Polyphia – Look But Don’t Touch
It’s still rather disappointing that Polyphia’s experiments at fusing prog, math-rock and trap didn’t quite pan out as best they could last year, but New Levels New Devils proved utterly fascinating all the same, and if there was even something worth tightening and refining to really get as much potential out as possible, it would be this. So, striking while the iron is hot and collaborating with US singer Lewis Grant, Look But Don’t Touch already sees some rapid improvements to the formula, bringing that angularity to the table once again but augmenting it with even more snarl and snap, keeping the pinpoint precision of the electronic elements but with the rubbery wildness of guitar work that contorting itself all over the place but still managing to hold form. As for Grant’s presence, his earnest warbles aren’t necessarily bad, but introducing him in the back half of the track and dialing everything back to give him space feels like a wasted opportunity to carry on with the same fruitful thread, and it really does bring the track to a crawl. But still, Polyphia only look to be tweaking their approach for the better, and even with the kinks that still remains, there’s a lot here to be hopeful about going forward.
The Get Up Kids – Problems
It’s good to see the genuine excitement around The Get Up Kids next album is prevailing, especially when their Kicker EP last year proved to be something of a non-starter. It’s not hard to see the difference though – this new material just comes across a lot stronger, and The Problem Is Me is no different. There’s still plenty of earnestness in Matt Pryor’s self-examining bleats as a factor that’s always been present, but with a larger emphasis on dancing piano lines to go with the fuzzy power-pop lilt, there’s a sensibility to it all that distinctly pulls from classic pop, especially given how brazen and bold everything is made to be. And of course, it’s catchy as sin in a way that The Get Up Kids have perfected at this point, but it never feels throwaway and has the inner strength to really pull off some heavy lifting. It’s definitely simple, but it’s another great song from a band whose newest wind seems to be getting better and better by the day.
Cursed Earth – Fear
A band like Cursed Earth is all too tempting to lump into the crowd of uber-blunt metallic hardcore mosh-fiends without a second thought, but it actually looks like they’re doing something interesting right now. The departure of vocalist Jazmine Luders has prompted them to recruit individual vocalists from across the scene to take up duties on their new project, with this lead single headed up by Kublai Khan’s Matt Honeycutt, and while it’s not all too different from what either band have offered in the past, there’s definitely something to like here. The onus on pure heft is brought right to the fore, and with Honeycutt’s vocals having the necessary savagery to tear through a track like this, it’s definitely doing enough to leave a crater-sized impact, even if that’s only on a surface level. Even with that though, it feels like Cursed Earth’s project will thrive more as a full piece than broken up into its individual elements, so even while this is promising, the real treat will undoubtedly come when the entire thing drops and things really take shape.
Altered Sky – Surrounded
Even though Altered Sky’s primary body of work comes in their debut album from a few years ago, they’ve accumulated quite the fanbase for themselves, both in terms of sheer numbers and dedication. It’s not exactly unexpected for pop-rock of this stripe, especially with a vocalist who’s proven to be a charismatic and powerful as Ana Nowosielska is, but it’s a bit strange to see that they’ve not been picked up more readily by a wider crowd just yet. That’s clearly the aim with Surrounded, once again shooting for the stars with big pop-rock bombast in the vein of early 2010s relics like Evarose, but with the nous that band frequently lacked. It’s not exactly mind-blowing like a lot of Altered Sky’s work, but with the surging momentum and a welcome sense of crunch that hasn’t deviated into pop-rock desaturation, there’s enough of an edge to grab onto while still having the mainstream-bothering presence that comes with its overall size. Again, it’s hardly a world-beater, but even after their fallow period, to see Altered Sky pushing ahead with decent success is good to see all the same.
Thornhill – Coven
For a band for whom most of their primary musical threads could be traced back to Northlane, it’s interesting to see that Thornhill did so well with last year’s Butterfly EP. Of course, it’s a different story regarding whether they’d be able to keep that up, especially with the demands for a new band to evolve into their own beast, and while Coven is decent, it doesn’t look like too many of those aforementioned threads are getting severed just yet. The tech-metalcore influence is still incredibly prominent alongside more detailed melody in the atmosphere and Jacob Charlton’s vocals, and while that works well in creating the expansive, impermeable air of most tech-metal, it’s not exactly breaking any new ground for Thornhill. They’re still lingering in the area of an upstart band waiting for something else to happen for them, and while Coven could see that happen, the chances are it’ll see them stay there for a bit longer.
Pile – The Soft Hands Of Stephen Miller
For all the acclaim that Pile have received from the indie scene, it probably won’t be the thing that greases the wheels to wider recognition. Indeed, this is the sort of band who are far too unconventional to go beyond their underground boundaries, though is a song like The Soft Hands Of Stephen Miller is anything to go by, a breathless diatribe in which Rick Maguire fires his volleys of bile towards the titular far-right presidential advisor, it feels like that’s where they’re most comfortable. It’s not like the reckless, angular instrumentation comes from anything other than true intent, or that Maguire’s vocals refrain from anything traditionally sung in favour of sneered shouts that feel totally in-line with this sort of manic post-punk. Even more so, it definitely works in conveying the sort of white-hot rage that mightn’t totally scan as a song in the traditional sense, but feels enormously compelling as far as a piece of Pile’s mythos-building comes. There’s a lot to appreciate here, and it makes the acclaim that Pile have received thus far feel exceptionally justified.
Babyteeth – Cut It
As uncomplicated as their sound may appear, there’s actually quite a lot to like about Babyteeth. Their brand of grunge-flavoured pop-rock is one that’s turned quite a few heads lately, not only due to a ludicrous command of melody that saw their single Cocoon really take off, but also from the exposure it got them, not only through radio play but also support slots with the likes of Adam Ant and The Naked And Famous. With Cut It though, the onus is one breaking out in their own right, and while a rock sound with a clear ceiling might prove something of an unworkable barrier, the drive and power is undeniable. There’s definitely an air of Skunk Anansie about them in their very strident, gritty guitar tone, but Camilla Roholm’s vocals reminiscent of a myriad of 2000s girl group members lends a pop savviness that has a lot to like about it. True, the whole execution can feel the tiniest bit dated, especially when compared to a lot of mainstream pop-rock in the 2000s, but Babyteeth have the overall flair to make it work, and Cut It is a prime example of that.
Words by Luke Nuttall