Halsey – Without Me
As embarrassing and poorly thought out as Halsey’s assertions of being an alternative artist were, it’s at least a step in the right direction that she seems to have more or less accepted her role as a pop artist. But even then, at least when those delusions played a bigger role on Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, it led to a few more interesting, colourful instrumental moments; Without Me, on the other hand, circles back to faux-edgy dourness and R&B clunks that benefits no one, especially a vocalist like Halsey whose warbles don’t sound good at the best of times, but are borderline insufferable when pushed to their upper range for a sheer lack of control. It’s not like the lyrics are any better either, as yet another doomed love story where Halsey picks her lover up from nothing only to have him manipulate and gaslight her, and when that potted description is more interesting with distinctive detail than the actual song, that’s not a good sign. But the biggest problem with all of this is, no matter how many times Halsey tries to establish herself as as some stoic, transgressive presence in modern music, it becomes painfully obvious how limited of an artist she actually is. This could have been something decent – or at the very least passable – but Halsey’s fighting a losing battle with regards to what she believes is interesting, relevant music, and what her efforts actually turn out to be.
Architects – Royal Beggars
Even from just Hereafter, there was a pretty clear picture painted of where Architects’ new album Holy Hell was going to go, spurred on by Tom Searle’s passing and ruminating upon life in the wake of tragedy like that. If anything, Royal Beggars only solidifies that image even more, but in a very different way than we’re used to from this band. It’s a far softer song than their usual knife-edged tech-metal, relying on lapping keys and muscular, mid-paced guitars, and letting Sam Carter dip into clear vulnerability to the greatest extent since perhaps The Here And Now. Granted, there are many who would take umbrage at such a comparison being made (the band themselves probably being among them), but it actually feels earned here, exploring the need to continue living after sorrow and living at the hands of higher powers that our out of our control. It’s an almost spiritual side of this band that’s rarely been explored in this way, and paired with how muted and relatively restrained it is (even though there’s still room for the customary tech-metal enormity to break through), it sounds pretty great in how fleshed-out it is and how smoothly it operates. It was pretty much a given that Holy Hell was going to be a good album, but as a taster of the scope of what’s on offer, Royal Beggars suggests so much more than that on its own.
Papa Roach – Renegade Music / Who Do You Trust?
It gets said whenever they release new music, but Papa Roach really are the standard bearers for what radio-rock should be. Not only have they managed to tailor their sound to meet a modern rock climate without succumbing to gimmickry, but the quality has more often than not been high, and they’re still a killer live band even today. It why there’s always less apprehension when they release new music compared to others in their scene, and while these two new tracks from their upcoming tenth album are nowhere close to their best, for big, meaty hard rock songs, they do just fine. Who Do You Trust? is probably the better of the two with a choppy groove that’s almost reminiscent of a garage-rock track in the squawk of the guitar, but Renegade Music is still perfectly serviceable on its own, taking the well-worn Papa Roach staple of a pump-up anthem with a slobberknocker hook and continuing to wring out plenty of potential. Beyond that, everything else is where is should be – Jacoby Shaddix has as fiery a personality as ever, and while the production is undoubtedly clean, it doesn’t suffocate the instrumentation and still allows it to roar to a degree. And sure, all of this is what you’d expect from Papa Roach at this point, and while it’s undeniable that they have a very linear process when it comes to making music, they’re still good regardless and for what they are, this definitely works.
Basement – Be Here Now
For a band with as widespread and dedicated fanbase as Basement, the hype for Beside Myself doesn’t seem to have been as loud as you might expect, especially for how crucial of a new phase in their career this next album could prove. It’s not as if the singles have been disappointing either, and Be Here Now is really no different, continuing down a more mellow, melodic path that feels like Fueled By Ramen are actually steering one of their acts in the right direction for a change. There’s just enough liquidity in the guitars and roiling drums to maintain the sense of lucidity that Basement have always been really great at, but with Andrew Fisher’s excellently melodic vocals and a structure that remains resolute but still has room to breath, it’s about exactly what you could want from a melodic, melancholic grunge song in this sense. It’s not very flashy or anything, but that’s never been Basement’s style, and from the evidence so far, Beside Myself won’t need anything of the sort to be a great listen.
Stand Atlantic – Lost My Cool
Lavender Bones did as well as a lead single for Stand Atlantic’s upcoming debut album as everyone expected it would, though as a rather safe but decent choice that didn’t deviate too greatly from the norm, it wasn’t much of a surprise that it went down with their audience as it did. It’s easy to say a similar thing about Lost My Cool as well; the clarity and expressiveness in Bonnie Fraser’s vocals remain as steadfast as ever, and with a marginally grittier churn to the guitar work, the splashes of emo painting over their usually exuberant pop-rock is a nice touch. It’s in the writing where this song really catches off guard though, the sort of incredibly personal and thus deliberately ambiguous recollection of Fraser’s experiences of being gaslit and mentally abused in a relationship, which she clearly holds in great contempt. It’s definitely an angrier sounding track with some lines spat out in particularly venomous fashion, and it’s yet another example of how Stand Atlantic may be a more versatile act than many give them credit for. Considering how rarely bands like this surprise in any capacity, it’s probably a good bet to assume there’s more to them than meets the eye.
