but the title track is sort of in the right direction as a taster. Sure, the throaty vocals are a bit too low in the mix to make much of an impression, but there’s an impressive technicality here that’s not quite progressive, but certain sets Four Stroke Baron apart from other metal bands in terms of ambition alone. Even if that doesn’t translate to some fairly forgettable songwriting, there’s enough in the way of chunky, forceful riffs to ensure there’s enough excitement for their upcoming album. Oh, and the video is absolutely incredible as well.
Steady Hands – Indifferent Belushi
It’s interesting to see how the different projects to have splintered off from Modern Baseball have isolated various elements of their sound to form the basis of their own. Obviously Jake Ewald’s Slaughter Beach, Dog has produced the greatest response in its foundations laid in MoBo’s emotional weight, but with drummer Sean Huber and his current band Steady Hands, it’s easy to see where the more rousing, anthemic side has gone. And that’s not to say that Indifferent Belushi is completely devoid of emotion either, rooted in an awkwardness and nerdiness that always been fairly distinct, but in its skipping pop-rock guitars and ambling pianos, there’s a crowd-pleasing vibe that’s extremely easy to get onboard with. The vocal production could definitely do with a bit of work, mind, with the watery filter over Huber’s voice being totally at odds with how snappy everything else is, but this is a decent pop-rock track altogether. Its origins are easy to trace, but the effectiveness of its simplicity is undeniable.
Smoke Signals – Letting Go
If you were to judge Smoke Signals’ Letting Go by what it is in very potted, simplified terms – a metalcore song tackling depression and mental health – no one would blame you if you just walked away then and there. After all, there’s hardly a shortage of that exact framework out there, and what’s the point of changing it up if it’s worked for so many others? As for the actual evidence, you could definitely still stand on that hill; the production does begin to drift away and thin out as it goes on, and Britton Shrum’s clean chorus isn’t exactly the most electrifying thing in the world. But with a guitar tone that’s excelling at a heavier, grinding nu-metalcore style for the most part, and George Rich having some of the most impressive guttural vocals this sphere of metalcore has shown in a long time, Smoke Signals are showing very real steps towards moving out of the doldrums and into something more interesting for them. There’s still a long way to go before they’re anything close to the best this scene has to offer, but the fact that their potential can already be noticed is at least promising.
She Makes War – Undone
It’s not really surprise that Laura Kidd’s music remains fairly underground, given how both downbeat and politicised her particular brand of indie-rock under the She Makes War moniker can be. That can very realistically be a deciding factor as to whether or not something gels with a certain audience, and with Undone, it’s easy to see both sides actually. For one, there’s a distinctly unhinged lilt to Kidd’s vocals that, paired with the creeping bassline and scuzzy guitar eruptions, can verge on the right kind of churning and unsettling to draw an audience in. But that can also be to the track’s detriment too, especially when there’s little to gravitate towards beyond that very general sense of dread that can definitely run its course in a hurry. At least it doesn’t overstay its welcome as a relatively short track, but that’s hardly going to be the deciding factor to rope newcomers in.
Active Bird Community – Sweaty Lake
At the right place and the right time, Active Bird Community could’ve been cult indie-rock heroes. Granted, it’s not as though they aren’t on their way to that status right now, but it’s not as nailed on as it once could’ve been, especially with a track like Sweaty Lake that really could’ve given them the edge. It’s the sort of manic, wiry little track that knows how off-killer it is and completely owns it, with the relentless, powering bassline and whirring, fuzzy guitars pushing forward with Tom D’Augostino’s knowingly unrefined vocals to dole out as much positivity as they see fit. It’s definitely not the most original concept in the world, but there’s such a brightness and sharpness to how Active Bird Community go about it in their ragged way that it’s hard to not pay attention. It may have one repulsive title, but the track itself is anything but.
