Cane Hill – Kill The Sun
Okay, be honest – who actually expected this? Not only that Cane Hill would be releasing new much so soon after Too Far Gone, but that it would be a primarily acoustic-driven album further examining some of the twisted machinations of Elijah Witt’s mind. It’s definitely the sort of curveball that’s not totally out of the question for a band who’ve relished in bending nu-metal to their own will, but it definitely feels like the sort of thing that Cane Hill would pull out if this was their traditional lane. Stiff, tapping beats aside, this is the sort of low-slung track that’s become customary for them, dealing with Witt’s own perceptions of self-worth or lack thereoff, feeling all the more ominous by the deepened strings and building, swelling electric guitars. Unlike a lot of Cane Hill’s music, atmosphere is key here, wallowing in muggy darkness and depression without breaking into a more standard metal gallop, with Witt’s thin, frail vocal performance serving as even more of a reminder of how different this upcoming release is going to be, but how predictably compelling as well.
Gerard Way – Getting Down The Germs
This was unexpected. Baby You’re A Haunted House in itself was a bit of a surprise given how long it had been since Gerard Way had released anything, but at least that was teased; Getting Down The Germs on the other hand comes as a total shock, even more so with the revelation that it was co-written with his former My Chemical Romance bandmate Ray Toro. Given the sound of it though, and Toro’s clear penchant for classic sounds bordering on soft-rock, that makes a lot of sense, especially when there’s a hefty hint of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil here, in the ramshackle guitar struts and the earthier percussion style that, in itself, has a great deal of character. That’s not to say this isn’t its own entity though, because it certainly is, and one that might even be more likable than the previous single; the low-key shuffle paired with Way’s toned-down rasp works excellently, and the weaving flute lines throughout give a sense of instability that’s not quite tipping into mania, but gives the impression of a track that’s more unhinged than it’s letting on. Basically, it’s the sort of track you’d expect from Gerard Way at this point, and the fact that it’s so immediately enjoyable and infectious just makes it so much better.
Bad Religion – My Sanity
It’s good to see that Bad Religion are back on the right track again. The Profane Rights Of Man mightn’t have been up there with their very best (though for a band with a catalogue as storied as theirs, that’s not too much of a problem), but it showed that, while so many punk veterans are comfortable with watering their sound down, that wasn’t going to fly here. My Sanity arrives to a similar effect, namely as a track that’s not all that astounding, but in showing how sprightly and fiery Bad Religion can still be, it’s tough to fault. For one, the reliance on pace is a huge selling point, leaning on the classic punk sentiments that this band made their name with, but with sharper guitars and an incredible clarity in Greg Gaffin’s voice for that more contemporary pivot. Even the lyrics feel very typical of a Bad Religion song, bringing in some typically barbed social commentary but with a sweetness and snappiness in the execution that’s incredibly easy to swallow. Overall, it’s just another solid track, more proof that if Bad Religion can keep going this way with their upcoming album, they wont be consigned to the annals of time just yet.
Emarosa – Givin’ Up
As much as the debate has proceeded over time about where Emarosa fall in the rock world – whether that’s in the post-hardcore lane that their association with Jonny Craig would imply or something closer to the modern alt-pop scene – they’ve managed to withstand all of it, not having enormous widespread success but doing fine enough for themselves. With Givin’ Up though, this is definitely a pivot towards material that’s far easier to swallow for a wider populace, mainstream or otherwise, but it’s also given Emarosa what’s perhaps their most immediate and infectious single to date. Bradley Walden remains the silky-smooth vocalist that’s always been a selling point for him, but now paired with a bigger, beefier mix that takes the groundwork laid by acts like The 1975 (saxophones and all) and gives it so much more punch with enormous drums and a rambunctious energy that really works for them. It might be a bit shallow pretty much across the board, but there’s no denying how well Emarosa have slipped into this guise, and if this is how they’re looking to continue, they could really get the chance to impress soon.