Can’t Swim – My Queen
If there’s one band with the potential to galvanise emo and post-hardcore beyond what it currently is, it’s Can’t Swim. Fail You Again may have went supremely underrated last year, but in its surging grit and Chris LoPorto’s seething yet controlled fury, it really laid down the foundations for a potentially fantastic album down the road, even if it was pretty great on its own merits. With My Queen then, there’s definitely a case to be made that Can’t Swim are merely sticking to what they know; that thick overall tone remains abundant, as does the rasp in LoPorto’s vocals, and on the face of it, nothing seems to have changed much. And while that’s admittedly true, the execution feels a lot more realised and live, galloping along and gradually picking up that fury before allowing it to be unleashed in the last few moments. The command of tension here is second to none, and with writing that mirrors a sense of deep-seated dread perhaps better than ever, it’s pretty much the best opening salvo that Can’t Swim could’ve led with for a new album. It might still be early days yet, but don’t bet against it being something pretty special.
SHVPES – Afterlife
It’s a weird time for SHVPES at the minute. After scrapping their plans to release a series of mixtapes over the year to instead collate that material into a more conventional album, anyone would think that screams of a band with a lack of faith in their output, and taking any opportunity necessary to buy more time to make it better. Then again, it’s not like the direction of a nu-metal / post-hardcore fusion they’ve adopted lately has been all that bad, and with Afterlife, that continues to be the case, albeit a fairl bit less emphatically than the tracks that have preceded it. For one, while the guitar tone may have some genuinely great heft and groove almost approaching a latter-day Korn vein, it can be a bit too overweight at points, especially with percussion that tends to veer towards jerky clunks rather than accentuating that groove. Then there’s Griffin Dickinson’s vocals, and while a lot of praise needs to go to him for the almost-seamless switches between rapping and the arena-filling choruses that clearly run in the family, his performance can feel a bit thinned out within the rest of the mix, and the whole thing only feels even more unwieldy. That may seem a lot to criticise about a track that can still be called decent – and with the industrial grind of the production that really complements the sheer size of it all, it is still decent – but SHVPES have always been at their best when each individual piece at working at equilibrium, and that unfortunately feels a bit off here.
wars – In A Mirror, Dimly
wars may just be about to cross over into huge things. The fact they’ve just opened Progress Wrestling’s biggest ever show at Wembley Arena is a jumping off point that most bands will never even come close to, and new music to follow is only a good thing, if only to capitalise on the supreme momentum they’ve built up. Even better, In A Mirror, Dimly feels like a step up in its own right, no longer indicative of a band moonlighting as a glorified While She Sleeps tribute act and who are actually moving onto their own path. The sharper post-hardcore leanings are definitely a factor here, coupled with the brisk runtime and bouncier pace for a something more kinetic than they’ve possibly ever been, while Rob Vicars is definitely coming into his own as a screamer at this point and developing some real personality without skimping on the emotion that made wars such an attractive prospect from the start. If there’s one nitpick, it’d be that the chorus might be a bit too clean and reminiscent of vaguely embarrassing Britrock tropes from a few years ago, but at least it’s integrated well enough, and there’s not an audible clunk in trying to get the individual pieces to fit together. Put simply, it’s exactly the sort of track that wars needed to really gear themselves up for much bigger things, and with the effort they’ve put in, they deserve it.
Greta Van Fleet – Anthem
As tedious as Greta Van Fleet’s rollout has been (just like everything to do with this band), the temptation to keep returning to see if they’d actually dare to try something new has always been there, even if it’s never come to fruition. Until now, that is, because while Anthem is far from great, it at least shows some kind of desire for Greta Van Fleet to be their own entity, even if that’s just barely. At least where stripped down to a simple acoustic guitar line and a surprisingly effective bongo performance for percussion, the Led Zeppelin-isms are toned down to reveal an actual band beneath that shell, and that Josh Kiszka’s shrill, piercing vocals actually feel more at home here than anywhere else. It’s unabashedly mawkish beneath all that, the sort of Kumbaya around the campfire about unity and getting along (because the hippy veneer couldn’t be totally shed, now, could it?), but considering how much of a slog Greta Van Fleet’s material has been up to this point, it’s worth thanking the heavens above that this is at least solid.