Beauty In The Machine – 13 Days
In terms of their own elevator pitch, Beauty In The Machine is the collaborative project between former Trans-Siberian Orchestra vocalist Jennifer Cella and producter / DJ Monikkr, with the resulting product apparantly serving as a meeting between the progressive rock of the former and the deep house of the latter. Maybe this is actually the wrong song then, as 13 Days is neither of those things, and is considerably worse than the already dubious-sounding work that was already outlined. For one, it sounds like it was recorded on GarageBand given how brittle and borderline nonexistent the electro-pop production is, and while Cella clearly wants to let loose and belt, she’s reduced to an almost hilariously weedy fragment of the necessary vocal power needed to carry a song like this. It’d be tempting to compare it to someone like Celine Dion’s more contemporary work, given how frequently it bows down to cheese and camp in its relationship melodramas, but to do that there would at least need to be some scope and bombast, something this track needs in almost unquantifiable amounts. As it stands now, this is genuinely awful, and the sort of demo-standard track that never should’ve even been considered to be released in the state it’s in.
Strange Planes – East Berlin Comfort Zone
Regardless of how much effort Strange Planes put into their music, it doesn’t change the fact that so many bands – new bands especially – have chosen to pick up such a similar melodic punk sound that the only chance of standing out comes with bringing something truly terrific to the table. In this case, East Berlin Comfort Zone is definitely good, but it’d be wrong to say that it fully crosses over to where Strange Planes really need it to. Even so, there’s a roughness and looseness that’s usually an easy sell with punk like this, and there’s definitely a tangible sense of darkness in almost a post-punk vein that producer Greg Norman has clearly brought over from his work with Pelican and Neurosis. It’s also easy to see the influence that The Dirty Nil have had in the scrappier playing style, but there’s just something that ensures this track isn’t quite there yet. Maybe it’s Ellis Slater’s vocals which feel too inert for this faster sound and would certainly be a better fit for post-punk, or lyrics which aren’t awful but boil down to little more than convincing people to stop second guessing themselves. The good still outweighs the bad, for sure, but Strange Planes could do more; they’ve certainly got both the tools and the talent for it.
Sea Girls – All I Want To Hear You Say
Just from this one song, Sea Girls seem to be looking to occupy the gap between the euphoric, synth-driven indie-rock of bands like The Killers and “proper” rock music; hell, they’ve even got Hundred Reasons’ Larry Hibbitt to produce this song. And on a very basic level, All I Want To Hear You Say does achieve that, pushing towards being as broad and loud as possible in its gleaming synths and crashing percussion, as well as the sort of thoroughly modern love story that a primarily young, indie-loving audience will eat up without hesitation. That’s all well and good, but this sort of bombast tailored for festival sets doesn’t always translate well on record, and with a total lack of low end and some really quite bad vocal production in the chorus which make Henry Camamile sound like he’s out of breath more often than not, it feels more like a demo that’s been touched up rather than the finished article. Still, there’s promise here, and with a bit more time put into things, Sea Girls should be more than capable of capitalising on it.
Free Money – U Got Me
Free Money’s Up In The Sky didn’t particularly wow, mostly because it was a fairly average slice of modern indie that felt too tied down to conventions to get anywhere particularly grand. By comparison then, U Got Me is looking at much different end goals with its clicking, processed beats and sharp stabs of guitar almost reminiscent of The Jam in parts. It’s certainly catchy, more so than the band’s previous single, but again, whether it really works as well as it could is up for debate. It’s a bit too stiff to have any coherent sense of groove, a feature amplified by a vocal performance that doesn’t bring much life or dynamism to proceedings, and lyrics that draw straight from the well of pop-rock relationship clichés that’s been emptied numerous times at this point. It’d probably go down well at some kind of indie disco where its shortcomings could be ignored a little easier, but it’s hard to believe that Free Money are tailoring themselves to that specific environment only.
Well Wisher – Believe
There’s going to come a point (if there isn’t already) where the abundance of emo and indie-punk bands in almost every field is going to lead to some serious burnout, and the newer bands who are doing all they can to perpetuate that mindset aren’t helping at all. And while a band like Well Wisher couldn’t and shouldn’t take all the blame, they’re not doing much to help, especially when they seem to be going through the motions that so many others in their lane have taken. Sure, there’s a decent guitar tone for this brand of emo-grunge, but when it struggles to materialise into anything compelling beyond that, it’s hard to really sing its praises, especially when it leads to Natalie Newbold’s ethereal but ultimately anonymous vocals to sink further back than they already are. There will most definitely be some sort of appeal here, and it’s not as though it’s impossible to see why, but for the amount of ground that Believe retreads, it’s not clear what Well Wisher are offering that can’t be achieved from hundreds of other sources.
