Hacktivist – Reprogram
One thing that seems to happen a lot with Hacktivist is a fairly extended period of grind and adversity followed by a real explosion in success. It happened off the back of their EP and long-awaited debut full-length, and now with a lineup shift under their belt and a rather long stint of relative inactivity, it’s what needs to happen again. Thankfully though, Reprogram is definitely a good start as far as execution goes anyway. Instrumentally not a lot has changed, with the tumbling tech-metal riffs with slight hints of grime swagger peppered in here and there, but new co-vocalist Jot Maxi brings an intensity to proceedings that matches this sound better than ever, dipping into a hardcore influence at points that feels like their most cogent, succinct blend of each element to date. As for the writing though, the chastising of modern technology and social media does feel particularly heavy-handed in a way it can’t really afford to, but it’s easy to give Hacktivist the benefit of the doubt when they’re effectively finding their feet all over again. Hopefully it’s something to be straightened out in due course, but as of now, what’s coming down the pipeline definitely looks promising.
Baroness – Seasons
It says a lot about Baroness’ clout in rock that just one track has made Gold & Grey one of the most highly-anticipated albums of 2019, but it’s not as though it’s not deserved. They’ve barely put a foot wrong through their entire career, and when they’re at the height of popularity like they are now, that fact they can continue with such a ridiculous level of quality is enormously exciting. It’s gotten to a point where there’s not even any point in being facetious with statements like ‘they’re due a fall anytime now’, because they seem to be actively working against it. Just look at Seasons, another fantastic track that sees a band continuing to expand their arsenal while making music that’s complex and progressive but startlingly accessible. There’s a sense of melody here that’s borderline pop-rock in the rollicking guitar work and John Baizley’s bellowed-out hooks, but the underlying complexity is where the hook really digs in, particularly in the drumming that contorts from galloping crashes to genuine blastbeats before the enormous, stomping cacophony to round off ensues. If there’s a nitpick to be made, the production can sometimes feel a bit too glazed-over, but otherwise, Baroness’ reign as one of the most consistently excellent bands on the planet is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Defeater – Stale Smoke
Mothers’ Sons might have been something of a disappointment, but it’s going to take more than that to drain the good will from Defeater. They’ve proven in the past they’re capable of doing a lot more with emotional hardcore than many, and one middling track doesn’t automatically negate that. So here’s Stale Smoke, which proceeds to clear away the majority of apprehension for a rather back-to-basics example of what this band do best, namely instrumentation that has an ominous sense of grind that the band are so adept as pulling off and embracing, a vocal performance from Derek Archembault that puts in some tremendous effort in its beaten, broken openness, and writing that feels more like a purging process than anything else. It might feel a bit too close to some of their previous work, and the abrupt ending really does bring the mood to a standstill, but this is still much improved overall, and when the new album is virtually just around the corner, that’s a good sign.
Cave In – All Illusion
As much as the reputations of both Cave In and Stephen Brodsky precede them, it felt as though that’s how it would stay for the longest time. White Silence was released in 2011, after all, and with both a lack of real activity and the tragic death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018, it looked as though that might be the cut-off point for any real new activity from Cave In. All Illusion clearly says otherwise though, the new single from a brand new album that feels as though it hits about the right spot for Cave In material in 2018, taking their space-rock soundscapes and pairing them with fuzzed-out alt-rock and indie-rock in a way that doesn’t quite match up to how revolutionary they’ve been in the past, but it’s certainly interesting stuff. Brodsky’s swaying vocal performance especially adds an air of mystique to the whole thing, and with the darker knell of the bass protruding through at just the right points, it’s definitely a track that works best as the sum of its parts rather than picking and choosing individual elements. Of course, that can be said about Cave In as a whole, and while All Illusion isn’t quite enough on its own to get fully excited about this new album (honestly, the band’s legacy alone does more on that front), it’s a good taster of what to expect, and for a band to come back after a long while on a strong foot like this is always good to see.
Charly Bliss – Young Enough
This largely feels like the final chance for Charly Bliss to really impress before Young Enough is released, not only because it’s pretty imminent but also because they’ve not really done so up to now. Their previous singles certainly haven’t been bad, but in terms of real star power to set them apart from other indie-pop bands, they’ve shown flashes of an idea that hasn’t fully crystallised. That’s why Hard To Believe’s back-to-basics approach feels so refreshing, going back to a straightforward indie-pop framework that places a heavy emphasis on the pop, not only in Eva Hendricks’ vocals which prove to be a much better fit this time around, but in the general sense of exuberance, both in the writing and instrumentation, that connects to a far greater extent. The issue prevails of a sound that isn’t exactly original, but this feels like an area that Charly Bliss are far more comfortable in, and it’s hard to begrudge that when the results work as well as they do.
