The Menzingers – The Freaks
It’s going to be one serious mountain for The Menzingers to climb if they’re looking to surpass, or even live up to After The Party. That album so perfectly encapsulated everything wonderful about this sort of heartfelt, Americana-inspired punk, brimming with soul and lyrical diamonds that saw a band already in the upper echelons of that scene rocket right to the top. As such, The Freaks has a lot to live up to, and while it’s not quite up to their best, this feels like the next natural step for The Menzingers to take. Where that album reminisced about youth before circling back to a band whose wild years are now behind them, this sees them moving forward, settling down and making things right with loved ones in a way that’s so quintessentially characteristic punks growing up. It also makes sense with regards to the instrumentation itself, with measured, grungy guitars forming the basis of the melody and chugging along in a way that’s not entirely sedate, but is moving into that college-rock zone that definitely feels like a logical next step. And again, it feels a bit too low-key to be considered a true torch-passing in the wake of their last album, but The Menzingers are continuing to make great music on their own terms without forcing anything that wouldn’t work, and that’s worthy of huge respect.
Gerard Way – Baby You’re A Haunted House
Given that this is Gerard Way’s first piece of new music in two years, you’d expect it to feel like a bigger occasion. After all, he still holds plenty of clout within the rock world, even away from My Chemical Romance (something that says a lot considering how widely forgotten Hesitant Alien has been), so to see this new song being little more than a tie-in for Halloween feels a bit odd, almost as if Way is deliberately playing his pull down. Of course, there’s always the other explanation that he knows he’s playing right into the hands of those who haven’t moved on from The Black Parade, and so he’s sent all of those expectations crashing down with a scuzzy garage-rock number that owes more to classic pop structuring that anything close to goth or emo. And really, this is where Way really excels at this moment in time, channeling a raggedness that MCR’s hyper-focused nature never allowed him to embrace, and here, with naked, nasal vocals against a deliberately lo-fi setup feels like a comfortable fit, even if the lyrics are a bit too quick to embrace the spooky imagery that he might have been better off avoiding. Still, this is good stuff, and if any future music does come from this, sticking in this lane might be a worthwhile prospect going forward.
While She Sleeps – Anti-Social
It’s honestly a bit of a surprise that While She Sleeps are already releasing new music, particularly when the definitive edition of You Are We, effectively rounding that cycle off, was only released a couple of months ago. Still, it’s hardly a cause for complaint; While She Sleeps have established themselves as one of the most vital British metal bands around, doing everything in a totally grassroots fashion and receiving enormous adulation for it (even if their commercial success could be better). And the thing that perhaps makes that even better is that they’ve never caved to modern trends, and even while Anti-Social does feel like a cleaner, more widescreen take on the band’s usual sound, there’s nothing lost from it. The grinding, roaring guitar work is still at its rampaging best, and there’s a particularly strong case of rolling momentum in the drums that sets the track off with some building pace that never feels forced or stilted. And of course, Loz Taylor and Mat Welsh are still a formidable vocal team, taking shots at those who see change as a buzzword to bolster their own public appearance rather than actually something that needs to happen. Alongside the typically enormous execution – something which this band have only gotten better over time at executing – Ant-Social is another fantastic track from a band who still don’t get the recognition they deserve. Still, it’s better to be late than never, and when So What? is released in March, we can only pray that finally happens.
Architects – Modern Misery
It’s frankly amazing how well Architects operate, yet how simple their formula for doing so is. Sonically, very little has changed over their last few albums, but each passing release has only gotten bigger and more passionate, to the point where this cutting, brutally honest tech-metalcore band will be headlining arenas on their next tour. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving band, and Modern Misery is exactly the sort of track that justifies their position wholeheartedly. The enormous waves of synths and strings wrap around crushing, hard-edged riffs and drum work, to the point where this is definitively in Architects’ wheelhouse, but it does sound that tiny bit more palatable for a wider audience. Of course, Architects would be the first to dispute any claims of “selling out” (their well-publicised thoughts on The Here And Now make that perfectly clear), which is why the writing continues down Holy Hell’s route of brutal, almost painful honesty, accentuated by a vocal performance that pushes Sam Carter to his absolute upper limits. So sure, this is a rather standard track for Architects, but when their individual definition of standard is so, so much higher than basically everyone else’s, it’s hard to see that as a negative. As what is likely the final track to be released before Holy Hell comes out, it’s yet another hint that this upcoming album could be something pretty special indeed.
