Alexisonfire – Familiar Drugs
To say that this came out of nowhere is a bit of an understatement. This is the first piece of original music from Alexisonfire in nearly a decade, and while they’ve been around for a while now to make live appearances, it always seemed like that’s what they’d be exclusively focusing on from now on. But Familiar Drugs looks to change all that, though it’s hard not to feel a bit underwhelmed by exactly what this is. This is definitely an older Alexisonfire, focusing more on prominent groove than anything overly chaotic, but a guitar tone that’s distinctly muted in a less-angular production style isn’t something that benefits them, nor is thinning Dallas Green’s typically immaculate cleans to the point where so much of their enormous presence slinks away into the background. At least George Pettit’s barbed screaming remains intact, but that’s just one element of a much bigger tapestry that’s a lot more frayed than would be preferable, and puts Alexisonfire on a serious back foot for anything else that’ll inevitably come. Their past efforts still mean that there’s hope there, but as Familiar Drugs shows, they’re not infallible either.
Of Mice & Men – How To Survive
It’s tough to come to a clear consensus on how the post-Austin Carlile era of Of Mice & Men has turned out so far. They’ve undoubtedly evolved into a great live band that can bring some real crunch and heft in that area, but even if Defy has aged a bit better than some of their other more recent efforts, it still shows the radio-metal banality seeping through in earnest, even more so when factoring in how much crossover that has with metalcore’s more generic leanings. But clearly they’re looking to chug along, and How To Survive is at least a decent step forward, even if the lyrics can fall uncomfortably close to metalcore’s typical ‘rise up’ template that’s as rote as it comes at this point. That said, Aaron Pauley has definitely improved as a screamer given how he can bring a breathless sense of intensity to the table, and a clear focus on dirty, heavy metal brings a tone that’s certainly welcome, especially when it feels much more fluid and agile than some of their previous work. It’s still far from the perfect representation of what Of Mice & Men can be, but How To Survive at least shows a band building and improving on what they’ve got, and that can be commended.
Andy Black – Westwood Road
First off, it’s great that Andy Biersack seems to have scrapped his cover of My Way for his upcoming Andy Black album; it was an awful rendition and considering the sleek, dark pop that this project has become known for, it felt like the least viable direction to go in. Westwood Road, on the other hand, feels much more natural, even if its big, anthemic nature dissolves some of the gothic undertones that songs like Ribcage worked so well to establish. Even then, the glitzy synths and synthesised percussion might be well produced, but they lack a certain quality that made Andy Black material so recognisable, and it’s difficult to see this track rising above so much homogeneous, watered-down pop-rock. That said, that bassline is among the best things that Biersack has ever put his name to, and while he’s still an enormously limited vocalist, there’s a sense of comfort and sway in his performance that’s easy to like, even if the glaring issues this track has make it difficult to love. It’s better than My Way though, so points for that.
Venom Prison – Uterine Industrialisation
For a while now, Venom Prison have almost consistently occupied the top spot when it comes to modern death metal’s top acts, and given their penchant for blistering, bruising sharpness and Larissa Stupar being chief among the shining lights of modern metal vocalists, it’s easy to see why. Of course, keeping that momentum up is a necessity, especially at this point, but if Uterine Industrialisation is anything to go by, that won’t be a problem. Once again, Venom Prison hit with unrelenting force, bringing equal parts speed and groove that allow a truly monstrous instrumental tone to roar throughout, as it shapeshifts among Stupar’s equally ruthless vocals. It’s not too huge of a departure from what they’ve previously brought, but it doesn’t need to be, especially when Venom Prison are leading the charge for death metal and delivering it with as much force and brutality as this.
Yungblud & Halsey ft. Travis Barker – 11 Minutes
This may seem like a strange collaboration on paper, but just a bit of thought sees it making a lot more sense. Two of the most unlikable, bafflingly bankable modern artists paired with a drummer with a penchant for questionable team-ups is a good start, but considering the screeching, unearned egos of both Yungblud and Halsey, that’s where things really begin to click and the worst possible preconceptions begin to rear their heads. But to be fair, 11 Minutes as a whole isn’t too bad, mostly because it relies on the atmospheric pop production that Halsey has made her bread and butter, and well as allowing her actually decent vocal performance to take up the majority of the track, to the point where the greatest compliment that can be paid to Yungblud is that his out-of-place sneer can’t do as much damage. Sure, the lyrics are nothing special in terms of melodramatic romantic turmoil, and apart from a few fills to show off his talents, Barker’s presence is more or less perfunctory, but it looks as if Halsey of all people has finally unlocked the key to making a Yungblud song tolerable – knock him off his own track and essentially take over.
La Dispute – Rhodonite And Grief
Like with every La Dispute song from their upcoming album, the purpose of Rhodonite And Grief for this writer is to be the moment where this band’s appeal finally clicks. It’s easy to isolate what it is as a more intricate, lyrical take on post-punk and post-hardcore playing to emo sensibilities that tend to have a wide gravitational range, but up to now, that appeal hasn’t really prevailed more than orbiting around the general area. But Rhodonite And Grief is a lot more interesting to sonically dissect than a lot of La Dispute’s music, mostly because Jordan Dreyer keeps in a much lower vocal range before leading up to more typical screaming intensity, but it never comes, and that\s why it works. It’s probably the most sinister he’s ever sounded on record, and with the rustling drums and guitars punctuated by winding horns, the restraint feels so earned and connects so well with each other element. It’s probably among the best songs that La Dispute have ever released, capturing a side that they’d do well to show off again and undoubtedly working ever better in the context of the album. The fact that it’s a great track even outside of that is a testament to what La Dispute have achieved here.
