La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
For a band as unquestionably niche as La Dispute are, they’ve managed to hit an impressive number of peaks, regardless of what you may think of them. Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair is frequently considered a classic within that branch of late-2000s post-hardcore (plus its status as progenitor of “The Wave” is undeniable), and building a reputation for intensely personal live performances, those who’ve gravitated towards them have certainly found something to adore. And yet, that’s exactly the problem with La Dispute, namely the fact that they’re such an impenetrable band that it can be difficult to differentiate between genius poetry in Jordan Dreyer’s shapeshifting, spoken-word rankings, or just plain pretentiousness. It’s definitely something that can be overcame (see mewithoutYou’s [untitled] from earlier this year), but with Rose Quartz and Fulton Street I, that doesn’t look to be the case. For one, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of merit in releasing the former as a single considering it’s an intro of simple, delicate guitar, and while the latter has the echoing thrum of guitar and the clambering buildup to Dreyer unleashing true catharsis, it’s a quintessentially La Dispute move, especially considering the ambiguous lyrical content that once again opens up the floodgates in terms of out-and-out pretension. It could definitely be worse, but for a band like La Dispute for whom it’s difficult to analyse at the best of times, it’s worth leaving these tracks at the notion that the arrival of the full album will put them in a context that (hopefully) makes them more workable.
Weatherstate – Rotten Lungs
It’s been a while since Weatherstate have done anything really; they released a single last year and the absolutely excellent Dumbstruck EP in 2016, but for a time when punk this gruff and melodically rich could’ve thrived without issue, they’ve been seemingly AWOL all this time. Thankfully that hasn’t been detrimental, especially as far as Rotten Lungs is concerned, not even clocking in a two minutes but packing in the sort of heartfelt, guttural and crucially fun punk that’s always a joy to have around. There’s honestly not much to really fault here – the pace is quick and snappy but never abortively short; the production has all the meat and gristle you’d expect to get such a quintessentially rough-and-ready sound; and Harry Hoskins is still just as lairy and rough in his vocal performance as ever in the best way possible. Even if Weatherstate aren’t breaking the mould, they’re continuing to make punk music that’s tight and precise with no shortage of edge, and that’s always a great thing.
Blood Youth – Keep You Alive
Blood Youth’s journey to making some real waves with their own distinct sound has really coalesced into something great recently, particularly with previous single Starve possibly being their most impressive to date. However, that’s an achievement that may have just been surpassed by Keep You Alive, another leap up the ladder that sees a band embracing a sense of darkness and malevolence that they’re able to control remarkably well. The pivot towards grimy nu-metal guitars and some stark parallels with Korn in the bass work especially definitely helps, while Kaya Tarsus only continues to improve as a frontman, both in writing that digs a bit deeper in its examination of his own mind, and in execution that sees him perfectly comfortable to dip into the sort of low-slung, evil whispers to bring the atmosphere full circle. It’s a remarkably robust track, particularly for a band for whom it was previously impossible to separate from their influences, but time has done a world of good to Blood Youth, and this track is the most concise example yet.
Deaf Havana – Cr33pin
It’s rather astonishing how readily Deaf Havana have been to slough off the idea of releasing further singles from Rituals in favour of new music, especially when that album isn’t even six months old. Still, Narcissus did well at redressing the balance with something a bit sturdier compared to the largely forgettable pop of the last album, but Cr33pin, on the other hand, seems to be moving in the total opposite direction. It’s hard to call this an awful song considering how gifted of a songwriter James Veck-Gilodi is, but with any guitars reduced down to more of a bit part than ever before and replaced with lifeless, lumpen beats that never reach a satisfying build or payoff, the whole thing can feel disappointingly one-note and dull. It’s honestly more of a forgettable listen than an outright terrible one, especially when there’s nothing particularly stark or memorable to latch onto for its duration, but given the wealth of quality that Deaf Havana have in their back catalogue, it’s hard to imagine that fans will be revisiting this one very often.
Chase Atlantic – LIKE A ROCKSTAR
Look, if Chase Atlantic want to keep freeloading in an alternative scene that’s already struggling to find a stable definition for the word, they’re more than welcome, but would it hurt them to put some effort in? LIKE A ROCKSTAR is yet another attempt to capitalise on trap’s ubiquity by copying it wholesale with no defining characteristics or anything to even vaguely allow it to slot into the alternative world, coasting by on blurred-out beats that can occasionally show some pretty production, but with Mitchel Cave’s nasal, ambivalent whining at the front, it all feels like a total front to emulate the theory that not trying is how to be cool. And of course, he only proceeds to augment this by doubling down on the most clichéd, vapid lyrics imaginable, with “dying like a rockstar” being the epitome of overused verbiage to definitively underline how little care or effort has actually gone into this. Granted, that could be said about any of Chase Atlantic’s work, but this feels unforgivably lazy even for them, and sees an already bad band slip further and further downhill.
Mat Kerekes – Ruby
Within the coterie of emo-vocalists-turned-solo-artists, Mat Kerekes already has a fair amount of clout to use to his advantage. His album Luna & The Wild Blue Everything has fared him pretty well back in 2016, but Ruby is the Citizen frontman’s first piece of solo work since then, and seems to be a pretty big diversion from that album, leaving the airy, folk-tinged indie-rock behind for something far more akin to the sharp, groove-driven power-pop of the ‘90s. And in that vein, this is actually some pretty great stuff, relying on simple but prominent guitars, the sort of wandering bassline that’s always a nice touch in adding some more depth and complexity, and some shuffling percussion that ties the whole thing together. Compared to how often these sort of projects can feel barebones or lacking, Ruby actually makes some good use of its layers in tandem, and with Kerekes’ vocals having their faint rasp to lend an edge of sourness, it all manages to hold up excellently, especially among a scene that typically doesn’t have much in the way of variety to offer. If there’s more to come like this, Kerekes could prove to be among the best this scene has to offer.
