Fever 333 – Burn It
Considering how one-of-a-kind so many saw letlive. to be, it’s both surprising that Fever 333 have done as well as they have up to now, and totally not at the same time. Jason Butler is a visionary – that much can’t be denied – but letlive. felt like such a special prospect in alternative music that it’d be hard to replicate its impact to any degree, and while that hasn’t quite been the case, the fact that Fever 333 has resonated as much as it has is only a good sign. The fact they’re already releasing their debut full-length Strength In Numb333rs in January is just as good too, stretching that reach even further, and with a track like Burn It, there’s really no reason that shouldn’t be the case. Sure, compared to most letlive. songs, or even the wilder, more raucous rap-rock cuts from Made An America, the very straight-laced post-hardcore execution here can feel a bit basic, but with Butler at his incendiary best as both a performer and a lyricist, as well as a grimy electronic pulse that feels like the ideal companion to the surging hard rock riffs, this sort of streamlining in sound is actually able to pull off a lot more than it might seem at first. It’s not that same lightning in a bottle as previous instances, but that hasn’t been lost at all, and it’s all the better for it.
Smashing Pumpkins – Knights Of Malta
In what’s a very unlikely claim to be making in the waning months of 2018, the Smashing Pumpkins’ newest material has actually impressed quite a bit. They seem to finally have shedded the damage that Billy Corgan did in the band’s dark late-period and moved on to something approaching decent alt-rock once again, and that’s something to be commended. Even then though, it’s the sort of move that doesn’t tend to last, especially with older bands like this, and Knights Of Malta feels like the first real instance of that being the case. It’s not that it’s bad – the sweeping strings and gospel choir as the primary instrumental canvas carries the poise and melancholy that it clear wants and that can match Corgan’s frayed whine of a voice – but it also feels a bit loose and saggy to hit any sort of desired effect. Presumably it was trying to be 2018’s version of Tonight, Tonight in the role of a more elegant ballad, but Knights Of Malta can’t quite hit that high watermark and does fall flat as a result. Still, compared to the dross that’s bore the Smashing Pumpkins name recently, this is definitely better, and another step towards the possibility of that new album really surprising in a couple of weeks.
Puppy – World Stands Still
With Puppy’s upcoming album The Goat being one of 2019’s first major releases, they seem to have thankfully clocked on to the fact that they need to sell it well in its run-up. They’ve also been doing a pretty great job at that, too; Entombed has been a favourite ever since it was released on their early EPs, and Black Hole showed a band that had already made incredible strides in such a short time. World Stands Still handily follows suit in that regard, though perhaps to an even better degree, offering a rock-solid consolidation of Puppy’s influence in a way that feels genuinely fluid and fulfilling. The fact that it’s essentially a gothic, gaudy hard rock track above anything else is enough of a winner, but with Jock Norton’s sneering vocals and an ability to capture some enormous power without feeling cumbersome or overwrought, this is another genuinely great track from a band who just seem to be leaping from strength to strength at the minute. Just one more reason to be excited about that debut in a few months’ time.
InMe – For Something To Happen
For as little attention is paid to InMe these days (or really, has ever been paid to them), the level of resilience they’ve consistently displayed is pretty inspiring, weathering two individual Britrock booms and busts to continue releasing new music. That’s not to say it’ll automatically be good though, and while For Something To Happen isn’t necessarily awful, it’s emblematic of a band hitting something of a stagnant period, cutting back a lot of their intensity for reasonably pleasant, listenable music that doesn’t have a lot going for it otherwise. Sure, Dave McPherson remains a great vehicle for sizzling, throaty emotionality, but the millennial whoops and glossy strings and production feel distinctly like a pivot for the middle of the road, and a very heartfelt yet over-egged lyrical sentiment doesn’t help. Overall, it’s easy to see where InMe wanted to take this, but it’s not something that helps their status as Britrock elder statesmen, particularly when it sounds this bland and middle-aged.