Circa Survive – Dark Pools
Circa Survive’s The Amulet got a surprisingly healthy amount of praise last year, even if it was really only a decent album with good ideas that were never executed as flawlessly as the band might have hoped for. With that in mind, it makes sense that Dark Pools is one of the new tracks from the upcoming deluxe version, given that it pretty much fits the description as well. The languid, elegant guitars and Anthony Green’s crystalline vocals sound great on a purely sonic basis, and in terms of production, it’s about as opulent and delicately crafted of a mix as you’d expect from this band, but just like the majority of the album, it’s lacking that killing blow to really hit hard. The majority of the time it coasts along at second gear, plateauing in its execution right from the start and essentially fading on impact. As backing music, it’s definitely good with enough melody, but nothing about it is particularly grabbing and that’s ultimately its biggest fault. Still, given that it’s more of the same as what was offered on The Amulet, it’s bound to get some sort of acclaim anyway.
Palisades – War
Palisades’ self-titled album last January was surprisingly good for what it was, taking the melodic metalcore that was so popular at the time and streamlining it to its most basic, workable essence. It also helped that it was a considerably tighter job than the screechingly obnoxious electro-metalcore that had preceded it, and that’s probably why War feels a bit underwhelming. A lot of credit needs to go for having an actual heavy guitar tone clearly pulling from nu-metalcore, but with utterly forgettable lyrics and the fact that it never seems to build on an objectively strong foundation, it doesn’t seem to go very far. It’s by no means bad, and the fact that this is the band who were trying to disguise EDM and dubstep songs as metalcore just a few years ago is absolutely mind-boggling, but it’s not going to be the best metalcore song of the year or anything, especially when the album it’s on is released in the last few days of 2018. Even then, Palisades bizarre fixation with releasing music at the extremities of each year currently seems to be the most interesting thing about them.
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Teenage Rockstars
It makes sense that Andrew McMahon’s musical career has reached this juncture where going fully towards pop actually makes sense. At least the transition from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin and now this solo work is a bit smoother than the pop-punk bands who just decide to take the plunge then and there, but that’s not exactly indicative of the quality. To be fair though, Teenage Rockstars is definitely a well-written song even if it’s not that new, chronicling the journey from being a kid dreaming of stardom to now where it’s been achieved, but McMahon has the earnestness to sell it well. The problem comes in everything around it, with the already syrupy pianos drowned out by fat, inelegant percussion and reverb for a mix that feels supremely empty but is trying to give the illusion of the complete opposite, and with similarly saccharine production, that doesn’t do much to help. It’s not as if this is new territory for McMahon though, and from an emotion standpoint it works well enough, but it’s not exactly thrilling in any sense and that lack of motion might ultimately be its downfall.
Euringer ft. Chantal Claret – Fuck Everything
It’s fair to say that Jimmy Urine has been more active creatively than he is now. Sure, he’s done various bits of acting over the last few years, but Mindless Self Indulgence are less relevant now than ever before, and it feels like if his upcoming album under his Euringer moniker had been released about a decade ago, it would’ve been far more hyped than it currently is. It doesn’t help that, sonically, this could be a Mindless Self Indulgence track by any other name; it’s maybe a bit softer and less industrial in its electronics, but between the gothic pianos and Euringer’s own larger-than-life personality, it feels watered down in the most obvious way. That’s not even factoring in Chantal Claret’s breathy cooing which couldn’t sound more anonymous, and while the two have some vestige of chemistry (the minimum to expect from a married couple), it feels like it’s aiming towards a particular audience that really doesn’t exist anymore; again, release this a decade ago and it would’ve gone down far better. As it stands though, this really isn’t that good, and beyond some guest spots that could be something, it doesn’t bode well for a full album.
Light Years – Graveyard
Light Years’ commitment to pushing ahead is certainly admirable, especially when pop-punk is fully on the downswing at the minute. Still, they’ve managed to weather that particular storm, and while their last single wasn’t too great, Graveyard is definitely a step up. At the very least, their focus on thicker, chunkier melodies can hold everything in place, and while this is far from revolutionary, the early- to mid-2000s vibes definitely have appeal to them, and Light Years know how to use them reasonably well. If anything, they might do it a bit too well, given that – like a lot of their recent material – it can feel rather safe, especially in melodies that follow the most basic patterns the genre tends to outline. Still, it’s listenable and suffices for an above-average pop-punk fix, but it’s hard to know whether Light Years are actually going to bring more to the table on their upcoming album, rather than just stay a few steps behind everyone else.
Amaranthe – Countdown
Given that they’re going into their sixth album and are about to start a tour with Powerwolf, Amaranthe must surely know how ingrained they are in the culture of European power-metal being absolutely ridiculous. That’s not a bad thing either; if anything, this band’s best moments often come at their most flagrantly cheesy and over-the-top, and while 365 tried to counteract that with fairly middling results, Countdown hits the target much more effectively. It’s a weird case too, especially when this is undoubtedly a darker song lyrically, but in the gigantic, pounding drums and just how much oomph both Elize Ryd and Nils Molin give in their vocals, it has all the hallmarks of the stomping crowd-pleasers that Amaranthe frequently keep under their belt, and it’s all the better for it. And sure, it’s doing nothing else but perpetuating the trend of how hit-or-miss this band have always been, but that’s hardly going to change after six albums, and as long as it hits more like this, that should be enough.