Death By Shotgun – Lines
Ideally, Death By Shotgun should’ve released Lines a few weeks ago to really capitalise on the summer vibes, because if there’s one song that would’ve been absolutely perfect for lazy, sunny afternoons, it’d be this one. That’s all purely because of energy and vibe too, taking sharp indie-punk and pairing it with a tight power-pop core for one ridiculously catchy little track about having someone there to keep you grounded and just enjoy life with. The beauty is in its simplicity and how it just rushes by in a ball of energy, but it works, and for such a straightforward track, there’s plenty about it to like. It won’t be changing the world any time soon, but when fun music is as rare as it is, this is a good one to look towards.
Uncured – Terminal
When a new band is described as virtuosic right out of the gate, it’s either a case of genuine untapped mastery ready to be unleashed, or some overzealous marketing looking to push their new talent off the back of hyperbole (usually the latter). In the case of New York’s Uncured, they’re really neither, but they’re much closer to honing in on some fantastic talent above anything else. And for a tech-death band looking to make their mark, Terminal does everything it needs to, namely show off a great sense of dynamic and technique, pair that with a sufficient amount of melody and crank it up to be as heavy as it needs to. Rex Cox’s adlibs that’d feel much more suited to a live environment end up as a baffling thing to be left in, but other than that, Uncured are really selling themselves strongly to start with, and even if there’s still some distance to go before they can hit the big leagues, the fact that they have as much skill and proficiency as they do means they’re pretty much guaranteed to get there in the end.
The Bad Dreamers – California Winter
Considering his background of writing and producing songs for artists like P!nk and John Legend, there are certain expectations when it comes to David Schuler’s band The Bad Dreamers, namely something very mainstream-friendly but perhaps dipping into some slightly more adjacent tones. And while that cross-section isn’t exactly nailed on, California Winter is pretty much there, with its dreamy, languid synth work, the occasional flutter of muted indie-pop guitar, and the sort of misty atmosphere that wouldn’t be too uncommon in ‘80s new wave or soft-rock. The production here really does an excellent job at capturing that essence, even if it does drag out a bit too long and the writing isn’t all too deep or insightful. Still, in capturing that unmistakably layered and delicate sound (particularly in Schuler’s vocals), this is a solid effort, one that may find its way muscled into the background quicker than it would like, but still not bad overall. There’s definitely grounds for more to come here, so The Bad Dreamers may be worth keeping an eye on.
Darker Days – Sydney
More than most, it’s pretty appropriate that Darker Days have landed upon the larger-than-life, theatrical punk stylings of bands like AFI and Creeper, not only because they hail from Salem, Massachusetts, but because among their ranks are ex-members of fellow spooky-punks Energy. And that makes a lot of sense given the comparisons that can be made between them and Sydney, namely more of a simplification in the overall sound as they go for a chunkier, more direct style that’s a tad more well-rounded in the production. Honestly, it’s more of the default for new bands looking to break into this style, and Darker Days seem to be in that very boat, standing up but not really going beyond that. Maybe it’s because Mason Eaton is rather limited as a vocalist, but overall really, Sydney needs more for it to really pop. They can get there, but it’ll be an uphill battle, and whether Darker Days are quite ready for that isn’t exactly confirmed here.
The Black Roses – El Diablo
There’s a good deal about The Black Roses that feels like a local band. Even going off first impressions, the bits and pieces of indie and grunge that comprise El Diablo do have the feeling of a band just starting out and keeping things as straightforward as possible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and The Black Roses’ take on the sound is a lot more professional and wholly realised than most in their position. The main selling point is that central bass riff, the smoky, menacing backbone that slithers through the track and lets vocalist Anthony’s frayed rasp of a voice pick up even more steam. Even if its origins are fairly easy to be traced, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for The Black Roses to move past that as they progress and hone their sound, and the fact that they will definitely get more chances is a testament to how solid this song is.
Words by Luke Nuttall