Track Pack – 18th-24th February 2019

The Damned Things – Cells

Well this is a surprise, isn’t it? The last time The Damned Things – the much-vaunted southern-rock supergroup featuring members of Every Time I Die, Anthrax and Fall Out Boy – released music was in 2010, and while it might have been swept under the rug more than would be preferable, Ironiclast still holds up as a great album. So now, to see the band not only returning but making themselves even more super by recruiting Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano into the fold, is a great thing, especially when Cells shows how little of that fire has been lost over time. Keith Buckley’s whisky-swilling vocals ooze charisma in the same way as they always have, and the command of sizzling, sunburnt grooves mixed with a combination of Andriano’s thick, rollicking bass and the only opportunity that Joe Trohman has had to show off his guitar skills in years leads to a track with such effortless cool that’s hard not to truly love. The Damned Things really have come back with a bang, and that’s absolutely wonderful to see.

New Found Glory – The Power Of Love

Anyone who remembers how underwhelming Weezer’s recent ventures into covering famous songs was might be a bit apprehensive about New Found Glory’s latest entry in their From The Screen To Your Stereo series, but it’s also worth noting that they’ve been doing this for a while now, and they’ve often been quite good at it given that not only do they have a decent knowledge of the source material, but they typically put their own spin on the songs they cover. So here’s Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love, reworked into a bouncy pop-punk track that’s clearly designed to be throwaway but does own it. At least this doesn’t feel like a mere karaoke version of the original given the galloping speed and Jordan Pundik’s increased focus on vocal power, and while clearly not meant to be anything other than a time-waster (as both previous albums in this series have been), New Found Glory have a knack for having enough fun with these sorts of things that it’s easy to get swept up in it, and on the whole, The Power Of Love is no different.

The Dangerous Summer – Where Were You When The Sky Opened Up

Given the generally positive reception that The Dangerous Summer’s self-titled album received last year, it’s a bit strange to see them looking to move ahead with brand new music instead of continuing to promote that. After all, that was their first release since coming off hiatus in 2017, and the typical rule of thumb for bands in that position has often been to take smaller steps to re-establish themselves, something that sticking with that album would’ve sufficed in. Still, it’s hard to argue with quality, especially when Where Were You When The Sky Opened Up is probably better than anything off their last album, capturing the windswept, big-hearted swell that’s always been so enamouring about The Dangerous Summer, but with the smoldering, chugging guitars and AJ Perdomo’s gruff vocal delivery, there’s definitely an edge that tempers the romanticism for something much more solid. It helps that emo songwriting in this vein has always been a strong suit of this band, and the simplicity of this song may be noticeable, but there’s a warmth to it that really works as a whole package. There’s a lot to like about this song in general, and if they can keep up like this, establishing themselves in the scene as more than just a revived novelty should come in no time.

Vukovi – C.L.A.U.D.I.A

It was genuinely strange to see Vukovi getting round to a full album a couple of years back, but even in dialling back some of the angularity from their older EPs, that self-titled album still ended up as an excellently off-kilter slice of alt-rock that still has plenty of value today. But given that Vukovi are hardly ones to do things by the book, new music isn’t something that was expected just yet, especially given that the band have now slimmed down to just a duo. But C.L.A.U.D.I.A looks to be following the same train of thought to a similarly high standard, with Janine Shilstone’s piercing vocals having a shapeshifting dexterity that’s not been dampened whatsoever, and the big, crunching alt-rock backgrounds remaining high-octane with the electronic corruptions to culminate in a track that’s definitely off its hinges, but is accessible and punchy enough to really stand out. Perhaps it would’ve been nice to see Vukovi undergo a bit more progression instead of simply carry on where they left off, but that’s a slight nitpick on what’s otherwise another great effort from a band who’s really moving up in the world.

Simple Creatures – Strange Love

Even after just one song, the whole concept of Simple Creatures already feels pointless. As much as it might make sense that Mark Hoppus and Alex Gaskarth are collaborating, it’s not like it’s going to yield some mind-blowing musical masterpiece, especially given the headspace both artists’ main bands are currently in, and Strange Love feels like the greatest extrapolation of that yet. Quite why these two are focusing their attentions on boring, sanitised alt-pop is anyone’s guess, especially when they could be doing so much more, but sacrificing any individual personality from them both in favour of one-note drawls and scrabbled-together EDM-adjacent instrumentation feels like such a cynical move, especially when there’s not even a hint of unique flavour or presence whatsoever. This is the epitome of a band coasting by on name recognition way above anything else, and if that’s going to be Strange Creatures’ MO for however long they decide to stick around, don’t expect that to be for a long time.