Bearings – Blue In The Dark
As of now, Bearings’ choices of pre-release singles for their upcoming debut have been anything but encouraging, spanning solid but generally derivative to overly messy and utterly forgettable. Having said that though, and while it’s not much consolation given how close to release it is, the title track is easily the best yet. Their pop-punk sound has been turned down for a more solemn, sombre alt-rock track, driven by rustling acoustics and steady percussion, as Doug Cousins gives a much more restrained vocal performance about the death of a loved one that feels steady enough to hit that ballad territory without hassle, but also chime with poignancy in its straightforwardness. Of all the strings on their bow that they’ve previously shown, this feels like the one where Bearings can get the most mileage, and while it’s very basic and stripped-back with little room for much maneuverability, it’s strikes a chord regardless, and given what they’ve released up to this point, that counts for a lot.
Pijn – Squander
With experimental, progressive music on the up, the time couldn’t be more appropriate for Pijn to throw out all their weird and wacky ideas, though after their last single was released while being hidden within a looping, hour-long livestream, Squander feels a bit more conventional. How conventional this sort of warping, instrumental sludge-prog can be is another matter though, but with the contorting guitar screeches and crashes leading into constantly descending Shepard Tones for a purposeful feeling of discomfort, it’s far from radio-ready stuff. That said, Pijn’s use of instrumental breadth remains totally fascinating, and with a fluidity that never breaks up how black and heaving this track is, it’s the sort of monolithic piece that really leaves an impression, and being the final track on their upcoming album only makes too much sense. And yeah, it’s not for everyone, but for fans of weirder, more abstract sounds and tones, this is essential listening.
Gary Numan – It Will End Here
Gary Numan’s longevity and artistic evolution really is something to behold, even if his current doomsaying industrialist guise bears next to no resemblance to the synthpop geek of the ‘80s. That said, that popularity hasn’t really stuck (and let’s be honest, why would it?), so forging something completely new has been a necessity, and one that Numan has taken in his stride. It at least gives him more room to experiment and try wilder new things as It Will End Here shows, taken from the upcoming companion EP to last year’s Savage (Songs From A Broken World), and taking the form of a stormy, cinematic darkwave piece that really can hold its own among the current scene. The writing isn’t exactly high-end in more grandiose prophesying, but with the swells of keys and lockstep beat to complement the floods of gospel backing vocals, it does sound genuinely enormous and puts to bed any notions of creative decay for older artists. It’s not exactly revolutionary on its own, but fitting in with Numan’s legacy, most of the weight that this track holds feels earned from there.
All Get Out – God Damn
Self Repair was arguably the first time that All Get Out lived up to the promise that had previously been implied, both by them and those who talked about them, but given that it had taken them this long to get there, it was an open question as to whether they’d be able to keep it up. And while God Damn is definitely not a large fall from grace, it’s one all the same, reverting to the immobile emo that had previously not worked for them, and it still doesn’t here. There’s clearly emotion on show in Nathan Hussey’s raw, rasping howl, but it all feels so rote, and while the shapeshifting guitars are a nice touch and prevent it from sinking too deeply into blandness, but try as they might, they can’t dredge up enough that’s interesting to make this all that worthwhile. It’s annoying that they’ve reverted to this so quickly, but it’s not exactly a huge surprise; this has been where All Get Out have been for a while now, and it only makes sense that they’d end up back there eventually.
Coast To Coast – The Sun Is Dim
There’s a lot of respect to be had for Coast To Coast. They’ve never been media darlings or had much of an opportunity to show what they can do beyond their own releases, but the fact that their previous EPs have had such a profound resonance even without fantastic promotion speaks volumes. What’s more, they’re perhaps one of the few bands who’ve managed to stay on the emo and Britrock path past its bust, simply because of the unadulterated emotion they’re capable of bringing that so many others lack. The Sun Is Dim is perhaps the perfect example of that, as Kieran Hyland discusses battles with mental health that severely damage, but leave outward appearances unchanged, and with an almost formless sense of power in his vocals, it’s probably as raw as this sort of pop-rock gets. It’s helped that what accampanies him is the sort of grand, sweeping pop-rock instrumental that still continues to work even today, with the extended length allowing for greater fludity for going between moments of gentle introspection and crashing, calamitous catharsis. It’s mightn’t be that far removed from Coast To Coast’s wheelhouse, but it doesn’t need to be; The Sun Is Dim really proves to be an affecting, powerful track, even for a band who’ve made their name from that exact sort of thing.
Scarlxrd – EVERYTHING IS FINE.