Mineral – Aurora
Mineral are one of those bands whose legacy vastly overshadows their actual music. They only ever released two albums before breaking up – one in 1997 and one in 1998 – before reforming in 2014 where their status as emo forefathers was a far more recognised opinion. As such, Aurora marks their first piece of new music in twenty years, an accompanying single to a behind-the-scenes photo book to be released early next year, and for anyone who’s invested in Mineral even slightly, this should come as an absolute treat, eight minutes of post-rock-inspired emo that has all the delicacy and melodic richness of a band ageing as gracefully as possible. Chris Simpson’s vocals careen effortlessly over the jangling, intricate guitar lines which know when to break into more of a gallop when needed, and while there’s not a whole lot of punch or grit to the whole thing, there’s a distinct beauty that fully makes up for it. If anything, that biggest shame is that it’s likely to be only a one-off, because more of this could be something that’s incredibly easy to get behind.
River Becomes Ocean – You Said
It’ll be interesting to see what 2019 will make of River Becomes Ocean as a whole. In some ways, releasing their debut album in mid-January is something of a benefit to them given the lack of real competition for attention at that time, but quality will need to be the main factor for them to win out on the whole. Sure, Liam Cormier was a handy boon for their last single, but You Said doesn’t have that assistance, and it really does falter because of it. For a start, the production is almost unbearably sickly in its omnipresent synth twinkles and sloppy, synthesised percussion (not to mention the egregious vocal manipulation), and with anything even remotely organic clustering together into one unwieldy blur, it’s hard to really like on the whole. The lyrics don’t help either, as the sort of melodramatic, post-breakup simpering that splits the difference between bargain-bin scene-core and outdated, third-wave Britrock, and somehow doesn’t do justice to either. It’s a serious fall from grace that makes the expectations for River Becomes Ocean’s upcoming album severely diminish, and that’s far from being a good thing.
Deer Tick – Strange, Awful Feeling / White City
For an ostensibly recent and underground band, Deer Tick have put in the effort to become the sort of prolific act that always goes down well with a niche audience. They’ve reached a point where they feel it necessary to release a compilation album, after all, with these two tracks being the customary new inclusions to go alongside it. And while it might be a case of this being for the fans above anything else, they don’t do a great deal on their own. Strange, Awful Feeling is perhaps the one that falls into this camp the most, serving as a solid alt-country lament with the warm, rustic production you’d want, but it can meander a bit more than it should and that can leave it a bit hollow in the end. As for White City, a cover of The Pogues’ 1989 track that actually features original Pogues member Spider Stacy on tin whistle, there’s at least a bit more life and energy here, keeping that warm production but turning the heat up for more of a rollick with an intricacy in the guitar that has a lot of personality to it. It’s definitely the better of the two, but even with that qualification, this still feels like a pair of tracks designed for longtime fans above anyone else. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but going into Deer Tick at this juncture can be somewhat of an awkward experience, and it’s tracks like these that show why.
HMLTD – Death Drive
HTMLD’s Hate Music Last Time Delete EP this year has been something of a talking point in underground music this year for how unashamedly garish its take on glam-rock can be, so it only makes sense to follow up the hype and / or build on the controversy as quickly as possible. And yet, even with the madcap insanity of that release, Death Drive is a completely different animal altogether, resting on unsettling peaks and troughs of dropping instrumentals comprising of synths weaving through clattering percussion and sinuous bass, or just absent altogether for Henry Chisholm to deliver a warped but barbed political screed that feels like a stream of consciousness above anything too structured. That’s really the biggest problem here, in how HMLTD have created compelling pieces of a song, but it’s so clumsily stapled together that it’s hard to deduce whether the final product was supposed to be as outside the realms of decent songcraft as it is, or if this is just incompetence taking the fore with little else behind it. Whatever it is, it certainly grabs the attention, and like everything that HMLTD have done to date, that peek from the outside is too tempting to resist.