Papa Roach – Not The Only One
At this point, Papa Roach aren’t really a band about surprises, but given that they’ve remained consistently solid throughout the years in a hard rock mould that should’ve been stale at least a decade ago, they’ve kind of earned it. But that can also mean that when they do try something new, it can backfire fairly sizably, and Not The Only One is a prime example of that, slotting lightweight pop-rock guitars with downtuned riffs positively wheezing under their own weight and a pitch-shifted vocal sample that feels totally out of place with anything here. It’s genuinely incomprehensible and not the sort of straightforward but impactful banger that Papa Roach have done in the past, presumably serving as an attempt to branch out to something more but not entirely realising what they actually want to hit. It’s definitely the worst track to come from their upcoming album so far, and given that neither of the other two were all that great, that may be cause for concern.
New Years Day – Skeletons
Now that New Years Day are an established force within rock (check the rather liberal use of the word “force” there), there’s a few expectations with regards to what they’re capable of at this point, and to be perfectly honest, they’re not exactly high. Sure, there’s the style-over-substance goth aesthetic that’s seen Ash Costello thrust as a more marketable product than the band themselves, but paired with the basic, scene-tinged nu-metal that their sound tends to devolve into, and it’s little surprise that their look has attracted the most praise. Skeletons is really just more of the same too, bulked up with Costello’s impressive vocal performance and a sizable hook, but a lyrical bent that once again hones in on plastic goth motifs over anything with substance, and production that tries to sound heavy but ends up as far too polished never really synthesise into much of worth. It’s certainly not offensively bad, but it suffers from the problem that so much of New Years Day’s work has, namely that it falls into such a middling dead zone that it’s not worth any sort of strong opinion either way. Branching out clearly isn’t a priority here, and while the fans will like it, you have to wonder how much mileage New Years Day can get out of doing this whole thing yet again.
Within Temptation ft. Anders Fridén – Raise Your Banner
Like Evanescence before them, Within Temptation look to have shaken off the restraints of symphonic metal to become just a streamlined, mainstream metal band, and to be fair, they’ve been perfectly fine at it. Even if Hydra did push them a bit beyond their boundaries, it was a distinct move that definitely stood out for them, in no small part down to the boosts from collaborations with Howard Jones and Xzibit that’s undoubtedly formed the basis for any future single choices. Therefore, the second track from Resist is another collaboration, this time with In Flames’ frontman Anders Fridén, and while it’s a bit closer to Within Temptation’s typical wheelhouse, that seems to be what lets it down the most. As a song itself, it certainly isn’t bad – Sharon den Adel continues to have one of the most powerful and refined vocals in metal, and the size of this track alone speaks volumes as to the sort of venues this band are eying up at the moment – but it feels very standard and safe, particularly when Fridén’s only contributions are backing vocals and the occasional burst of screams that never amount to a whole lot. It just feels very in their lane, and while that’s not bad, Within Temptation have frequently proven in the past that can really go for broke with this sort of thing, and Raise Your Banner isn’t an example of that at all.
Daisyhead – Making Me Feel Safe
While Daisyhead haven’t made a huge splash in emo up to now, the importance of their presence can’t be understated, particularly now with their team-up with Hope For The Day, a non-profit organisation designed to raise awareness and educate about mental health and suicide prevention. As such, Making Me Feel Safe holds a level of weight and deep emotion that only feels right when paired with such a cause, as Michael Roe bears all regarding his own feelings of weakness and emptiness, and the eventual realisation that there’s help and safety all around him. Alongside the gentle swathes of guitar that place Daisyhead’s usual shoegaze touches at just the right moments, there’s genuine power in a song like this, both in its sensitivity and the sheer scope of the execution. What’s more, as a message that comes from the heart and that Daisyhead convey with such intensity and honesty, they absolutely nail it.
Lovebites – Rising
The recent rise of Lovebites has been particularly impressive, especially when power-metal as a genre is hardly in vogue at the moment, and – particularly for western ears – Japanese music in its native language can be notoriously difficult to get into. Still, they’ve been exercising a prolificness that’s taken them a good distance, and with a new album ready to go in January, Rising shows a band looking to continue making those same waves. It’s not as if they’re progressing much – the overblown scope and faultless technical prowess of power-metal, and indeed, previous Lovebites releases, remains untouched – but their trend of refining their sound with each release seems to be continuing here, and even if the six-minute runtime feels a bit excessive, there’s enough in the way of guitar pyrotechnics and triumphant vocal moments to keep it suitably afloat. Even if they’re not breaking new ground, Lovebites are making fine steps forward, and it’s hard to deny them of that.
Halflives – Fugitive
There’s a definitive way to do the more synthetic-leaning end of pop-rock well, namely by keeping some form of rock edge – or at the very least, darkness – in the mix to balance out how poppy the rest will sound; it’s the difference between a band like Pvris who succeed, and Against The Current who don’t. As for Italy’s Halflives, they’re more successful than not, and on Fugitive, they show why that is. There’s enough of a surging rock core inflated to enormous sizes that balances some very slick, clearly electronic production and Linda Battilani’s belting. It’s nothing new, but there’s a level of balance here that so many are unable to grasp, and it’s what makes Halflives so successful in this lane, topped off by depth in the writing that, thanks to a delivery that feels distinctly natural with few mawkish trappings to speak of, can show a higher level of sincerity well. It’s a good song, maybe nothing more than that, but one that leaves enough room open for Halflives to get there in time.
Angel Du$t – Big Ass Love / Take Away The Pain
It’s a bit surprising to see new Angel Du$t this year, particularly seeing how much success Turnstile have rightly gotten with Time & Space. It’s not necessarily a bad thing either – their more pop-punk-oriented slant has always been a nice enough pallet cleanser away from their members’ day jobs in Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice – but it also brings up the question, with the success that both of those bands are having, do we necessarily need new Angel Du$t music? Even going off these two tracks, it’s hard to come to a conclusive answer; they’re certainly solid, but when there are musicians among their ranks who’ve been stepping up to the plate for some of the best hardcore of the year, that mightn’t be enough. It’s nice to have a more melodic focus that feels spaced out and unique for each individual track – Big Ass Love with its rough, impassioned acoustic guitar bashes and Take Away The Pain with its quieter shuffle and passages of squealing saxophone – but it can also feel a bit perfunctory, almost like a side-project riding off the coattails of its much more successful descendants. There’s no reason to begrudge these tracks’ existences either, but at the end of the day, for something from this particular group of musicians, Angel Du$t is hardly going to be the first choice.
All Ears Avow – All Your Pieces
While it wasn’t the most subversive or transgressive alt-rock track ever, Skin & Bones showed All Ears Avow branching out more than ever before, going for bigger and catchier while keeping grounded, and enormously succeeded at doing so. Compared to All Your Pieces though, that could easily be seen as a band testing the waters; here, razor-sharp guitars strut forward in a way that brings their funk and R&B influences to the fore, but keeps a heavier, more stable alt-rock side in a way that really works for them. As well as Claire Sutton’s formidable vocal presence and lyrics that fully mirror the strength of surging forward to get what you want shown in the execution, All Ears Avow are carving out an interesting niche for themselves in a genre that’s recently become anything but. Particularly going into the new year, there could be a lot of reasons to keep an eye on this lot.
Elasea – I Can’t Sleep
Right from the off, you can tell that Elasea are going to have a rough ride going ahead. From the big, explosive opening directly reminiscent of many a Mallory Knox track and vocals that rarely even attempt to hide their Mike Duce-ness, they’re drawing from a source that’s been diminishing at an alarming rate lately. They’re definitely doing it better than so many of the chancers looking for a quick flash of the spotlight, particularly leveraging the fact that a good chorus in this genre can do a lot, but I Can’t Sleep makes itself really hard to like more than it is. For anyone who’s still holding on to memories of early 2010s Britrock, there’s a lot to like with Elasea, and indeed, they can offer a bit more depth and substance than you’d typically expect, but the fact that they’re pulling on such an outdated style when the exponentially better alternative is still going strong is a bitter pill to swallow, especially with the indication that, if they could transpose what they’re doing over to something a bit grittier and realer, they’d be so much better.