After what was undoubtedly the strongest of his standalone singles yet, suddenly we’re back to Scarlxrd barely even trying and delivering another throwaway mess. And “mess” is the operative word here, because for as much of a tendency as other tracks have to slide across their mixes in vocal delivery and style, this, with a synth line that sounds like a nail on glass paired with the laziest bass beat yet, barely feels like any effort was put into it at all, as Scarlxrd slurs incomprehensibly before launching into more screams that feel more like fashion over function that any other single he’s released. It honestly sounds abysmal, working with the slapdash basement production that’s characterised so much of his past work and vaulting it way past its natural extreme, to the point where this can hardly even represent a song beyond messing around in the studio for a few minutes. Looks like a run of quality isn’t on the cards anytime soon, and Scarlxrd’s consistently inconsistent run can continue unhindered. Yay?
The Casualties – Feed Off Fear
The Casualties are doing a pretty good job at proving they’re a worthwhile prospect in the punk world at the minute, not only because they can stick around for as long as they have, but also because they’ve lost none of their ire and acrimony in their advancing years, and Feed Off Fear is really no different. If anything, they seem to be the only vintage punk band that can actually keep up with the pace and ferocity of modern hardcore given the blistering guitar work and David Rodriguez’s utterly furious vocal delivery, a fact they seem deeply aware of given the half-a-minute intro of delicate piano chords to really stick it to their contemporaries who’ve gone soft over the years. It feels earned too; others are focusing on the natural path of an individual’s corruption that inevitably occurs under a corrupt system, and with the speed and grit to back it up, it feels like The Casualties are the most relevant and vital they’ve been in a long time. It’s strange, sure, but definitely good to see.
Kagoule – It’s Not My Day
For all the bands in the UK indie-rock and post-punk scene that get mountains of praise thrust upon them, Kagoule seem to be one of the few who’ve lasted beyond the primary burst and have actually continued along the path to building on it. Urth was definitely a well-received album, but relying on that as a boon forever is pretty impossible, and so It’s Not My Day feels like the next logical stepping stone. Saying that though, this feels more transitional than anything else, especially in the thin, low-key guitars, the clear presence of negative space between each instrumental passage, and vocals with a good level of assuredness but never quite tip into greatness. Even so, Kagoule have a knack for some seriously effective bass work that really does shine beyond everything else, and the melodic focus they’ve been able to capture has a lot of clarity that’s only enhanced by the scuzzy production rather than dulled. Even if it’s not quite up to their best then, this is a promising next step for Kagoule to take, especially if they’re looking to build on it for something even greater.
Art Brut – Hospital!
On the face of things, a band like Art Brut couldn’t be more perfect for the Alcopop! Records roster, a label that’s garnered a bit of a reputation for quirky, off-kilter indie-rock bands capable of too-smart-for-their-own-good lyrics and staggeringly catchy melodies. That’s pretty much Art Brut down to a T, particularly on new single Hospital!, where frontman Eddy Argos recalls his month spent in a German hospital, but flips the typical case of tragedy into something a lot more spry and lighthearted, but no less personal. Sure, the tongue-in-cheek presentation makes it evident that this isn’t quite being taken seriously all the way, but with the sunny harmonies and sharp, snappy guitars, there’s such a clear feeling of triumph and jubilation that you really can’t blame him, especially when the resulting product is as ludicrously fun as it is. It might be lacking in a bit of depth here and there, but considering everything else that Art Brut do right here, that’s easy to overlook.
William Ryan Key – Downtown (Up North)
With The Bowery finally seeing William Ryan Key’s solo career hitting some kind of stable foundation, the challenge now is building upon it for a full project that can keep up that level of quality. It remains to be seen whether Virtue a whole will be able to fulfill that, but Downtown (Up North) is another promising sign that things might just be working out after all. The chiming acoustic guitar and languid cello feels like a natural fit against Key’s soft, clear vocals, and with lyrics imbued with such a longing and yearning, there’s a sadness captured here that works so much more than it did whenever it was tried on Thirteen. It’s still not amazing and as a barebones acoustic song, this sort of thing is nothing new whatsoever, but there’s such an affability and approachability to Key as an artist that makes everything click together for a pretty lovely song. He’s already in a stronger position than last time, so hopefully that can carry on and this solo effort can finally pick up some steam.
River Becomes Ocean ft. Liam Cormier – Silence Means Nothing
To some degree, River Becomes Ocean could be fighting an uphill battle up to the release of their debut album. Huge, sweeping post-hardcore isn’t exactly new, and especially in the UK where the market continues to be as crowded as ever, they’re going to have to pull out all the stops to ensure they’re noticed. Fortunately on Silence Means Nothing, they seem to be doing just that, and in two different days. For a start, getting Cancer Bats’ Liam Cormier for guest vocals is a good start to boost up star power, but simply the distance they go with regards to their sound is frankly staggering, filling every spare moment with cinematic waves of strings and keyboards without it sounding cluttered or overcrowded. The production could do with a bit more heft overall, and vocalist Marvin McMahon is definitely overshadowed by Cormier’s presence in terms of sheer power and recognisability, but this is a strong foothold regardless, especially when River Becomes Ocean actually use it to their advantage to stand out. If they can keep this up on their upcoming album in January, 2019 for this band could be an exciting time indeed.
