It’s hard to think of another pop-rock band that have had as strong a start as Hot Milk. That’s not nothing either; for a genre that’s frequently seen as an exploitative money-printer that can launch the next ever-sought crossover success, this is a band for whom the groundswell has felt organic enough to stand out, and particularly in high-profile support slots for the likes of the Foo Fighters and You Me At Six, the impressive heights that are clearly on the agenda seem to be encroaching at a rather alarming rate. And sure, when marketing over music has played such a key role in setting these machinations up in the past, it’s easy to deposit Hot Milk under a similar banner, but up to now, their output has spoken for itself in terms of quality. In just two tracks, they’ve already got their stormy angst-rock rager in Awful Ever After and their technicolour bop in Take Your Jacket, both of which are sure to go down a treat at the huge shows they’ve already got lined up, and if that’s the sort of strength this band has going into their debut EP, this could amount to something enormous if everything falls into place.
And honestly, for a first outing, there’s not much that Hot Milk could’ve done better with Are You Feeling Alive?. Four tracks can feel a bit slight, particularly when they bounce by as quickly as they do, but this is a laser-focused, fat-free isolation of pure star power, and the fact that the band have slipped into that so comfortably speaks volumes about what they’re capable of achieving. Right now though, Are You Feeling Alive? takes the polish and playful spark of modern alt-pop, pairs it with a hooks-for-days attitude to songwriting and simply lets Hot Milk fly as if they know they could be the biggest band in the world.
And to be clear, for anyone who isn’t already onboard with pop-rock being this preened and polished, this isn’t going to convert them. Yet, it feels as though Hot Milk know that, and simply focus on giving this sound as much boldness and verve as they can without sacrificing a quintessentially human touch that so many of their ilk have pushed way to the side. Having two vocalists in Han Mee and Jim Shaw does wonders for this, not only fostering a pair of individual personalities across each track but giving them the room to bounce off each other for a dynamic that few other bands have. Awful Ever After and Take Your Jacket actually benefit from having two different voices, and while there are plenty of bands that just happen to have more than one singer, Hot Milk actually make use of what that interplay can bring. Power and personality is never an issue for either though, and there’s always given ample opportunity to show that off, whether it’s the neon-purple hue that coats the surge of Awful Ever After, the prehensile skip of the title track that plays with more understated alt-pop elements, or the sheer pop-rock euphoria of Wide Awake that feels like the most resoundingly strong way to close off a live set possible. On top of that, the guitars have a satisfying chunkiness that isn’t blurred out by wave upon wave of production, and while a bit of explicit AutoTune sneaking out isn’t the most ideal feature (see a handful of moments in Take Your Jacket for the most obvious examples), it’s nowhere near as intrusive or flimsy as some of build-by-committee pop-rock of recent times has been.
It’s not like any of this is all that groundbreaking, mind, but Hot Milk’s adeptness at crafting a crop of unshakably solid tracks puts them in better stead than most. Even in the writing, this doesn’t feel like that big of an issue; they’re are all pretty archetypal scenarios during and post-relationship – the title track plays to feelings of recklessness and deliberately nostalgic scenes; Awful Ever After and Take Your Jacket are attempts at coping with its dissolution through severing potentially painful memories in whatever way possible, and Wide Awake comes as the big, triumphant moment of self-growth – but it’s not like Hot Milk are approaching them with laziness. Again, these feel like human constructions, no matter how generalised they may appear, and there’s a seemingly unqualifiable feeling that just goes through them that makes that so obvious and so likable.
Sure, all of this might seem like over-praise for what could easily be seen as the bare minimum for releases like this, but when so few bands are even hitting that mark, having someone like Hot Milk come around and give this sort of thing a fresh coat of paint is worth more than it may seem. Are You Feeling Alive? makes no bones about the fact that it’s a big, brash, uncomplicated collection of songs, and nor should it; Hot Milk clearly have a knack for capturing this sort of flashbang energy and spark, and when they’re already playing to a level that’s far beyond their years, it makes what’s to come all the more enticing. But even now, they’ve got a crop of anthems under their belt that are undeniably huge, and if the waves that Hot Milk are making are anything to go by, that’s set to continue for a long while yet.
For fans of: The 1975, Tonight Alive, All Time Low
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Are You Feeling Alive?’ by Hot Milk is released on 3rd May.