Louise Distras – Street Revolution
As a solo artist being pushed towards socio-politically charged folk-rock, Louise Distras hardly has a straight run to success. It may be a thinning crop nowadays, but compared to the number of greats that frequently get brought up in conversation, and that Distras herself will inevitably be compared and contrasted with, there’s a lot that needs to go into this to make it great, and Street Revolution really does struggle to hit the mark. Distras herself is a fine enough vocalist in terms of presence and the acoustic-and-handclap setup, while rudimentary, works how it’s supposed to, but when the lyrics default to little more than goading the audience to stand up for the oncoming revolution – missing out any detail or greater imagery – it can feel incredibly hollow. Dylan or Springsteen this most certainly is not, and while Distras definitely has the basics covered, she’s only making an uphill battle even more difficult for herself.
WACO – The Jersey Devil
While WACO mightn’t have had the great success of other Venn Records alumni, they’re definitely moving on the right track. Signing to Standby Records for their upcoming debut album is a good start, and leading off with a track like The Jersey Devil, a track that captures a sense of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery and exuberance better than the majority of bands who have this as their primary intent, they’re bound to be onto a winner. It’s hardly cerebral music, simply hitting all the right buttons of big riffs and a bigger chorus, but the sleazy snarl of the guitar (as well as an absolutely killer solo) and Jak’s unkempt, roughened vocals meshing with a background of erratic shouts cultivate an atmosphere that’s completely irresistible, especially when the band are keeping this composition as lean and fat-free as possible. It all leaves WACO to once again come bursting out of the foxholes with music to fully catch the unaware off guard, and if this single is anything to go by, their next era might just be their best yet.
The Sunday Sadness – Someone
It’s not an exaggeration to say that ‘80s pop is among the biggest driving forces in modern music, so to see The Sunday Sadness list artists who’ve appropriated such a sound most prominently among their influences – from The 1975 to Chase Atlantic to BTS – really gives a fleshed-out outline of what to expect from them. And that’s all well and good, but there needs to be something done with it rather than simply coasting by on aesthetics, and with Someone, that doesn’t feel like the case. In terms of lush, slightly more eerie atmosphere, they’ve got a stable foundation there, and with a vocal showing that’s hardly a powerhouse performance, it largely floats by with little to really solidify itself with. As well as lyrics detailing a particularly bad breakup that never break into any pathos – or really, anything beyond ambivalence – it’s not going to be one that sticks around for long. Given that this is apparently a change in approach, perhaps The Sunday Sadness can come up with better, but as of now, this isn’t doing a lot.
Fontaines D.C. – Too Real / The Cuckoo Is A-Callin’
It’s already becoming something a cliché to compare upcoming post-punk bands to Idles, but with Fontaines D.C.’s recent signing to Partisan Records (not to mention the fact that they’ll actually be touring with Idles in the US next year), the lines pretty much right themselves. Anyway, there are worse bands to compared to, especially when it’s done so as favourably as it is here, given how well these two new tracks capture such a vibrant yet unmistakably dark atmosphere. Too Real is probably the better one with its deep, embedded basslines and Grian Chatten’s thick Dublin accent that offers a boorish energy not unlike Joe Talbot’s, but unique at the same time; The Cuckoo Is A-Callin’ can be a bit too bright in its guitar work and feels like the token indie pivot that bands like this are almost obliged to make, but neither are really that bad. If anything, they’re pushing Fontaines D.C. into richer territory that’s given others in their genre so much leverage, and there’s no reason why the same couldn’t apply here.
YOWL – John The Collector
The fact that YOWL are currently gaining floods of praise from all the regular cool indie channels should come as no surprise after listening to them. Theirs is the sort of effortlessly cool, leather-clad indie-rock / post-punk hybrid that’s never really died down in popularity, and while that should undoubtedly be to their detriment given how many acts have seen it as little more than a get-rich-quick scheme, John The Collector actually bears the hallmarks of a band who care about what they’re doing. The eccentricity in the vocals is definitely a selling point, flipping on a dime from lackadaisical baritones to spasmodic yelps, and backed with a rather conventional but workable guitar tone that keeps as razor-tight as possible. It’s not exactly new within this genre, but YOWL are pushing the sound into a slightly different territory that’s working well, and that’s certainly commendable.
Words by Luke Nuttall