Issues – Tapping Out
It was always going to be fascinating to see what Issues would reassert themselves with, especially when Headspace was met with generally lukewarm response and the departure of Michael Bohn hinted at a premature end for the band once touted as one of modern metalcore’s most crucial names. But clearly Tapping Out is trying to paper over the cracks after all that turbulence; it’s openly heavier in its return to pounding nu-metal tones, while Tyler Carter’s R&B flows feel a lot more accentuated here in order to replicate their older material, not to mention giving guitarist AJ Rebollo the opportunity to dish out some screams to fully hammer home that this is still a strong band. Except that doesn’t feel like the case, and it’s hard to pinpoint why a lot of the time, but it’s perhaps the fact that Issues are trying so hard to recapture their old spark that isn’t working. Say what you like about Headspace but that album felt colourful and diverse in its embrace of different sounds; this sounds disappointingly standard, even in lyrical content revisiting themes of domestic abuse that were present on Princeton Ave back in 2012. It feels like Issues are simply falling in line with what’s wanted of them rather than doing much to push forward, but with both the losses this band have taken recently and the evidence laid out by this track, that looks to be where they’re staying, unfortunately.
Northlane – Bloodline
At this point, Northlane’s purpose within tech-metal is feeling progressively uncertain. Their influence on the scene is undeniable (even when they haven’t been at their strongest), but the amount of derivations or just plain copycats that they’ve birthed has ultimately swamped out the genuine article and the impact they could have. That’s what a track like Bloodline feels like anyway, in which the band try to break away from the pack with a more ominous, creeping sound that maybe pulls from some of their metalcore brethren in a nu-metal influence, but doesn’t feel like the enormous comeback that Northlane could and should be offering about now. Yes, Marcus Bridge is as malleable and versatile a vocalist as always, and there’s at least a bit of variety within the actual music to hold some interest, but it feels as though everything here was done so much better by Periphery on their last album just a few months ago, in terms of scope, ambition and pushing the genre into a place that cross-breeds with more standard modern metalcore in its direct punch. And sure, having Northlane doing this is exponentially preferable to any number of clones scrambling to be the first to rip them off wholesale, but this on its own feels like a watered-down version of something much better, and when there’s as much has been hinging on their upcoming album as there is, that’s not exactly the best sign.
Of Mice & Men – Mushroom Cloud
How To Survive really saw the needle begin to move again for Of Mice & Men, turning towards a more straightforward brand of metal that could thrive on pure force compared to how lacklustre Defy was on the whole. Therefore, it’s a rather bold statement to come out with a new single called Mushroom Cloud, almost inviting the snarky derision if it doesn’t turn out in the same vein. Thankfully it does, and though this is far from a boundary-pushing metal anthem, for Of Mice & Men’s pivot towards pummeling, vicious assaults with little else, this fits the bill almost perfectly. Aaron Pauley only seems to be coming into his own as the sole vocalist more and more in both his screams and panicked cleans, while a general beefiness the guitar tone and drum work creates a rather imposing picture of a band doing some great things with relatively little material to work with. That’s not a slight at the direction they’re taking, but it’s interesting to see that, for as long as Of Mice & Men have been dogged for embracing burly radio-metal in its entirety, they’re finally starting to see their efforts pay off.
Angels & Airwaves – Rebel Girl
The problem with Angels & Airwaves is that it’s never felt like a project with much direction, largely existing as a vehicle for Tom DeLonge to fill some space between blink-182 albums back in the day, and now as a secondary endeavour to his stints hunting for aliens. It didn’t help that their ambitions always seemed so colossal that they could never reasonably live up to them, and thus what was supposed to be DeLonge’s serious, grown-up new wave project turned into more of a joke that what could reasonably be classed as the joke band. But never one to give up, DeLonge has returned with Rebel Girl, and while it’s unfortunately not a cover of the Bikini Kill song of the same name, this is actually rather good. Of course, DeLonge remains that great, big elephant in the room with his continued fascination with projecting and emphasising every single syllable as if his life depended on it, but behind that is a rather basic yet effective love song buoyed by swirling electronics that do well to capture a very cinematic, romantic ‘80s vibe. There’s a nice even tone all the way through, though it doesn’t flatline or feel boring thanks to a very careful use of twinkles and dashing guitars to give it that windswept feeling that’s always going to be an easy sell. For a band so fixated with space, this is a surprisingly grounded affair, and it says a lot that it’s led to perhaps their best song in years.
