Weezer – Can’t Knock The Hustle
Even from titling their new single Can’t Knock The Hustle, you can tell that Weezer are trying to divert as much attention as possible from the fact they’re once again in their downswing, and that the clear waning of post-White Album material should be ignored on the grounds of their “hustle”. In reality, though, that’s really not good enough; Pacific Daydream wasn’t awful at all, but the fact it’s been pretty much blasted out of the public conciousness in its entirely should be enough evidence that Weezer’s move to the synthetic pop-rock of their Crush Management peers has not been beneficial whatsoever. To their credit, Can’t Knock The Hustle is at least better, utilising more of a disco groove with pronounced bass and horns for something that has at least a bit more strut to it, even if the incredibly stiff drums and repeated cries of “Hasta luego” get very old very fast. As for Rivers Cuomo, he’s on the same level of autopilot as with much of Weezer’s material lately, but the soulful backing vocals and general bounce of the track can redeem a lot and make for a track that’s nowhere close to Weezer’s best, but for the rabbit hole they’ve plummeted down in recent times, this is probably the best anyone could’ve hoped for. It’s not fantastic, but The Black Album looks to be moving in a more promising direction, and with Weezer in 2018, it’s best to take whatever you can get.
Sleep On It – Disconnected
In terms of pop-rock and pop-punk last year, Sleep On It arguably made on of the biggest splashes with their debut full-length Overexposed, simply by showing a bit more restraint and fluidity in their emo-tinged melodies, and with vocalist Zech Pluister being one of the most distinct and expressive new vocalists the scene had seen in a while. It’s strange, then, to see a new tracking coming so soon, especially when that album could still have a lot of mileage in it yet (though given how quickly the media hype around them seems to have dried up, it makes more sense than it initially seems). It’s not like Disconnected is really up there with their best though, with a nice lyrical conceit about being there for a partner who’d previously gone ignored paired with a similarly nice instrumental. And “nice” really is the operative word, as this isn’t really all that memorable beyond the initial hit, especially compared to the best moments from their debut. Pluister’s vocals still have a richness and a smoothness that stops them from totally hitting the skids by a wide margin, but with a lack of real punch in a chorus that falls flatter than it should, and spacious, sepia-toned guitar work that’s fine but is nothing that Real Friends weren’t doing about two years ago, it feels as though Sleep On It are trying to directly assimilate into the more locked-in emo scene with varying degrees of success. None of that is to say this anything close to terrible, but when past material has had so much more personality and heartfelt intensity, Disconnected feels a tad off by comparison.
Culture Abuse – Police On My Back
The original Police On My Back, recorded in the ‘60s by The Equals and popularised by The Clash over a decade later, is one of the political songs of the era that holds up even today, rallying against discrimination and the power that corrupt governments and law officials have over everyday citizens. It’s about as punk in sentiment as they come, and that feels to have been translated into the execution in Culture Abuse’s cover. For one, Zac Carper of FIDLAR gives an extra sense of ragged, manic desperation in his contributions, and with the raucous instrumental work that you can really tell was recorded live, there’s an off-the-cuff scrappiness that benefits a song like this. It’s just a shame the extended interlude for weedy guitar picking and percussive segments dubbed over police sirens totally butchers the momentum, and while it works thematically, it doesn’t need to be here, especially in a version that’s designed to accentuate the punk in a track like this. It leads to a song that would be significantly better without it, to be honest, but even then, there’s an affability and a quirkiness to Culture Abuse that means they’re able to keep it at least somewhat compelling. It’s not perfect then, but this is a solid cover all the same.
The Prodigy ft. Ho99o9 – Fight Fire With Fire
On paper, a collaboration between The Prodigy and Ho99o9 seems absolutely foolproof. Both have infiltrated the rock world from largely adjacent genres, and while the lack of songwriting nous is a common theme, the bloody-minded energy both bring is enough to compensate. As such, it goes without saying that Fight Fire With Fire is probably the best track from No Tourists so far, crushing together terse electronics and corrupted guitars for a truly hellish, industrial soundscape, but also one that, with the heavy percussion interwoven in a very prominent central riff, has a tremendous sense of groove that’s not typically associated with The Prodigy. It also helps that Ho99o9 feel totally in their element here, and though their lyrical contributions are little more than the fiery, destructive nihilism that you’d expect from a track involving these two acts, it has real punch to it, and this more electronic-heavy backing fares the guttural rapping supremely well. Even if it’s extremely simplistic (something that can be said about most of The Prodigy’s songs), the culmination of these two acts leads to a track that knows how to use that well, and really, the results speak for themselves.