Mother Feather – Snakebite
Given that Mother Feather can be pitched somewhere between the glammed-up sleaze of fellow New Yorkers The Strokes and the New York Dolls, it’s no wonder there’s been so much enthusiasm for them, especially for their well-received debut album in 2016. Then again, it is a sound that’s stood the test of time surprisingly well, though whether Snakebite makes the best use of it is up for debate. It’s definitely got some good foundations with the surf-rock bassline and jiving guitar to complement Ann Courtney’s whiskeyed-up howl, but for a song so explicitly about this man-eater character, it could definitely afford to have a bit more gusto rather than simply strut along in its mid-range. Of course, the sub-two-minute runtime doesn’t give the band much to work with, and it ends up feeling like a severely truncated version of a song that could’ve been much better given some expanded boundaries. It ultimately feels like a first draft or a demo more than anything else, and Mother Feather have proven plenty of times that they’re capable of more than that.
Oxygen Thief – Uncommon People
It’s pretty common knowledge that Oxygen Thief can get heavy when they want to given some of their past material, but even so, statements claiming that Uncommon People was inspired instrumentally by the likes of Tool and Meshuggah are fairly curious; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that this was merely a one-man folk project. Given what the song is actually like though, it’s definitely easier to see where they’re coming from, driven by grinding, industrial-tinged riffs that have an ominous and genuinely heavy presence to them. Barry Dolan’s Jamie Lenman-esque tones aren’t the best fit, but he’s putting in the work and when it comes to projecting himself, rallying against racist discourse not only seeping into the words of those in power, but being bought by those beneath them. In terms of this sort of anger, the pieces do fit together, and it’s another string to Oxygen Thief’s already-well-endowed bow that only makes that upcoming new album seem all the more exciting.
Clean Cut Kid – Slow Progress
When Clean Cut Kid were the latest off the indie darling production line a couple of years back, they couldn’t really be expected to stick around, mostly because indie bands never do. But in what seems to be becoming a theme this year, they’ve begun to make their comeback with a new EP due soon and a new single in tow, one that – in keeping with said theme – sees them progressing their sound by a fair amount. Gone is the big, open synthpop of old, and in its place stand something far closer to blues-rock in its burly, creeping bassline, though keeping a very defiantly indie-rock sensibility in Mike Halls’ nasal vocals effortlessly sliding into plenty of vocal harmonies. It actually works really well too, with a sense of groove that’s definitely cramped and not quite suited to the accommodate the size of most blues-rock, but in its purposefully small stakes and buzzy, wriggling production, that almost feels like the point. If that’s the case then, Slow Progress really does have the potential to bury itself in far deeper than anyone might expect, and that can definitely be respected.
Polish Club – Clarity
The worldwide release of Polish Club’s Alright Already earlier this year showed a band shaking up the tired formula of the rock duo with buckets of extra soul and grit, and given that it seemed to go down pretty well, it makes sense that they’d strike again as soon as possible. And thankfully, Clarity is exactly the sort of thing that a great follow-up single should be, with familiarity to how great that last album was, but still continuing to build on it with Novak’s buttery-smooth howls and a truly formidable sense of groove and pace. Even the customary garage-rock tropes of buzzed-up guitars and a generally more lo-fi production style are made to feel all the more electric, both in how the duo never resort of lumpen, overwrought clunks to plod by, and in how loose-limbed drummer John-Henry comes across behind the kit, amping up the fluidity even more for some actual enjoyment. It really is everything that Polish Club could’ve come back with and more, and if they weren’t there already, it’s vaulted them ahead of pretty much every other two-piece going.
Weirds – Supersymmetry
Even if Weirds never became a huge prospect, to see them flourish within the UK’s psychedelic rock scene was always good, as it is with any grassroots act, so it’s a genuine shame to see them calling it a day before the end of the year. At least with Supersymmetry they’ve gone out on a high note though, with the sort of lucid, brooding track that really does feel like a parting gift that’s been slaved over rather than a hasty final word. Aiden’s hazy vocals float and mesh with the waves of guitars and bass almost perfectly, and mellow, dreamlike atmosphere has all the natural depth and scope you’d expect from a song like this. It definitely takes a while to get into, but when it clicks, it’s so satisfying to let it wash over with the power that Weirds are so adept at. It’s just a great song overall, and a shame that we won’t be getting anything else like it.
The Sonder Bombs – Twinkle Lights
With their previous single Title, The Sonder Bombs have already established themselves as one of the most creative and instantly poignant bands in modern indie-punk, something that the genre has been critically starved of for a long time. And while, for some, it remains easy to bundle them in with other bands of their ilk, Twinkle Lights is the breakout moment where how potentially special this band is shines through in blinding fashion. Sure, the prominent ukulele against the steady bass and percussion is a nice touch to sever them from any immediately similar touchstones, but it’s the writing that does the seriously heavy lifting, where Willow Hawks reflects on both the discovery of her mental illness and the reality of her sexual assault, and how these difficult topics need to be talked about for the chance to heal. Alongside a vocal performance where the cracking, aching fragility couldn’t be more palpable, it’s a milestone moment for indie-punk that could easily see The Sonder Bombs rise to among the best bands in their genre. This is genuinely excellent stuff in pretty much every single way.