AFI – Get Dark
Given the ambivalent-to-negative reception The Blood Album received, it’s hardly surprising that AFI have moved completely away from that. It’s nothing to hold against them – plenty of bands undertake experiments that ultimately don’t work and airy gothic rock was theirs – but it’s telling that AFI’s next release is an EP in December, almost as if they’re cutting their losses and playing it as safely as possible. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that it works, especially when Get Dark is perhaps their most immediate, propulsive track in years. It’s great to see that they’ve brought back the surging post-hardcore that’s been so dearly missed from their sound, and with Davey Havok back bringing back the flamboyance and theatricality, it makes for a great little track that condenses everything wonderful about AFI’s heyday, gives it a fresh coat of paint and makes it ready for 2018. It’ll be interesting to see whether the rest of the EP follows suit, but this has certainly whet the appetite more than a lot of their recent material has.
Can’t Swim – Sometimes You Meet The Right People At The Wrong Times
It’s a rarity to come across a track where Can’t Swim are unable to prove themselves as a great band, seeing has they’ve already established themselves as one of the most capable bands in modern emo and post-hardcore and are only looking to wider their reach even further. And once again with Sometimes You Meet The Right People At The Wrong Time, that reputation is proving just as unshakable as ever. There’s a tension and gnawing frustration in Chris LoPorto’s vocal delivery as a reminisces on a particularly stinging breakup in a way that he can make feel so grounded and gripping without having to resort to mawkish dramatics. It’s exactly the same instrumentally too, with the grinding guitar and bass work having some grime-coated momentum that packs in some real rawness, especially with a production style that refuses to sand anything back and let the rawness linger. It’s just another great song overall, and more evidence that Can’t Swim’s upcoming new album should be what sets them on the path to absolutely colossal things.
Deaf Havana – Narcissus
A fitting description for Narcissus would be the Cassiopeia of the Rituals cycle, the standalone moment where Deaf Havana channel a sense of reality and lyrical dexterity that makes for a great companion piece. But this one is definitely different; where its predecessor came off the back of a genuinely fantastic album and only made it better, Rituals did disappoint, and so this feels as convincing of a piece of damage control as possible. The driving guitars are back and have some great interplay with this era’s foundational synth bounce, while James Veck-Gilodi’s self-critical lyrics return with the sort of depth and cutting pathos that’s expected of him at this point. It’s still a bit too polished at points (an issue that afflicted Rituals as a whole, albeit even more than it does here), but this really does feel like a crowning moment within this album’s cycle, certainly not up to the standard of their best but good enough to work its magic just how it needs to.
Capsize – Blind
For all the hype around new Capsize music (and in certain circles, there’s a lot), they’re yet to do anything to leave a lasting impact beyond some decent post-hardcore. They certainly aren’t terrible, and while they’ve had moments in the past that suggest the possibility of something great, it tends to not materialise. And unfortunately, Blind doesn’t seem much different, especially it falls into a very clean, synth-driven brand of post-hardcore that feels like Capsize cutting themselves short. After all, one of their strongest suits has been the ability to capture genuine emotion in the lyrics and Daniel Wand’s vocals, and while the writing has enough weight to get by, there’s a distinct weakness in the delivery, especially when blanketed by waves of synths and bluster that really does dull the impact. It’s fine enough compared to some of the less reputable acts in that scene, but Capsize can definitely do better than this without having to unnecessarily tailor their sound.
Glamour Of The Kill – Fire Fight
Of all the bands expected to make a resurgence in 2018, Glamour Of The Kill was not one of them. Their brand of glam-metalcore enjoyed a brief moment of hype in the early 2010s, only to fizzle out entirely when they failed to do anything interesting with it, and after a three year hiatus, it doesn’t look like a whole lot has changed. The Bullet For My Valentine influence is pretty blatant, from the double-time drums that swamp out any guitar work, to the general cleanliness and arena-baiting size of the production, to Davey Richmond trying his best to sound like Matt Tuck, both in vocal timbre and weak lyricism. At least there’s a decent guitar solo to bring back some of that glam flair, and it feels a damn sight more natural than what Bullet For My Valentine have put out recently, but after such a lengthy time that includes three years to regroup and retool their sound, the fact that Glamour Of The Kill are yet to adopt a sound of their own is pretty disappointing, and while this isn’t necessarily awful, it’s going to take more than an okay pastiche to keep hold of attention.