Skinny Lister – Rattle & Roar

Like with a lot of acts in this vein, Skinny Lister are so prolific and rooted in their own specific sound that it can be easy to lose track of when things actually come out, even if that’s only about a week away. Yes, for as much influence as they hold within the Xtra Mile stable, Skinny Lister seem to lack the general interest of someone like Frank Turner, leading to their albums falling under the radar, but not for want of trying. Sure, some of The Story Is…’s singles haven’t been the best, but Rattle & Roar definitely feels stronger, drawing heavily on traditional Celtic folk in the fiddles and lighter tone of the guitar, but keeping restraint and not blowing it out to enormous, riotous proportions like so many folk-rock bands have a tendency to do. That might sound like a criticism, but there’s a melodic, mid-paced sensibility that works really well for this sort of thing, not breaking the mould by any means, but bringing in a sound that benefits the band while highlighting how likable this song can actually be.

Mötley Crüe ft. Machine Gun Kelly – The Dirt (EST. 1981)

Given that musical biopics seem to be all the rage right now, with Bohemian Rhapsody cleaning up everywhere it goes and Rocketman’s hype train steadily chugging along, it’s not really surprising to see Mötley Crüe giving it a go. After all, their book The Dirt has already gained a fair reputation in its own right, and now that’s being adapted into its own film, this serves as the de facto theme for it, featuring Machine Gun Kelly for seemingly no other reason than he stars in the film as Tommy Lee. And really, you can tell it’s been four years since this band have released music, because The Dirt (EST. 1981) really does feel like a basic approximation of a Mötley Crüe song that lacks the flair and danger they’ve been so capable of delivering in the past. Granted, it’s not as awful as some of the mid-paced snoozers that the old guard have delivered, but in basic riffs, Vince Neil sounding more strangled and out of breath than ever and Machine Gun Kelly offering his most throwaway, useless contribution to any musical endeavour he’s ever appeared on, we can only pray that the film will actually be better. Apparently they’ve done a cover of Like A Virgin for it too, so God help us all.

The Deadnotes – Makeup

As much as The Deadnotes can easily be lumped in with the myriad of young bands making considerable waves within their respective scenes, this German trio definitely feel slightly more ahead than others, not only in their released output but in live appearances racked up that’s rapidly approaching the 500 mark. And as Makeup shows, they’re looking to branch out even further as well, tackling damaging standards of beauty through the medium of rousing, uplifting indie-rock. Darius Lohmüller’s vocals might lack a little control in spots, but there’s clearly enormous passion behind them regardless, and the driving, anthemic surge of the guitars creates a sense of unbridled scope that The Deadnotes seem to have already knocked out of the park. This is a band that can definitely do great things with a bit of a nudge in the right direction, and Makeup is pretty much as strong as the evidence for that gets.

August Spies – This Is How It Ends

There’s something especially interesting about August Spies’ debut coming out now, not only because it’s the solo project of Hell Is For Heroes frontman Justin Schlosberg, but it arrives at a time when that band are arguably bigger and more prominent than they have been in years. That said, it’s easy to see why the two have been distanced in the way they have; compared to the surging post-hardcore of his main band, August Spies is a much softer, indietronica effort that sees Schlosberg turning the volume down for something much more heartfelt and intimate. Granted, he doesn’t have the greatest vocal range, but there’s a quaintness in the homegrown sensibility of the knocking, hypnotic beat and weeping violins and guitar, especially when it all feels as well-composed and drenched in melancholy as it does. The ending might be a bit too abrupt to fit with the general elegance of everything else, but This Is How It Ends is a pretty good start all things considered, and as an effort in moving horizontally to much different sounds and motivations, Schlosberg has done a good job with this one.

Breather – The Blue

As often as it’s spun the permutation of Britrock so prevalent in the mid-2010s has pretty much dissipated at this point, there seems to be a lot of bands coming around that, for some inexplicable reason, are adopting that exact sound. With that in mind, here’s Breather, operating on the quintessentially melodic, emotionally-charged variant of the sound, albeit with a bit more heft and crunch on the chorus that does create a better dramatic atmosphere that, along with Sam Irvine’s more hoarse vocal delivery, at least makes The Blue memorable to a certain extent. That said, they struggle to do much else, such as find some suitable momentum that doesn’t rely on big, crashing guitars, or produce much in the way of lyrical flavour that can actually stick. It’s definitely tempting to be more charitable considering this is Breather’s debut single, and they’re already doing a good amount right, but it’s easy to see where they could and should be aiming to go forward after this.

Ursus – Totem

In terms of where metalcore is going right now, Ursus are able to hit every beat with consummate ease. They’re able to keep as tight as possible while injecting a nu-metal-esque crunch into their sound and a darkness that can ultimately dismissed as more of an aesthetic choice than an interwoven flavour. That all may sound instantly dismissive, but at this very least, this wave of copycats is more interesting than when the genre was focused on washing itself out with synths and over-production. That said, the level of to-the-letter-ness that Totem displays is its very major downfall; the guitar tone is good and Joe Grimes has a formidable scream on him, but it’s played in such a cut-and-dry fashion that it’s quite obvious to see how little Ursus are actually doing how, and disposable this song can feel in the grand scheme of things. It’s not irredeemable by any means, but more of this isn’t really what’s needed right now, and Ursus aren’t changing that.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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