Pedro The Lion – Model Homes
As far as a return after well over a decade goes, Pedro The Lion’s Yellow Bike was about as good as it gets, keeping the classic emo framework they’ve built their legacy on but augmenting it with something more mature and weathered to really emphasise a band rising up from the passage of time. By comparison, Model Homes isn’t quite as strong, but for a roundabout way of establishing the same feeling as their last single, it’s far from a failure. David Bazan’s strikingly honest and present delivery is once again the focal point, lingering on each syllable as the chiming, echoing guitars and looser drums provide another richly evocative backdrop. It can feel a bit shaky at points, almost as if its limping along with a bit less form and a lot less momentum, but this is another perfectly solid track from a band who’s appeal and talent clearly hasn’t dulled over time. That new album in January might be one to watch after all.
Hyvmine – Retaliation
Considering the amount of praise they’ve received and despite (or perhaps because of) the militant promotional campaigns to get their material out there, Hyvmine haven’t really lived up to the standards that so many have wanted for them yet. That’s not all that surprising – in a genre like hard rock, it’s typically down to one band to lead the charge above any others and Badflower seem to be doing that for 2019 – but it’s not as if Hyvmine couldn’t do it, especially seeing as Retaliation is actually pretty decent. It’s nothing revelatory, mind, but there’s enough technical prowess amongst the typical big riffs and hooks to really set them apart from so much of the bland competition vying for similar roles, and even if Al Joseph can easily be seen as doing little more than a William DuVall impression in his vocals, there’s plenty of personality there. Crucially, Hyvmine know how to work a true hard rock groove, and that alone gives Retaliation the legs to make a solid impact, even if it won’t change the world like so many behind the scenes are hoping it will. Still, this is good stuff, and it wouldn’t hurt the scene as a whole if Hyvmine continued like this.
The Yacht Club – In Amber
Away from the heavy hitters, The Yacht Club’s The Last Words You Said To Me Have Kept Me Here And Safe already sits among 2019’s most anticipated albums, purely because of how deeply the band’s brand of math-emo has connected, something that is no small feat given how unpredictable the quality in that particular genre can be. Of course, they could always end up falling into the same boat, though with a track like In Amber, that doesn’t seem to be an issue, another beautifully crafted, understated track that focuses on Jack Holland’s formative years, and a simplicity and wistfulness that comes from reminiscing upon them. It’s deceptively simple but unendingly effective, especially in the way that The Yacht Club can turn the typical erratic and spindly math-rock guitars into something with a lot more lushness and vibrancy, floating by on mellow but effective production that contributes so much to the warmth of a track like this. It’s honestly hard to fault, and if the rest of their album can follow suit, it’s got the potential to be something pretty special.
I Cried Wolf – BRKN
Considering the furore around Refused’s return with Freedom in 2015, the fact that I Cried Wolf achieved some pretty noticeable buzz for their Hollow Heart EP – a release which, incidentally, drew plenty of comparisons to the aforementioned Swedes – is no small feat. They might have been fairly quiet since, mind, but that’s no reason for that excitement level to drop, particularly when BRKN is the track they’re returning with, the sort of fiery, rambunctious hardcore track that exists in the realm ruled by Every Time I Die, and manages to excel with its sleazy, rampaging grooves and Harry Davies’ elasticated but terse vocal delivery. It might sound like rather standard stuff, and it’s easy to see how they can be deemed to be little more than a composite of their influences, but I Cried Wolf are showing the signs of a band that, even after being away for such an extended period of time, know how to return with all the hunger and excitability they need to really take themselves far. It’ll certainly be intriguing to see how far they can take this, especially with the auspicious foundations laid down here.
This Life – I’d Lie About Almost Anything
While This Life’s Hello Youth was an overall competent start, it was difficult to avoid just how little they were doing to shake up a rather stale Britrock formula, and about half-a-decade since that style has been able to fly, that could’ve led to problems in the long run if they’d kept it up. Fortunately, I’d Lie About Almost Anything seems to be going in a much more personal direction, focusing on self-medication through drugs and alcohol in a way that doesn’t particularly cut deep, but in William Ellis’ shaken vocals, there’s a clear amount of resonance and pathos that’s definitely appreciated for subject matter like this. It’s a similar case with the instrumentation too, rarely deviating from a tried-and-true alt-rock framework sonically, but with a constant buildup into something that’s a lot more tense and rumbling. It’s not exactly breaking the mould, but as an attempt at moving into territory that feels much more real compared to how shiny and sanitised this brand of alt-rock can be, This Life are making some capable, confident steps forward.
Vulture Cult – Reborn
It’s a well-known fact that it’s always difficult for a new band to get started, but going into a genre that a) just isn’t interested in any meaningful form of experimentation, b) prioritises its big players above anyone else for an environment that can be difficult to get into, or c) all of the above, it can be pretty much thankless. Thus, Vulture Cult deserve plenty of praise right off the bat for not only attempting the move into hard rock, but also augmenting their sound with the darker, more atmospheric side of grunge for something a bit more nuanced and unsettling. And besides the rather tinny vocal production that’s typically par for the course with a band this young, Reborn has a startlingly clear vision of where it wants to go, and Vulture Cult are genuinely solid at executing it, playing to niggling, insidious tones propelled by sinuous basslines for a sound that’s not so much fresh, but feels more limber amid how much of this genre can be so stagnant and wooden. It’s a stronger start than many their size have come up with, and while it’s no guarantee that they’ll excel with it, the signs for something potentially great are already there.
Words by Luke Nuttall