Sleep Token – The Way That You Were
It’s impressive that Sleep Token have been getting as much buzz as they have, especially when their debut EP was such a weird, obtuse piece of progressive rock that, alongside the general look and lore behind it, wasn’t exactly primed for mainstream consumption. But maybe it was the cover of OutKast’s Hey Ya! that put them further on the map but Sleep Token are generally primed for bigger things now, and on The Way That You Were, it’s probably the most conclusive piece of evidence yet for why. This is definitely a more of a streamlined effort, running much shorter than their previous work and playing with pop framework and a vocal warble that wouldn’t feel out of place on an early 2010s Britrock band. It honestly feels schmaltzy and over-emotional in a way that’s not flattering, and with the watery, delayed organ as the solitary instrumental framework, it really struggles to hit the emotional beats that would benefit a song like this. In terms of atmosphere and how well-arranged the harmonies are, there could’ve potentially been some form of drama if taken in a weirder, more progressive direction, but The Way That You Were isn’t the sort of song that benefits what Sleep Token are going for, and that’s really a shame for a band who need to tighten up their approach at the best of times.
Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers – The Airplane Song
For as much as Laura Jane Grace has intended Bought To Rot to be her album to revel in the classic hedonistic pleasures of the rockstar lifestyle, that doesn’t seem to have come through in the material released so far, rather a slight step away from her work in Against Me! without straying to far from the source. Indeed, The Airplane Song is yet another example of that in its story of confused, rocky love packed to the brim with quick-witted and vivid imagery, but given that Grace has proven herself time and time again as in the very top tier of musicians working today, more of the same is hardly a bad thing. The differences are noticeable though, now adopting the rollicking heartland rock ‘n’ roll of The Gaslight Anthem with the gleaming warmth and familiarity that’s become so endearing about that band. And with the rough-hewn attitude and characteristic sneer that’s long been Grace’s calling card, The Airplane Song is another watertight piece of evidence for side-projects not having to be one-and-dones with little substance or effort behind them. Great stuff.
itoldyouiwouldeatyou – Young American
There’s a very real case to be made for itoldyouiwouldeatyou being one of the most important upcoming bands around. Not only are they among those aiming to cleanse a side of emo that’s seen its inclusive image tarnished over and over again, but they’re doing it in such a defiantly outspoken and rock-solid manner that’s seen their upcoming debut Oh Dearism elevated to great heights in terms of anticipation. And Young American marks another greatly justified reason for why that’s the case, the sort of delicate, intricate track that itoldyouiwouldeatyou have built their name on thus far, but this time, packed with even more pathos and harsh reality that really does hit hard, even for those that mightn’t have experienced this sort of pain or lack of acceptance directly. Joey Ashworth clearly isn’t one to mince words either, given how poignant an opening lyric like “I was better when I was a baby / I only cried when I was tired or hungry” is, and holding on to that deeply personal and numbing throughline until the closing refrain of “Kids hurt themselves by accident / So when I hurt myself, it’s not an accident”. Honestly, there’s so much more to really dig into, but even without that, Young American is an absolutely fantastic track and the sort of clear evidence for itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s status of cult heroes being a case of when, not if.
The Struts – Fire (Part 1)
With The Struts’ new album out in only a couple of weeks, it would appear they’re making their best effort to curry as much last-minute favour as possible; apart from the version of Body Talks with Kesha, none of their previous singles have really impressed, and that’s not a good sign this close to release date. Thankfully, Fire (Part 1) is at least a bit better, but that’s really only for complete adherence to glam and hard rock tropes that are an easy sell to a large audience simply because they’ve been done so often. It’s not as if you can’t feel that either with the glossy production and the millennial whoops to capture so vestige of indie flair, as if The Struts are trying to appropriate the general aesthetic into a much more palatable sound (what a shocker…). At least Luke Spiller can actually sell the heated, youthful hedonism when pushed right to his upper range in a way that has some barbed personality, but lyrics as undercooked as this, where fire is the played-out central metaphor for running wild and free, makes any potential for being gripping all that more fleeting. Compared to what The Struts have put out elsewhere, this certainly isn’t too bad, but it’s still nothing worth revisiting, or anything that can turn this particular fire into more than a light simmer.
Reel Big Fish – You Can’t Have All Of Me
There’s a reason that almost all the praise given to Reel Big Fish is for their live shows. There’s only so much you can do as a ska-punk band, and with that being well and truly exhausted over the past two decades, they’re really only treading water at this point. At least Aaron Barrett is still a strong vocalist with clear, assertive tones, but everything else around it leaves You Can’t Have All Of Me as indicative of a band desperately clutching at straws with regards to where to go next. The bouncy horns and guitars could have been lifted from innumerable amounts of other tracks – both from themselves and other bands – and the lyrical conceit of getting away from modern life is the sort of half-joking content that’s frequently been Reel Big Fish’s bread and butter, and it’s really starting to get stale at this point. Ultimately, this is Reel Big Fish doing exactly what they’ve been doing for years, and regardless if you’re a fan or not, you’ve got to admit that it’s a formula that’s run its course now.
Yonaka – Own Worst Enemy
There’s every chance that, in a few months time, Yonaka are going to be a seriously big deal. Opening for Bring Me The Horizon on their European tour next year is a serious achievement in its own right, but they’ve actually been able to back it up musically too, particularly with All Fired Up still being one of the standout indie tracks of the year. They don’t look to be slowing down either, as Own Worst Enemy continues on with the line of slightly grittier, slightly rougher indie-rock that still has an enormous sense of scope, with Theresa Jarvis’ formidable vocal presence skulking through the crashing, deliberate drums and bassline for a song that’s fully prepared for the arenas they’ll soon be residing in. It’s perhaps not their most immediate song in its more mid-paced nature, but it’s the sort of indie-rock marching to its own beat that easy to get behind all the same.
Cloud Nothings – So Right So Clean
As messy and ill-conceived as Cloud Nothings’ Leave Him Now was, it at least set a precedence where any further material really had nowhere to go but up, unless their upcoming album is to be a complete disaster from front to back. Thankfully, So Right So Clean is definitely better, but its failings are still symptomatic of the band’s desire to take their indie-rock in more off-kilter directions that don’t suit them whatsoever. As such, the noise-rock passage on the bridge comes out of nowhere and feels incredibly jarring against the slithering, measured passages of the rest of track, which actually have a decent amount of supple groove that can support Dylan Baldi’s less-refined vocals. It’s enough to show that, if they tighten up their approach without having to fully sell their weirder, more creative streak short, Cloud Nothings can show some real promise and come out with solid indie-rock. It doesn’t feel like that’s fully sunk in yet, but at least they’re getting there.
Chapter And Verse – Ink
It must be difficult for bands like Chapter And Verse to keep pushing on, held within scenes that seem to be in stasis and having a decent amount of exposure that rarely seems to yield significant results. It’s a shame too, because Ink is definitely as promising as this highly-polished brand of Britrock gets in 2018, largely thanks to a more expressive, fluid vocal performance from Josh Carter, alongside shimmering, swaying guitars and surprisingly detailed drums that seldom explode as you’d expect, but curdle and build in the background for a more tense, but satisfying listen. Even the lyrics, touching on self-improvement to the point of obsession, feel rooted in ground that’s a lot more real with significant depth, and it hits a high point in terms of emotionality that so regularly feels forced or insincere in this scene, but not here. It definitely subverts most preconceived expectations, and that’s definitely a good thing, because there’s a lot to be appreciated and enjoyed here.
Haken – Puzzle Box
For as much as Haken have become a real force in progressive rock, it feels as though it’s been done in the same way as Dream Theater have – they put out that many releases of such enormous, implacable scale that people just accept they’re there for the long haul. It seems even more evident when they rarely ever change things up, and Puzzle Box is honestly no different, as an impressive composition with perhaps a fragment or two of an actual song buried in there somewhere. Clattering prog guitars sit either side of an ethereal mid-section peppered with skittering bleeps, and while there’s something of a hook that comes through as a more straightforward portion of song, it’s pretty fleeting when the amount of padding around it is pretty much suffocating. But that’s been Haken’s shtick for ages now, and seeing that they’ve gotten this far from it, they’re hardly going to give up now, are they? Fans will probably love it all the same, and everyone else will continue to be baffled as to what the appeal actually is.
Rival Bones – Hot Blooded
It’s not totally unreasonable to slightly despair at the idea of Rival Bones. After all, this is another rock duo reliant of sheer power from minimalism in a time when there are so many others doing the exact same thing; hell, this isn’t even a cover of the Foreigner of the same name to bump those expectations up even a tiny bit. Thankfully though, on the spectrum of duos, Rival Bones are more Haggard Cat than Slaves, focusing on a more primal, groove-centric take on garage-rock and James Whitehouse’s guttural unkempt vocals. As such, the riff-work has a thick coat of grime and gristle over it for what’s at the very least the illusion of heaviness, but it does work overall, even if that only comes on the basis of sheer power. Still, this is solid stuff; how long it’ll last in the grand scheme of things is another matter entirely, but it’s a more attractive prospect than that “power-duo” template tends to churn out, and that’s something.
Scarlxrd – PARANXID.
At least with the Scarlxrd songs in the last couple of weeks, they’ve been at either end of bell-curve of quality so there’s something more to say about them. With PARANXID. though, once again we’re back to abject mediocrity with few defining features to surpass the majority of the songs Scarlxrd has churned out over the past couple of months. The deep, oscillating synth at least gives some creepy atmosphere that’s good, but the sluggish pace and plodding crack of the beat do nothing to complement it, and once again, the scream-rapping about very little of any substance or interest is just as tedious as it has been for weeks now. At the end of the day though, it’s just another Scarlxrd track, with little of interest to differentiate it from others he’s dropped, and will likely be yet another cut to sink into quagmire of overexposure he’s currently drowning in.
All Ears Avow – Skin & Bones
Releasing their next EP in December is going to do no favours for All Ears Avow at all. Sure, they’re pretty much guaranteed some kind of spotlight at a time when no one else is putting anything out, but releases that late in the year rarely tend to do well, and that’s a risk a new band can’t afford to take. It’s a shame that’s the case too, as Skin & Bones has a lot of potential as a pretty straightforward, groove-driven alt-rock song that’s not breaking the mould but gets by on sheer infectiousness enough to work. There’s a great sense of sharpness and propulsion in the guitars and drums that has some real sass and swagger, and Claire Sutton’s powerhouse vocals and lyrics about being comfortable in your own skin only round out the package as something with a lot of potential real widespread appeal. Pretty much the only thing stopping that is their unfortunate EP release date, but hopefully they can preserve any momentum and fully let loose in the new year. They definitely deserve it.
Ravenface – Breathe Again
It’s somewhat surprising to learn that Ravenface are gearing up to release their third album, considering the splash they’ve made in the wider metal community has been pretty minimal. But with it being five years since releasing their last lot of material, they’ve definitely earned some respect for waiting it out that long, and now with a revamped lineup, Breathe Again is actually a fairly decent track to build upon. The tech-metal influence is definitely there in the complexity of the rhythms and drum work that’s genuinely refreshing to see, but this is a pretty straightforward hard rock track at its core, with an effortlessly charismatic vocal performance from James Denton that flows by with the assuredness of a band well aware of what they’re ready to deliver. Hopefully they do just that as well, because Ravenface have a lot to offer going off this evidence.
Bitch Hawk – Optional Character Recognition
With every new track that Bitch Hawk release, it gets clearer and clearer that they’re the replacement for Kvelertak that we really need. The fate of that band is so far up in the air at this point it’s difficult to see if it’s ever going to come down, and with a firmer grasp on how to fuse hardcore and black metal than the last Kvelertak album had, there’s a very real possibility that Bitch Hawk could become cult favourites before long. Optional Character Recognition is another great example of that too, as the blackened, fiery guitars seethe with such incredible rage and power, and Fred Burman’s shrieks feel completely unhinged, but not so much that they feel messy. Indeed, Bitch Hawk have a remarkable tightness here that really hits all the necessary beats to make a track like this work so well. It’s just on the cusp of greatness at the minute, territory that, if they keep it up, their upcoming second album could easily push them into.
The Raven Age – Betrayal Of The Mind
As easy as it is to rag on bands like The Raven Age for being so deeply rooted in old, unfashionable styles, to the point where it never feels like they’re going anywhere, it’s good to see them attempt to do some good with this track, donating the first month’s proceedings of this single’s sale to The Blurt Foundation to raise awareness and help those with depression. Good intentions aside though, Betrayal Of The Mind is still the same basic, meat-and-potatoes heavy metal that The Raven Age continuously cling onto. Sure, new vocalist Matt James has a lot of power and melodic chops, but when that’s paired with a mid-paced metal background that could’ve been ripped wholesale from hundreds of other bands, and by-the-book lyricism detailing struggles with mental health that’s lacking the necessary detail to be compelling, it just feels like a track made up of half-measures that’s unfortunately no different than what The Raven Age have become known for. The cause is admirable, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Atlas : Empire – Hostess
For as stringent as the expectations behind the phrase “Scottish alt-rock trio” are, Atlas : Empire clearly aren’t comfortable with falling in line with Biffy Clyro, The Xcerts, et al. They’ve got much grander ambitions up their sleeves, and thus their upcoming album The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet investigates humanity’s reliance on technology through the medium of expansive, progressive alt-rock. Hostess feels like the idea preview for that as well, allowing the atmospheric production to bleed out without skimping on the angular crunch of the guitars and Steven Gillies’ howling, tense vocals. It’s very Black Peaks-esque in its execution, having that progressive meat at the centre and allowing a very stark, deeply resonant brand of alt-rock form around it. It’s pretty great in all honesty, working with sounds that could possibly benefit from being a bit more accessible, but fully make up for it in presence and ambition. For anyone still down about Arcane Roots bowing out, Atlas : Empire could just be the next best thing.
Shrezzers – E.M.O.J.I.Q.U.E.E.N
Even just in concept alone, everything about Shrezzers screams “flash in the pan”. They’re formed from ex-members of Betraying The Martyrs for one (that band that no one would remember if they hadn’t have covered Let It Go from Frozen), and as a pop-influenced metalcore band named after a porn website and whose primary source of lyrical inspiration is social media, it’s not exactly looking great from the off. And while the actual final product is not the We Butter The Bread With Butter-style travesty it could well have been, E.M.O.J.I.Q.U.E.E.N is still nothing to write home about. Once again, it’s another track trying to fill the gap left by issues, and while Mark Mironov’s smoother vocals and the clean production aren’t too bad, getting Jared Dines of all people for a by-the-numbers screamed section feels like shoehorned in name recognition rather than any organic creative decision, and the saxophone solo to end off feels completely out of the blue. Coupled with lyrics about a relationship on Instagram going wrong when the pair eventually meet, it’s about as anachronistically buried in 2018 as possible, and is guaranteed to not age well down line. The fact that this isn’t a complete disaster is something of a saving grace, but it’s not much of one and it doesn’t stand Shrezzers in good stead to do much down the line.
7he 7ouch – Knobs
By titling their newest track Knobs, it’s immediately going to get some eyes set on 7he 7ouch, if only to see what they’re actually playing at and why they’ve possibly done this. It’s not like the track itself does anything to explain that though, as another middle-of-the-road rock track from this band that certainly has the arena-rock power they’ve always strived for, but can’t hit the scope to match. And yes, most of this is down to vocalist Constantine, putting in what might be his most drained and personality-bereft performance to date as he wheezes over the Foo Fighters-esque instrumental that deserves a lot better. That on its own is fine, with the sweeping guitars and decent amount of crunch that never feels too inaccessible, but like with much of 7he 7ouch’s output to date, the lack of anything truly remarkable in the base formula is its inevitable downfall, and this is no different. For a very simple rock track, it’s fine, but a song like this really does demand more that simply isn’t here.
The Bad Dreamers – Reach You
The thing that made The Bad Dreamers’ California Winter so appealing was how it expanded the more traditional indie-pop formula, proceeded to wash it out with shimmering synths and used that enormous sense of restraint to its advantage. It was a borderline great move to make, one you’d hope that they’d capitalise on and use more. That’s unfortunately not the case with Reach You though, and while the basic framework of misty synth lines and atmosphere remain, the jingling, incredibly nagging hits over the chorus singlehandedly switch it from ethereal to cumbersome, and David Schuler sounds far weaker when going for both a quicker, almost spoken word style, and a particularly shrill falsetto. The yearning lyrics are fine enough among all of that, but if there was ever a topic that could use that sighing sense of space and sunset-dappled atmosphere, it would be this, and that’s not something that ever happens here.
MOHIT – Racek
With the general presence of mysticism and mystery that surrounds MOHIT (the trio apparently settled on their current course after meeting a mystical man of the same name), it leads the way for music that embodies those same sort of vibes. That’s definitely what Racek seems to be like, fusing silky-smooth ambience with more subdued, almost psychedelic melodies for a track that definitely manages to stay engaging, and being inspired by legends of the ocean, there’s a similar eerie calm that bleeds through, particularly in the repetitive, droning vocals buried in the mix that feel purposefully ambiguous. In terms of composition, it’s difficult to fault, and while as an actual song some might see it as the complete opposite, MOHIT are working with post-rock in a way that benefits it by keeping the spacious presentation and mystique intact. It’s a pretty enrapturing listen, all things considered, and there’s definite intrigue to hear more.
Words by Luke Nuttall