VOLA – Alien Shivers
It’s telling that VOLA specifically state their primary inspiration to be the progressive rock of the ‘70s, especially on a track like Alien Shivers. It’s certainly easy to tell that’s the case, given the softer, more languid tones updated for the 21st century by twinkling electronics and the slight touches of djent-flavoured guitars, but for the most part, this does actually seem to be deviating from the norms of modern prog. That’s impressive on its own, but when it’s layered as well as it is with each instrumental passage complementing rather than clashing, and an ethereal fluidity in Asger Mygind’s vocal performance, there’s a healthy dose of atmosphere that feels necessary for this sound, rather than simply stylised. Some might bemoan the lack of real momentum, but that’s really not the point; rather, VOLA actually feel like a distinct, individual entity in prog, and they deserve plenty of credit for that.
Avalanche Party – Million Dollar Man
It’s tough to know exactly where to place Avalanche Party in the context of modern music, and that’s definitely to their advantage. To an extent, this track in particular comes across like Kasabian’s Tom Meighan fronting an industrial or darkwave band, but that shred of indie swagger and brashness hasn’t been lost in the shuffle. It’s a weird mix, and with the dashing keys and sharp stabs of synth, it makes for a pretty dark, potent mix that could have some real momentum behind it if given a bit more room to blossom. That does apply here too, as the alternative dance formula bleeds into some underwritten lyrics, but it’s fairly easy to overlook that with a track like this. It’s all about atmosphere and how that can be utilised for something powerful and euphoric, and Million Dollar Man seems to prove that Avalanche Party are pretty damn good at it.
Arlington – Hollow Moon
As far as new bands leading up to their debut album go, Arlington are doing better than most, especially by drawing on recognisably blues-rock and classic rock sounds for their singles without sounding stale or dated for the most part. And once again, Hollow Moon is another good example of that, with choppy indie grooves and Tyler Benko’s soft vocal delivery making for something very timeless in a sense, especially in the shrill, slightly jerky guitar solo that’s so much less irritating than it should be. Even in the lyrics, Arlington aren’t slouching, loosely focused on a single mother resorting to prostitution in order to support her family,and while it’s a bit off next to the overall tone, it’s the sort of wider reaching that’s encouraging to see for a new band. That’s ultimately what’s set Arlington apart from so many in their field, and what will inevitably keep their strong streak going.
Wish You Were Here – Come Find Me
In some strange way, it makes sense that Jesse Barnett’s Wish You Were Here is as quiet and waifish as it is. It’s a total departure from his day job fronting Stick To Your Guns, and continues a lineage of artistic expression that’s allowed to take new routes for different effects. With Come Find Me, it follows his last single No Say in perfect fashion, as the sort of deeply sad acoustic track that Barnett’s heavy-set burr careers over effortlessly. It’s the simplicity of the track that proves to be its greatest strength though, with muffled drums and touches of synth complementing the delicate guitar wonderfully, and coming together in such a natural and lived-in fashion. It’s honestly a beautiful track that ventures down avenues that might have been touched on the last Stick To Your Guns album, but feel all the more realised here, and leave the prospect of a full album from Wish You Were Here as a tantalising one indeed.
Typesetter ft. Lydia Loveless – Technicolor
The main problem with Typesetter initially came with the identification of their own self-coined genre “brewgaze”, combining modern indie-punk with shoegaze for results that had a decent chance of working, but wound up being too messy to really get there. With Technicolor then, not a lot has changed – there’s still something of a formless rumble beneath all the atmosphere that can’t wedge itself into place – but now with the addition of horns for some extra brightness and backing vocals from alt-country singer Lydia Loveless, it’s hard to know exactly where Typesetter are going or whether they think it has a chance of working. Granted, Loveless does sound good against this instrumentation, but as the one source of light on a track that struggles to get going at the best of times, it feels like she’s pretty much pulling it to the finish line here. At least Typesetter are doing all they can to stand out, but they’re not exactly making it look encouraging.
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam – Meatloaf To The Camera
Given that Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam have already proven they can be as appealing and offbeat as their name would suggest, the best way to move forward next is to build on it, something that, even from a casual glance, a five-and-a-half-minute-long song called Meatloaf To The Camera can be expected to do. This time, it’s their psychedelic tendencies that are put to the front, with reverb-drenched guitars swerving through Pete Dixon’s off-kilter vocals and lyrics about a relationship that’s doomed from the start, only to pick up at the end for a passage of gloriously light and sunny indie-rock that flows absolutely seamlessly from the heavier, more oppressive first half. Coupled with production that emphasises the storminess of both the content and the restless instrumentation, Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam continue to push the boat out and experiment with this sort of power-pop, and when the results are as frequently and consistently good as they are, they’re more than welcome to keep going.