Mumford & Sons – If I Say
Look, no one relies on Mumford & Sons for any sort of thrills; even their fans can probably agree that they’re hardly an exciting musical prospect, and that’s kind of become the accepted norm at this point. But even then, there’s no excuse for being outright boring, territory that If I Say meanders into without a second thought. It’s not like this was unworkable either with the nicely poised strings and what could have been some crashing percussion to lead into a much bigger climax, but everything feels so softened down and held back, never alike to really soar or swell. Granted, it does get better towards the end with a much more muscular strings section that really does prevent this track from being incompetent (if it wasn’t there, all that’d be left is a buzzy guitar line and Marcus Mumford’s emotionless simper), but this is the definition of radio filler if there ever was such a thing. It’s not as if expectations for Delta were sky-high anyway, but this and Guiding Light are making it pretty clear this isn’t going to go well.
Will Haven – Brain Damage / Eclipse
The praise that Will Haven have been getting for their most recent album is definitely encouraging, and while it’s not their best work, to see such an influential and unique band get their dues after so long is always good to see. As such, this cover of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage (complete with Eclipse as something of an outro) is something of a victory lap before their upcoming European tour, taking something of a deeper cut than what many listeners would be used to and attempting to put a Will Have-esque twist on it. The operative word there is “attempting” as, while this is undoubtedly a well-arranged and faithful cover, for the most part, it can feel like simply a note-for-note rendition, perhaps a bit too much in Grady Avenell’s emulation of Roger Waters’ English accent. When it does come into its own though, with the crashing post-metal guitars feeling so much more elegant and poised against the bed of gauzy strings, it makes for some genuinely beautiful moments that Will Haven are able to command effortlessly. It’s definitely enough to overshadow any flaws and make this a pretty great cover in its own right.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Bleed Magic
If I Don’t Know How But They Found Me was fronted by anyone other than Dalton Weekes, would anyone really care? It’s quite frankly amazing what ties to Panic! At The Disco can do, especially when they’ve rarely proven to be more capable than any other alt-pop band who’d simply get brushed aside when their window of hype had closed. And if any of their tracks to date has been the most emphatic at proving that, it’s Bleed Magic, the sort of jerky, awkward track that thrives off its jerkiness and awkwardness, but is never able to make anything all that compelling from them. Even with the curt beats and filters on Weekes’ vocals, it’s not even that distinct, and rather falls into alt-pop tropes so easily that it’s difficult to know what the appeal actually is, with only the warping synthetic coda as the only piece of real defining presence. That’s barely even part of the song though, and what we get overall is a faceless pop-rock track that’s not beyond saving, but never does enough to convince anyone that it’s worth it.
Meat Wave – That’s Alright
Anyone who’s heard Meat Wave in the past doesn’t need to be told that they’re not for everyone; this sort of jammed-in noise-rock and post-punk has its fans that’ll eat this stuff up, but the obtuseness can be a bit much. As such, it’s a least a decent move to streamline things a bit more for this track, but Meat Wave for the most part are still preaching to the converted here. The unceasing bass sprints that really change or evolve feel very post-punk (a feeling that’s definitely accentuated by the swirling, almost shoegaze-inspired guitars), and with Chris Stutter’s very curt vocal performance buried in the mix to the level it is, it’s borderline impenetrable in almost every aspect, and that does limit the enjoyability for the most part. It won’t for some, sure, but the divide that Meat Wave have always caused isn’t getting any narrower here, and it’s probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
John Nolan – Over Before It Begins
For the first time in what may be ever, it actually feels like there’s some considerable hype around a John Nolan solo album. His role in Taking Back Sunday aside, there’s been such a distinct sound to previously released tracks, to the point where forging a career beyond “band guy does solo stuff” looks to be a genuine reality. Over Before It Begins doesn’t seem to suggest that anything is changing either, as the surging indie-rock framework (while impressive on its own) is augmented with strings and piercing synth lines in a way that sounds genuinely enormous, all leading to a crescendo that sees the emotion gush out with power that’s utterly magnificent. The sense of triumph is telling too, not only in what is perhaps Nolan’s most immediate track to date, but a pop-leaning pivot with enough of a rock edge to shift some serious units is no small feat. It’s a great track in almost every aspect, putting Nolan to the fore in a way that really hasn’t been seen before, but is accomplished excellently.