Hot Water Music – Rebellion Story
It seems like a smart move for Hot Water Music to release an EP next, partly because it hasn’t been that long since their last full-length, and partly because, with a band as unshakably pure and unchanging as theirs is, it’s a good step at preventing fatigue for at least a bit longer. Still, that hasn’t been an issue up to now, and if Rebellion Story was to appear on a full album, it seems as though that would continue, as this is a track stamped with the Hot Water Music seal of quality that’s always stood for something. Again, their heartfelt, undeniably melodic punk is yet to change all that much, but the ragged, from-the-gut vocals and enormous focus on melody and timeless appeal has all the legs it always has, and the band aren’t getting complacent in their execution of it either. This feels a band still utterly in love with the music they’re making, and it shows in the rawness and passion that everything continues to exude. It’s hardly a surprising turn (if it can be called a turn at all), but it speaks volumes that Hot Water Music are still thriving on their sound after all these years, simply because they’re so good at it.
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Back Foot
Right now, it feels like there’s more hope with Dinosaur Pile-Up than there has been in a long time. In terms of their output, Thrash Metal Cassette did a lot for re-establishing themselves as more than grunge also-rans, and set up the momentum that they could hopefully continue with. That seems to be the case with Back Foot as well, particularly when it’s largely in the same vein as its predecessor – it doesn’t break the mould, but it’s far stronger and more immediate that a lot of Dinosaur Pile-Up’s most recent output. The more nimble, almost hip-hop flows from Matt Bigland do have a lot of personality against more minimalist verses, before exploding into a monstrous grunge groove that’s honestly amongst the best this band have ever put their name to, and coalescing into a track that should feel weird and disjointed, but never does. This feels like a logical next step, moving into contemporary pastures without losing sight of what they’ve built their foundations on, and Dinosaur Pile-Up prove that they’re more than capable of delivering with it. At least now, they seem to be on a hot streak for their next album, and considering how little they’ve moved in the past, that’s good to see.
Woes – Money Shoe
For anyone expecting Woes to be just another pop-punk band and that their upcoming new album would be just another pop-punk album, that’s never been an unreasonable assumption to make. For all their talk of pulling from hip-hop and R&B in their sound, it’s never materialised all that convincingly in the past, and yet Money Shoe actually looks to be bringing those ideas to fruition, keeping the stormy pop-punk hook with a sense of real crunch but augmenting it with smoother, more synthetic passages that definitely make their influences known. It’s certainly novel, but it doesn’t connect all that well, largely feeling like disparate chunks of a track placed next to each other with little real transition, or at the very least one that doesn’t positively impact on the track as a whole. Coupled with some rather unnecessary and gratuitous AutoTune on frontman DJ’s vocals, Money Shoe at least finds success in Woes branching out, but it struggles to amount to all that much. It’s good that they’re trying, but hopefully they can make something better out of it.
K.Flay – This Baby Don’t Cry
If K.Flay can be given credit for anything, it’s that she was doing mediocre crossover indie-rap way before Yungblud and grandson were around. Sure, the merits of that statement are rather questionable at best, but there’s clearly something there if her longevity has said anything, even if that hasn’t necessarily been reciprocated in success. Then again, it’s not hard to see why it hasn’t, especially if This Baby Don’t Cry is anything to go by. It mightn’t be quite as mediocre as some of her past material given that a solid bassline can patch up plenty of holes, but with a take of self-empowerment that feels just as vapid as the usual bland mush that passes for content and K.Flay’s bratty yet totally unconvincing struts, the greater appeal never really materialises. