ONE OK ROCK – Stand Out Fit In

With a lot of J-rock bands, the enormous success they experience in their home country can be a bit disorienting for western listeners who mightn’t be used to that sort of music getting hugely popular; with ONE OK ROCK, they’ve become so adept at playing the pop-rock game that being anything other than gigantic unit-shifters would seem wrong. That’s not exactly a compliment either, especially when they’ve defaulted to the modern brand of pop-rock prioritising populism over anything remotely creative or synthesised with rock. That’s exactly the case with Stand Out Fit In, a song which, from the title alone, can easily be placed into the box of pseudo-inspirational pablum that can never reach a level of emotional strength to sound authentic. Take Moriuchi is hardly a great vocalist anyway, but his watery-eyed warbling here feels way too disingenuous and overwrought for a song like this, and backed by a watery alt-pop instrumental that can barely nestle into a decent groove or drive, it’s a song which, overall, just seems to float by in its own little world with less than zero regard for what it’s actually achieving. That’s not exactly uncommon for ONE OK ROCK, mind, but they’ve at least done it better than this in the past.

Weezer – Zombie Bastards

It was nice while it lasted, wasn’t it? It was nice to have one Weezer song that could actually inspire a shred of hope that The Black Album wouldn’t be a complete farce, but if Can’t Knock The Hustle was the bait that’s only gotten more enticing over time, Zombie Bastards is one hell of a switch, that’s for sure. For one, it’s a return to the stiffness of Pacific Daydream in the blocks of bass and electronic percussions that swamp out a mix that just about has room for slippery, tinny guitars and tiny, squealing horns. It sounds pretty awful in all honesty, not helped by Rivers Cuomo completely phoning in his vocals and tailoring the writing to directly correlate with the image of the wacky, random goofball that he’s cultivated for himself lately. It’s genuinely exhausting, not only to get through a track like this that has no idea what it’s doing, but just to keep up with Weezer and their erratic shifts into territory that they have no business being in. It’s not as if this is a guaranteed representation of what their upcoming album will be like – this is Weezer after all – but the sinking feeling of this being the norm is hard to shake away.

Taking Back Sunday – All Ready To Go

It’s weird to think that Taking Back Sunday have been around for almost twenty years, but as their appropriately-titled career retrospective Twenty would attest, it’s something to celebrate. With the two new tracks featuring on that compilation though, that could easily be an indication as to where they’re heading next, and with All Ready To Go, it seems to be continuing down the punkier influences of Tidal Wave but rounding the edges for something a bit more traditional. That’s not a bad thing – there’s a good sense of pace to this track, and Adam Lazzara has really grown into a great vocalist but taking up this ragged rock ‘n’ roll mantle – but its status as an add-on does feel apparant, especially when there’s not a whole lot that stand out about it. In terms of the customary new tracks these sorts of compilations offer, there have been far worse than this, but with the wealth of great material within Taking Back Sunday’s back catalogue, All Ready To Go to feel a bit predictable and closing in on sounds that they’ve done much better before. Still, the diehards for whom this collection is ultimately for with undoubtedly love it, and Taking Back Sunday still refusing to slow down is definitely a good sign for future material moving forward.

Set It Off – Lonely Dance

There’s a wriggling emotion that Set It Off should just be consigned to the history books now and polite society can move on with their lives. After all, the people who didn’t think that Upside Down was an utter disaster were the considerable minority (and weren’t even all that vocal about it), and considering this band had previously been responsible for some of the shiniest, most infectious pop-rock around, to see them move to flavourless, sanitised-even-by-their-standards pop was not something that was easy to get behind. But now there’s a new album on the horizon, and to their credit, they at least appear to be going in the right direction again. Lonely Dance is definitely a bit more muscular with the dark, whirring synths that underscore horns that blare at every turn, but even then, it still feels like a truncated version of a brand of theatricality they’re so much better at. Coupled with lyrics that play up the outcast stereotype yet again and the fact that Cody Carson sounds shockingly workmanlike in his delivery as opposed to a previously great trade-off between exalted and playfully mischievous, and Lonely Dance feels in some respects like a knee-jerk reaction, doubling down on fan wants with little actual impetus from the band themselves. It might go down well, sure, but without the heart that used to be there in spades, what’s actually left?