Loose Tooth – Axis
There’s a high chance that, when a new band draws comparisons to both Reuben and Refused so early on in their career, they’re onto a good thing, and Loose Tooth do indeed seem to be onto a good thing. This is classic post-hardcore through and through, co-opting the blind, white hot rage at modern life and setting it to buzzsaw, shapeshifting guitars that cut through the mix with little to no effort, and the sort of loose, trashy vocal delivery that’s exactly the sort of thing that benefits a sound like this. It’s not reinventing the wheel or anything, especially with the number of acts that parallels can be drawn from, but there’s always time for a band like Loose Tooth, especially when what they’re delivering is as visceral and ruthlessly sneering as this. This could be a new post-hardcore favourite in a couple of years’ time, so don’t sleep on them.
Mozes And The Firstborn – If I
Mozes And The Firstborn’s upcoming album is called Dadcore, presumably as a tongue-in-cheek nod to how rock music tends to be viewed today. That could definitely be a clever approach to take, but to get to there, you would hope the band could pull off something different than sounding like the very thing they’re trying to lampoon. Compared to where modern rock is at – even the scuzzy, post-punk-flecked indie-rock that this band are trying to inhabit – If I feels so sluggish and half-hearted, with the ability to build up that droning, fuzzed-out atmosphere down, but with nothing to complement it. Melle Dielesen’s sleepy shoegaze delivery falls into a holding pattern incredibly quickly, and while the lyrics circling on regrets are fine enough, it never feels as though it builds as a whole piece, just swaying away in its own stagnation. It’s not precisely awful and some people will like it, but when there are so many bands like this making far better music, Mozes And The Firstborn simply end up treading water.
Para Alta – Turn The Lights Out
A band like Para Alta feels more necessary than ever in the indie scene. Where bands like The Hunna are earning megabucks through shamelessly aping pop-rock tropes and pandering towards whoever’s gullible enough to believe they’re really being spoken to, there’s clearly heart and passion in Para Alta’s sound, and Turn The Lights Out is a perfect example of that. The guitars are gentle and languid but still with some breezy propulsion, and while the hazy production could definitely be dialled back a tiny bit, the atmosphere of the waning days of summer that’s so effortlessly conveyed here is excellent. And with lyrics touching on a failing relationship contrasting with the beauty of nature around it, there’s wistfulness without ever feeling too melancholic, and that’s a tougher balance to hit than many realise. At the end of the day, this sort of indie-rock is essentially locked in its compartment of how far it can cross over, but if Para Alta want to at least try, they’re definitely capable of going on to much better things. They can certainly surpass so many of their peers in quality, at least.
Two Year Break – Change My Mind
To some extent, it feels like a lost cause criticising pop-rock for being unoriginal. At the end of the day, not everyone can be a Panic! At The Disco or a Fall Out Boy pushing the genre beyond its pre-established boundaries (maybe too far in one of those cases…), and simply being able to pen some good, sticky hooks should be enough to get by. And sure, that’s an argument that can be made, but given how much the dead horse of upbeat, radio-friendly Britrock has been utterly beaten, it can be faintly exasperating to see a band like Two Year Break pulling the exact same tricks as the scores who’ve come before them. Beyond that, Change My Mind is definitely catchy in its snappy guitar work and generally well-produced demeanour, but between yet another set of lyrics about a bad relationship and Bradley Howard with a lack of individual personality that doesn’t match his clear affability and poise as a vocalist, it’s not a track that’s easy to remember amid all the ones that have come before and will inevitably come after. Having said that, this is far from the worst of them, but if Two Year Break really want to stand out as a vibrant new pop-rock prospect, they’re not making a very convincing case at the minute.
Misty Eyed – Attila
While opening for Hollywood Undead and Trapt mightn’t be the most illustrious badge of quality a new band can bear, the fact that Misty Eyed are getting themselves on the ladder is impressive regardless, particularly when hard rock doesn’t seem to be getting less saturated any time soon. And while that’s definitely a cause for praise, it’s a bit disheartening that new single Attila isn’t all that great. Sure, the stomp and crunchy low end feel suitably powerful for this type of girl-power anthem, but when it feels like there’s nothing but a low end, that quickly turns to stodginess with nothing to lift it up from that. It doesn’t help that the overall rumble can get a bit too one-dimensional in a hurry, and even though Megan Burke’s vocals have presence, they’re not exactly going to blow anyone away, especially when there’s so little to work with elsewhere. It feels like there’s the seed of an idea here overall, and that it’s been fashioned into a pretty solid framework, but Misty Eyed won’t get far on that; they really need to finish their sound off before they get anywhere close to that.
Words by Luke Nuttall