Esben And The Witch – Golden Purifier
It’s always been difficult to know where to place Esben And The Witch within the musical landscape. Sonically, the logical touchstones are bands like Warpaint with a similarly dreary, drained shoegaze sound, but the fact they tend to be accepted more in stoner-rock and doom scenes would suggest a much darker band. Indeed, a song like Golden Purifier goes a good way to solidifying that claim; after all, it’s quite literally about a giant bird that rids the world of disease and pestilence. And yet, that’s probably the most interesting thing about it, as a very minimalist guitar ring and atmospheric ripples of synth constitute the barebones instrumental that doesn’t have a lot to say or do beyond forging that atmosphere. Sure, Rachel Davies’ presence as a more liquid, ethereal vocalist does fit for an overall package that’ll be haunting enough to rope some in, but overall, there’s not a lot here to outwardly enjoy, especially for newcomers. Fans will probably be happy, but other than that, it’s hard to say much else.
The Wild Things – Better Off Alone
With The Wild Things’ debut album due in just under a month, it makes sense that yet another track is dropping to drum up as much excitement as possible, especially when the previous two have done decent to good jobs at that overall. With Better Off Alone though, it’s more of a chance for Sydney Rae White to show off her vocal chops and emotional range above anything, set to solemn acoustic guitars and flecks of harmonica as she laments on a lost relationship with someone who always wanted someone else. It’s definitely basic, but all of The Wild Things’ music has been, and they’re still able to capture a wistful timelessness here that may be a bit saccharine for some, but captures a heartfelt core that really works for what they’re trying to achieve. Again, they’re yet to really wow in any particular area, but solid elements in aggregate can do the job just as well, and that seems to be exactly what they’re going for here.
Lizzy Farrall – Make Up Sex
It wouldn’t be a surprise if most people forgot Lizzy Farrall’s All I Said Was Never Heard, not because it was bad but because it was released right at the start of January where releases tend to get left behind regardless of quality. At any rate, it was a pretty good slice of pop-rock that highlighted a potentially promising artist if she could suitably build on it, and thankfully, Make Up Sex looks to have done just that. It’s still extremely accessible in its presentation with the the broad indie guitars and accents of synth having a familiar warmth to them, and Farrall’s cracking vocals betraying the underlying emotion to great effect. And, as is usually the case with singer-songwriters in scenes like this, the lyrics shine the most, highlighting Farrall’s dismay at staying in a toxic relationship and being coerced back time and time again through sex. It’s unsurprisingly a very human sentiment, and one that Farrall’s lack of artifice really helps sell well. If there’s more like this to come, it’ll very interesting to see where Farrall ends up next.
Oxygen Thief – Lost In The Post
Oxygen Thief’s previous couple of singles have blown all expectations out of the water in terms of the sound this band are capable of producing, and while it’s been said multiple times now, the fact they’ve gone from an acoustic solo project to one of the most faithful recreations of mid-2000s post-hardcore that we have is pretty surprising, but in the best way possible. That’s a train of thought that carries on with Lost In The Post, a track that mightn’t be as indebted to full-blown metal as Uncommon People was, but with a thick, meaty riff as its backbone (not to mention a pretty good breakdown towards the back end) and Barry Dolan’s ever-witty, ever-biting lyrics, it’s another of the best tracks Reuben never recorded, owning that post-hardcore sound and bringing it headlong into 2018 without missing a beat. There’s genuine greatness here that could easily be exceptional when explored further.
Crooked Teeth – You And Me (Whatever)
With a bit more time and seasoning, Crooked Teeth could have something interesting and genuinely all of their own. While Waterparks may have taken electro-pop-rock to hiterto unseen heights, to have Crooked Teeth veering it into darker directions is a concept which, on paper, could have a lot of mileage. And like their previous songs, You And Me (Whatever) highlights that in snippets, with the rest being indicative of a new band who seem a bit unsure of what they’re doing at this point. The sour guitars and Tyler Evans’ curdling snarl on the chorus sound great in a more rugged, serious vein, but having all of that drop out entirely on the verses for stock pop beats with no depth or imagination feels like a serious waste of talent that could definitely be appropriated in more effective ways. Even the lyrics touching on a harsh breakup have a bit more raw reality to them, but Crooked Teeth still need to work out how to make the most of their approach. They’ve got good ideas, but the execution still needs some work.
Emigrate ft. Ben Kowalewicz – 1234
With new Rammstein music finally looking to be getting closer, it seems a bit strange to learn that Richard Z. Kruspe has a new Emigrate album on the way too. Of course, Emigrate has always been fairly strange in concept, appearing as little more than an opportunity for Kruspe to flex his hard rock muscles and show off the breadth of people in his contacts, but it’s not as though there haven’t been some decent songs along the way. 1234 follows a similar path to that, this time with Billy Talent frontman Ben Kowalewicz lending his pipes alongside Kruspe’s for another decently bouncy yet kind of throwaway track. The stiffer, more staccato guitar work definitely suits Kowalewicz’s vocal style, and he and Kruspe have some decent interplay, but neither the flat production nor the lyrics really wow, and the whole thing feels like a case of energy without a lot of substance behind it. Still, for a quick shot of decent hard rock, 1234 fits the bill, even if it doesn’t last all that long.
Barbarian Hermit – Black Mass
Barbarian Hermit’s material up to now hasn’t exactly been brimming with originality, but in terms of solid, entertaining sludge-metal that knows how to use its crushing weight to its advantage, there’s been little to really gripe about. The same is pretty much true of Black Mass too, starting off with delicate guitar chimes before exploding into the dirty, belly-dragging riffs that are pretty much customary for this band at this point. That might make it sound like the lack of originality is starting to take its toll, but that’s really a moot point, especially when they have such tremendous presence. The slow, methodical grind building into greater groove-metal chugs feels almost perfectly realised, and even if it could afford to be cut down by a minute or two for that punch to hit even harder, it’s another great example of the power of a band who need more attention than they’re currently getting.
Selfish Things – Flood
Even if Selfish Things’ Vertical Love EP earlier this year wasn’t particularly impressive, it wasn’t enough to totally write them off yet; the execution might have needed some work, but there was at least a few decent kernels of emo-pop ideas there. That’s just as true for new single Flood, though it doesn’t seem that the band have attempting to isolate and improve on them. It’s just as messy as last time, pairing bigger, rumbling guitars with starkly synthetic backgrounds and Alex Biro’s vocals which remain just as much of an acquired taste as ever. Sure, it’s nice to see them engaging with some more widespread subject matter and tackling bigger issues, but even that feels lacking in spark or colour to make a real mark. As it is, Selfish Things are still hanging on to the basics of what can make a band decent, and it’s the lack of greater building that’s holding them back from doing anything more.
Lotus Eater – The Fear
It’s easy to listen to Lotus Eater and initially peg them as another band riding the nu-metalcore bandwagon and hanging on the coattails of Cane Hill’s success though. With The Fear though, they prove they might just be the real deal; the grisly, grinding riffs of their Louisiana counterparts are present and accounted for, but there’s such an enhanced sense of claustrophobia that lends these Glaswegians a more enclosed, tense atmosphere, something that the pummeling breakdown and Jamie McLees’ harsh, dark vocals only intensify. For a track that’s basically reliant on how imposing Lotus Eater can come across, the industrial grit that coats the entire track feels totally realised, and there’s a genuine sense of menace that’s often missing from music like this. It’s more than enough to warrant a listen, and it’s even more intriguing to ponder how Lotus Eater can expand on this, because it’s pretty great.
The Yacht Club – Heigham Park
When done right, math-rock can really be the source of intense emotionality and vulnerability, but when stretched to its most obtuse extreme like far too many bands do, the ability to make use of that emotion totally vanishes. Thankfully The Yacht Club are not one of those bands, with Heigham Park being a great demonstration of doing this right, keeping the guitar lines gentle but noticeably complex and Marcus Gooda’s vocals as delicate and yearningly damaged as possible. It certainly works in the context of a tribute to a friend who took his own life, with the title coming from an old after-school hangout, and when relayed with such clear, straightforward imagery, there’s a lot of weight that balances out against the lightness of the track itself. It’s a beautifully crafted track, lacking a bit of punch but making up for it in almost every other way possible.
Telethon – Modern Abrasive
As tired as the indie-punk label has become, it can largely be seen as more of a catch-all term nowadays, encompassing everything that’s a bit too off-centre for indie-pop yet not hard-hitting enough for punk. That doesn’t sound like a gleaming endorsement on its own, but a band like Telethon really do encompass everything great about that wider definition, with a frontman inspired by Randy Newman and a sound directly reminiscent of 2000s power-pop like Harvey Danger or Fountains Of Wayne. And Modern Abrasive really does capture that sparkle and glory that so many indie-punk bands seem to lack, with a wide-eyed rambunctiousness in the twinkling keys and Kevin Tulley’s brazenly theatrical vocal performance that never attempts to hide the little flashes of awkward charm that are pretty much par for the course in this scene. Really, it feels like the breath of fresh air that indie-punk has been gasping for for a long time now, and it’s hard to think of how it could’ve been achieved in a better way.
This Life – Hello Youth
It’s not uncommon for new bands especially to draw on the rock scenes of the early 2000s for inspiration, especially given how many doors bands like Hundred Reasons and Funeral For A Friend opened with regards to how far post-hardcore could go. And while with so many bands strive on sounding like they were plucked straight from that time, This Life take a more contemporary approach, almost like the Britrock of the late-2000s before its over-commercialisation. As such, Hello Youth manages to tick every box needed to make a successful track in that vein – there’s a formidable sense of swell and anthemic grandeur; William Ellis has enough yearning, emotion-stricken warmth in his vocals; and lyrics surrounding the importance of changing and growing relationships have the earnestness that so much of this sound has been characterised by. It might feel a bit too rote in how it so unfailingly brings these factors in (not exactly helped by the fact that this is the band’s debut single), but in terms of simple size and big-hearted melodies, This Life have planted themselves in some solid foundations nice and early. Hopefully they can now build on this for something even better.
Neon Saturdays – Gravity
To be honest, Neon Saturdays haven’t really impressed up to now, mostly because their brand of indie-pop has lacked any real individuality to set them apart from others who’ve pretty much faded away at this point. Unfortunately Gravity isn’t doing much to rectify that either; it doesn’t help that it’s as unassuming as it is, buoyed by gentle sunken guitar lines and drippy synth notes that has a decent shuffle to it, but really does feel middle-of-the-road in the least appealing way possible. At least there’s some nice depth to the production that doesn’t usually come with tracks as polished as this, and Andris Evelis is decently expressive as a lead vocalist, but there’s nothing that really leaps out about a track like this, and it just simmers away with little payoff. It’s not terrible and there’ll definitely be an audience for it, but it’s hard to see why the majority of people would come back to this when there’s so much better indie-pop out there.
Crevassian – Firmament
Post-rock is a difficult genre to break into at the best of times, but when it’s totally reliant of the weight and wonder of instrumentation without any vocals, it can be exceedingly hard for new bands to – as it were – find their voice within the genre. That’s probably going to be the biggest stumbling block in Crevassian’s way, and given how their admitted influences of Cloudkicker and This Will Destroy You can be felt all over Firmament, they’re not exactly distancing themselves at a great rate thus far. That’s not to say that this track is bad though; the deeper thrum adds an air of menace that a lot of post-rock seems all too happy to avoid, while the piercing high end and generally airy production expands that scope for a pretty great soundscape that’s already as clear and open-ended as a lot of the best work in this genre. Even if they’re yet to fully break away from those who inspired them, there’s a decent amount of talent present in Crevassian, and with more time and material, they’ll hopefully be able to establish something more for themselves.
Words by Luke Nuttall