Holding Absence – Like A Shadow

For a band who are still without a proper release to their name, Holding Absence have made some serious waves, to their point where they’ve already got a sizable, dedicated fanbase and swelling hype regarding when they’re actually going to get something out in the world. Sure, their split EP with Loathe earlier this year was fine, but what people really want is for Holding Absence to prove what makes them special on their own, and Like A Shadow looks to be taking them there by some distance. It’s pretty immediate as to why as well, taking a fairly overused post-hardcore formula and pushing it as far as it can go, giving some blaring, atmospheric drive to Lucas Woodland’s already impassioned hook, and a sense of darkness and face-clawing intensity that puts this so far beyond run-of-the-mill Britrock it’s not even funny. It’s a pretty great track across the board, and if it’s any indication for what Holding Absence’s upcoming material will be like, 2019 is going to be theirs for the taking.

King 810 – Braveheart

It’s been established with both of their albums that King 810’s music works a lot better in a wider context, but even so, what’s been released thus far from Suicide King hasn’t impressed a lot. Heartbeats was okay, but in playing to the baseline of their sound above anything else, it not only felt like a predictable single choice, but a noticeably lesser one, especially when playing up the biggest preconceptions about the band. It’s not like Braveheart is much different either, though with David Gunn returning to a more natural, spoken growl into screams that are less questionable than the put-on voices of their previous single, it’s at least a return to their roots that can be appreciated. But even then, it’s right to the tips of said roots, tossing about the same imagery and brutish posturing that’s been their calling card since inception, and while it’s easy to hope that a full album will do more with them than one song, the hints aren’t really there. Coupled with a typically big, ball-swinging series of nu-metal crashes, it’s about as quintessentially King 810 as it gets, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing is purely down to preference.

Thy Art Is Murder – Death Perception

It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve heard anything from Thy Art Is Murder, and even then, that saw their last album Dear Desolation vastly overshadowed by the general rigmarole surrounding vocalist CJ McMahon’s sabbatical from the band. In some ways though, we roughly know what to expect going forward; for as often as Thy Art Is Murder are pegged among the best of modern deathcore, the limitations of the genre can take hold of anyone, and nowhere is it more true than with a track like Death Perception, which definitely isn’t bad as far as heavy-as-hell mosh fodder goes (far more appealing than a lot of deathcore, anyway), but considering the number of beats that are audibly being hit and the lack of a real expansion on the band’s pre-existing sound, it feels more like a stopgap than anything to get truly excited about. Even then, there’s a distinct lack of imagination that Thy Art Is Murder could easily bring to the table that just isn’t properly utilised here, and though it doesn’t do any major damage to the bigger picture, it would be nice to see something a bit different for a change.

Millencolin – SOS

Ah Millencolin, the Swedish punks who just never seem to go away and have kept releasing great material in their twenty-six years of being a band. They’re hardly musical savants, nor have they ever been, but there’s also something so refreshing about hearing a band lose none of their speed or bite even as they continue to get older. It never sounds phoned in either, perhaps the greatest strength of SOS, as the band play to their usual template – fast-paced, sharp-edged skate-punk with a slightly colder, darker edge than their stateside counterparts – but it continues to sound fresh and exciting, not hindered in the slightest by how clear and expressive Nikola Sarcevic’s vocals are. It’s definitely what’s expected from Millencolin at this point, but even their more recent material has continued to set the bar high for what to expect, and SOS doesn’t look to be any different.

Blood Red Shoes – Howl

At this point, Blood Red Shoes have done very little to foster the opinion that they’re a worthwhile presence in modern garage-rock, largely down to playing to their own sounds that are either remarkably tired or have been done better by others many times over. With Howl though, there seems to be a bit more a shift in focus; the buzzing, scuzzy guitars remain as the driving force, but synths play a much more prominent role now, almost feeling like a more organic version of Sleigh Bells in its abrasive minimalism. It’s a remarkably good fit for them, and the sweeter, more ethereal vocals from Laura-Mary Carter hit a point of quality that synthesises effortlessly with the instrumentation here. It’s probably the furthest that Blood Red Shoes have pushed the boat out in a long time, and while it’s hardly some kind of prog opus, to hear them adopting new sounds and hitting the ground running with them at least instills some more faith for what’s to come.

InVisions – Good For Nothing

There’s a certain bout of knee-jerk trepidation that comes upon the revelation that InVisions are a metalcore band signed to Stay Sick Records, the label headed up by Attila frontman Chris Fronzak, for little other reason than, given that the man is hardly a purveyor of good taste when it comes to metalcore, his further forays into the genre could easily be just as questionable. Thankfully InVisions are much more standard, though whether that’s much better is still up for debate. As far as Good For Nothing goes, it’s definitely alright with enough crushing heft in Ben Ville’s surprisingly diverse set of screams to get by, plus the touches of strings for something bigger and more grandiose, but take those away and it’s yet another metalcore track limited by the genre’s pandemic lack of imagination. InVisions are definitely stepping it up against a lot of the competition through sheer firepower, but that can only go so far, and maybe a different approach is needed to really make the most of what they’re doing.

Exist Immortal – Satellites

Unlike bands such as Architects or Periphery who’ve managed to break out of tech-metal and stake their claim for being great metal bands period, Exist Immortal have always threatened to do the same but never delivered on it. Part of that could be to do with how relatively quiet they’ve been lately, because as far as music goes, it’s always been a mystery why they’ve never had more attention outside of dedicated tech-metal circles (or for that matter, even within those circles). With Satellites then, it feels like Exist Immortal have pegged it to be their big breakout single, particularly in how expansive and streamlined it is, though without losing some of the technicality and hard edges that made them stand out in the first place. If there’s something to nitpick, it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as some of their earlier material, but this could easily be what sees this band arrive on the bigger stages they’ve been eying up for some time, both in how it’s executed and how good it is.

SPQR – Slowly

If SPQR didn’t impress as much as they could on the first time round, it’s not worth giving up just yet. Bands like this tend to take a while to grow and ferment into something better, and math-rock as intricate and off-piste as theirs, that’s more likely to be the case than not. Case in point – Slowly, a track that’s no more streamlined than what they’ve previously offered, but with the jolting, tapping guitars and inimitable vocals from Peter Harrison, it feels a good deal more complete compared to a skeletal first offering that showed potential but not much more. Here, that potential feels a lot more realised, and with an infectious alt-rock melody at its core that wastes no time in worming its way in, Slowly is a colossal next step for a band who’ve always had more to offer. There’s still a bit more work that can be done – it’d be remiss not to mention that it can feel a bit too bitty for its own good at points – but SPQR are much closer to greatness than ever before.

Silverbacks – Just In The Band

With a band like Silverbacks who’ve openly been compared to so much of the New York indie-rock scene from the 2000s, as well as being produced by Daniel Fox, bassist for fellow Irish post-punks Girl Band, it’s not too difficult to place them into a musical camp. Indeed, with the sharp, cutting guitars and impressively nimble basslines, the sonic DNA between them and an act like The Strokes can be fairly easy to trace. And while Silverbacks mightn’t be as good as that band at their best, Just In The Band is fairly solid in its own right, morphing the indie-rock framework into something a bit more off-kilter as they take aim at the idolising of musicians who are really just ordinary people. It’s pretty simple overall, but there’s a good deal of flair and wriggling gloom to make this connect quite strongly, and though it’s not a tremendous feat by any means, Silverbacks could easily find a place for themselves to thrive if they carry on like this.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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