Mammoth Penguins’ ambition is something a lot more indie-pop should take notice of. Lately, it’s become a genre characterised by scores of acts that are more than capable of knocking out solid hooks and melodies, but do nothing to make them stand out against the seas of so many others doing the same thing, so to see an album like this trio’s 2017 full-length John Doe take such an unequivocally unique bent sees a band with far more up their sleeves than the mere basics. Sure, the general formula was there in a rather insular, DIY presentation, but the abundance of samples spanning photocopiers to toast being buttered, as well as bulking up the group dynamic for a wider range of sounds (to the point where the album is actually credited to ‘Massive Penguins & Friends’) shows a band willing to go the extra mile and create something genuinely unique and thought-provoking. It’s why, even when slimmed back down to their usual three-piece setup, There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win has a lot going for it right off the back; the hope that Mammoth Penguins can twist what’s become a rather conventional sound into something cooler and more off-kilter is present in earnest, not to mention Emma Kupa’s songwriting talents that have always been such a standout feature within this band.
And that largely feels like the case on this album, as Mammoth Penguins take what’s become a very recognisable style as of late and simultaneously give it a thicker, more distinct presence, but also streamline it by a great deal. Ultimately though, it’s not as complicated or oxymoronic as that sounds; There’s No Fight… at its core is an indie-punk album that just works, and while the condensation of features means that comes at the cost of not offering a ton to say, the general likability and ease of gravitation is still worth a lot, stripping everything right back to the basics but with plenty of character intact, and showing that to still be a totally valid option to produce some really good stuff.
Of course, that means that, while their quirks can still be extracted when possible, the onus for the most part is put on a very direct brand of indie-punk that with the dalliances into straight-up rock that lead to a remarkably strong core. It’s at its best when Mark Boxall’s bass takes centre stage, lending a hangdog strut that can be pretty insatiable to There Is So Much More, or simply laying down a much thicker foundation for tracks like Quit My Job and Trust Me to build on. That feels like such a natural fit for an album like this too; there’s no grand instrumental statement to be made, but Mammoth Penguins play to a sensibility that isn’t quite scrappiness, but shows an instability that leaning into has a lot of character. That can be mitigated somewhat by the fact that this isn’t the most diverse or complex album sonically, but the mid-paced, rough-and-ready push forward of the likes of I Wanna and Cold And Lonely Place embraces simplicity in a way that’s hard not to like. It’s hardly phenomenal stuff, but for everything that they clearly want to achieve, Mammoth Penguins are hitting every beat in instrumentation and production, and the outcome is totally respectable for it.
It’s more or less exactly the same with the writing, with this being pretty much the furthest thing from flowery, lyrical poetry, but given that Kupa clearly has no intentions of putting up any sort of front, it, along with her tremendously down-to-earth delivery simply oozes relatable charm. Again, it’s easy to undercut it all with stipulations of being another relationship-centric album that’s arguably even more trimmed down than the vast majority of them, but when that makes the weaving emotional narrative all the easier to read, that can be a blessing overall. Indeed, post-breakup, Kupa begins with confusion and self-blame on Closure and Dick Move respectively, but seeing it build into more complex, conflicting feelings does pick up some speed, reaching the eventual healing of You Just Carry On that shows that initial resonance is still there, but it’s vastly overshadowed by stoicism and self-confidence. It’s a very human portrayal in the way that any and all pretensions are cast aside without hesitation, and for the odd moment that might feel throwaway like the rather lacking I Wanna, the rest has a refreshing amount of clarity to it.
And that’s ultimately where Mammoth Penguins thrive the most. They’re hardly going to win any awards for originality, but for indie-pop overflowing with heart and replete with an oft-excellent command of melody, There’s No Fight… often delivers in spades. Even if bigger, flashier albums will undoubtedly overshadow it, there’s a lot to like about a band who can play it totally straight while having enough to stand out in a scene that’s beyond glutted at this point. It’s where Mammoth Penguins shine most of all, and this album achieves a whole lot with that.
For fans of: Hop Along, Wolf Girl, Peaness
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win’ by Mammoth Penguins is released on 26th April on Fika Recordings.