Mantra – Cola Brat
Probably the biggest thing that’s held back Mantra thus far is a lack of real defining identity to augment a series of strong tracks to make them even better. It’s not necessarily a must, but alt-rock this straight-laced can get a bit formulaic, and it’s something Mantra have needed to address for a while. Thankfully, Cola Brat does a good job of that, moving into territory not too far removed from a grungier take on Oasis that works quite well in its downbeat guitars and Simon Stark’s loose but expressive and powerful vocals, and for what’s described as a “metaphorical breakup song”, the strong sense of melancholy has a lot to like about it. It’s still not perfect in forging that unique path, but Mantra are definitely moving ahead at a good pace, and continuing to build upon this foundation for their upcoming debut could see their name added to an already stacked list of ones to watch.
Beezewax – Closer
Given how few people have actually heard of them, Beezewax have proven to be a rather influential prospect since their formation in the mid ‘90s, seeing a number of indie-pop scenes forged around their brand of hazy, wavy dream-pop that always keeps a keen ear for light at the fore. That’s something that’s a big component of Closer, not only in featuring both The Posies’ Jon Auer and Night Flowers’ Sophia Pettit on backing vocals, but how closely it sticks to a very traditional formula, lovestruck and youthful but high in restraint and sun-dappled sheen. It’s not the most exciting track ever, if only for how watery the guitars can be when they reach their more expansive layers and how low-key and breathy Kenneth Ishak’s vocals can be, but it’s a pretty pleasant, classically-driven track through and through. It won’t be for everyone’s taste, but for an indie gem waiting to be unearthed, you could do worse than Beezewax here.
DAY – Reverie
The name might be pretty bad in all honesty, but it’s not as if newcomers DAY are heading into the wild with nothing going for them. Vocalist Christina Rotondo has become a presence in her own right with her YouTube covers of the scene’s biggest players, and alongside Ali Marshall for some more technical guitar work, there’s a high chance that something good could come from this. And indeed, it does with Reverie, but that’s a statement that needs some slight qualification, namely regarding the sort of overly-sleek, overstuffed production style that could do with some space to breathe or let some greater texture come through. Thankfully though, DAY’s strengths more than make up for their shortcomings, with some impressive detail in the guitars and drums to back Rotondo’s already-impressive belting. It’s reminiscent of a band like Greywind in places, prioritising scope over nuance but having the power to make it work. There’s definitely some more mileage with DAY, even off the back of this one track.
Beach Riot – Good To Know (That I’m Still On Your Mind)
On paper, Beach Riot are following all the steps of an archetypical indie breakthrough – they’ve already had the push from tastemakers within the industry, as well as the airplay and festival slots that will prove an invaluable boon further down the line. This is before they’ve even released their debut EP as well, but as Good To Know (That I’m Still On Your Mind) proves, they should have no problem with that either, because this is pretty solid in its own right. Yes, the jangling guitars and interweaving vocals from Rory O’Connor and Cami Menditeguy are nothing really new in this genre, but there’s a sharpness that avoids being swamped out by the fuzzier production, and the lyrical sentiment of a relationship lingering even after its end has a lot of pathos to it. It takes a lot to really stun in this scene and Beach Riot aren’t at that point just yet, but they’re well on their way to something good and that can be respected all the same.
Lost In Stereo – Gold
For a band who share their name with an All Time Low song, it becomes fairly evident on where Lost In Stereo fall on the musical spectrum. Sure, they’re not quite as polished and have a very quintessentially British raggedness to them, but this is definitively pop-punk, particularly in the modern vein. And that can be dangerous given the genre’s over-saturation, but Gold seems pretty capable at holding its own. It’s not innovative in the slightest, but Lost In Stereo manage to sidestep a lot of the surliness that’s bogged down the UK’s offerings for something much lighter and expansive, focusing on big, lovestruck emotion that still has a bracing quality to it. Coupled with a typically solid hook and decent pace, this ends up being a good little track, even if it can be a bit too easy to trace where its musical DNA comes from. Still, that’s hardly disastrous, and for an early move from a band who are still developing, Gold hits its targets.
Words by Luke Nuttall