Woes – Suburbs
For a band like Woes who’ve always fielded accusations of trafficking off the modern wave of pop-punk with little to say in their own right (because, y’know, that’s what they’ve done), releasing a song titled Suburbs can feel like a pivot to an equally mercenary pivot towards 2000s nostalgia and the sort of performative, hometown-hating angst that comes with it. And that’s kind of the case, at least sonically, but this isn’t all that far removed from Woes typical fare. If anything, it’s akin to the shift that ROAM made between their first two albums, adopting a more agreeable sense of melody to replace the hardcore posturing, but Woes simply don’t have the same presence or spark, and thus, Suburbs ends up feeling like literally any other pop-punk track to come from any band looking for even the slightest whiff of success. It’s at least a bit better, but between an utterly bog-standard instrumental palate and vocalist DJ being virtually indistinguishable from the vast crop of other frontmen out there, there still isn’t much that Woes are doing to help them stand out. One for pop-punk completionists only.
John Floreani – Echoes
As much as this feels as though it came out of nowhere, the deeper implications of it all are just as confusing. After all, Trophy Eyes have already made a name for themselves with emotional rigour bordering on hardcore in a way that few of their pop-punk peers have been able to muster, so to see their frontman go down the route that typically arises when the genre’s players want to go deeper themselves makes it difficult to know what to really expect. The good news, then, is that Echoes definitely plays to a different mould, opting for a more openly sentimental sound leaning far more towards indie-pop and modern pop-rock than anything else, with Floreani’s willowy, vulnerable vocal performance standing chiefly as its best feature when delivering sentiments as cinematic and lovestruck as these. The only issue is that it tries to lean on those sentiments a bit too much, leading to a pile-up of crashing percussion and formless synths on the chorus that attempts to capture an epic swell, but compared to the expertly-crafted restraint elsewhere, feels like a clumsy transition that barely pays off. Still, this is solid stuff overall, and if there’s more to come like this, Floreani might be able to break out of the ‘pop-punk goes solo’ template and into something all of his own.
Anavae – High
It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything from Anavae, something that might come as a surprise considering their once-touted status as superstars-in-waiting, but less surprising when their arrival came at the midst of Britrock oversaturation that eventually saw them as little more than another factor clogging the bottleneck. At least there’s more of a reason to give them a look now given that Britrock has largely dissipated, but with High, it doesn’t look like they’ve undergone much evolution. They still know their way around a hook, but the big, blustery tableaux serving as instrumentation don’t do a whole lot but fill space, and while that soaring sense of bombast is something they can manage, it feels like a step past what Holding Absence and their ilk are doing with atmospheric rock, and when even that can have its limits, Anavae can struggle to impress. It’s not bad and certainly gets the job done, but for a band who’ve been out of the spotlight for so long, you kind of hope for more than this.
The St. Pierre Snake Invasion – Casanovacaine
At a time when punk is allowed to be as lairy and rowdy as it wants, there feels like no better time for The St. Pierre Snake Invasion to really move. They’ve already built a considerable following for themselves in some circles, but 2019 could give way to something truly great for them, and Casanovacaine looks to be the first step in a band really starting to hit that high watermark. For one, there’s next to no time wasted here between passages of filthy basslines and Damien Sayell’s dejected sneers that make way for the sort of riotous, angular punk that always has plenty to offer, all wrapped in a two-and-a-half-minute package that feels like just the right amount of time for a track like this. Of course, the raucousness is the key driving force here, but it’s one of those tracks that circumvents the issues that could come with it by just being as full-throttle as it is, and that’s honestly enough. There’s a lot of potential for more here, but if The St. Pierre Snake Invasion carry on in this direction, that shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to deliver.
Black Mountain – Boogie Lover
There’s every reason to peg Black Mountain as another muggy blues / stoner crew, especially when up to now they’ve rarely been able to distinguish themselves from the rest of that scene which, on its own, seems fixated on that one idea and never wants to develop it. That’s not to say it’s incapable of working though, and judging Boogie Lover on those merits, its only positives seem to be that it follows those rigid guidelines extremely well. Yes, the slow grind and guitars fuzzed to the point of oblivion are nothing new, but there’s a sense of weight behind what Black Mountain are doing, and if this whole scene can largely be boiled down to who can make the biggest weed-fuelled noise possible, they’re not doing too bad of a job. There’s no way this is going to be what revitalises the scene because there’s absolutely nothing here that’s capable of that, but for an enjoyable if derivative addition, you could do worse.
Words by Luke Nuttall