Dave Hause – The Ditch
New music from Dave Hause is always a good thing, and while Bury Me In Philly did prove to be his weakest work to date, his catalogue – from his work with The Loved Ones to his two other excellent solo albums – really speaks for itself in terms of quality. And besides, given the propensity for both folk and punk to be both heavily politicised in their subject matter, the current climate is likely to yield something that can really put him back on top. And with The Ditch, that seems to be the case, with Hause drawing on a sense of anxiety and life at the bottom through the medium of world-weary, unfailingly melodic Americana that never fails to strike a chord. It’s definitely all deep within his wheelhouse, from the generally mid-paced rollick to the warmth and quiver of his vocals, but it’s a tried-and-true method that’s hardly boring, and that familiarity and everyman attitude is a massive part of the wider appeal. It’s songs like this that ultimately reinforce the fact that Hause is one of folk-punk’s more reliable songwriters.
Parting Gift – Pale
There’s an interesting sound that’s currently making its way through alt-rock, namely the way a greater emphasis on size and atmosphere is being paired with more typically melodic fare for something a lot darker and more expansive. The obvious touchstone is with Holding Absence, but Pale sees Parting Gift throwing their hats in the ring, though with results that are definitely a bit more mixed. For one, it’s definitely not as focused as it could be, kicking off with walls of blastbeats before the double-time drums kick in as the standard, which on their own don’t sit particularly well against the ghostly synths and Zac Vernon’s thinner, more impassioned vocals. It definitely comes together more on the chorus as muscular, calamitous alt-rock that feels a bit more standard but is certainly likable, something that a lot of this track sadly slips away from. As much as Parting Gift can be commended for trying something like this, the results don’t seem to come together in a particularly cohesive way, and that’s disappointing.
Raketkanon – Ricky
If the name Raketkanon sounds familiar, it’s because this band received a particular amount of buzz a few years back for their brand of distorted post-punk that favoured elements of noise and instrumental manipulation to really hammer home a sense of unease. It didn’t see them stick around too long in the public eye, but Ricky hasn’t opted to dial anything back, as Raketkanon continue to press on with sleazy, off-kilter grooves and gurgling basslines while Pieter-Paul Devos once again takes the role of enigmatic mouthpiece through typically weird vocalisations occasionally contorted into words. It’s most certainly not for everyone, no less because music this prone to flying off the handle typically struggles to work beneath its own instabilities, but Raketkanon have a certain knack for commanding a groove and melody that sets them apart, and while it’ll undoubtedly take a lot of listens – both in isolation and in the context of their upcoming album – Ricky could be something worth returning to in due time.
Kid Dad – Naked Creatures
It’s hard to know what to think of a band like Kid Dad. On one hand, the fusion of delicate, glassy indie-rock with a more forceful post-grunge core is an interesting one on paper, but considering how slight the crossover between the two can be, there can be some pretty low expectations for what it can actually deliver. Thankfully Naked Creatures isn’t too bad, but at the same time, it’s easy to see how this band can grow and make an admittedly bitty track turn into something more. For one, the transitions between Marius Vieth’s rather waifish vocals and tapping guitar to the hammering hook feels more clunky than the explosivity the band may have anticipated, lacking a real sense of tact to meld the two together competently. That said, the melodic richness has a lot to like about it, particularly with the chill in the creeping guitars and off-kilter drum taps that, if utilised in a way similar to what Foals have been doing lately, could end up as something really quite potent. As it stands at the minute though, this isn’t bad, but there’s definitely work that needs to be done for Kid Dad to really feel the benefits of their vision. Still, they’re worth keeping an eye on all the same.
pronoun – stay
The well of indie-emo doesn’t look to be drying up any time soon, and while it’s refreshing to see so many deliberately small-scale and introspective acts come up through it, it can also be disheartening when very few of them have anything significant to define themselves. For pronoun – the solo project of Alyse Vellturo embracing the DIY ethos wholeheartedly – the same preconceptions can easily be made, but stay at least has a bit more to make it enjoyable. There’s a nice sense of pace thanks to the bounding percussion and sparky guitar work that keeps the momentum going, and while Vellturo’s breathy vocals can sometimes get muddled in just how much they’re trying to get out at once, there’s a good level of personality in the lyrics, operating on the usually personal basis but giving it some more life and personal touches that work well. It’s not fantastic by any means, but it definitely connects a lot more than a good deal of bands in this scene, and if pronoun can land on ground that’s a bit more stable, this could definitely work.
The Nightmares – Adore
It’s easy to place The Nightmares in the not-unsubstantially-filled camp of gothic indie-pop types with a clear admiration of Joy Division, and no one would really argue. Adam Parslow has the low-slung, glazed-over vocal style that seems customary against the darkly glimmering synths and bassy thrum, and the fact that that’s such a recognisable archetype within this brand of music presents the primary issue with Adore. For as much as The Nightmares try to beef up their sound with the sparkling indie-rock of the modern day in the chunky guitars and arena-filling grandeur, there’s a lot of flavour that’s still lacking, both in terms of a track that lacks its own identity and, while not exactly one-paced, struggles to earn its crescendos thanks to such a galling lack of presence. The kernels of a solid idea are there (as they have been with the numerous other Joy Division worshippers over time), but it’s clear that The Nightmares have a bit of work to do before they can fully live up to that comparison.
Words by Luke Nuttall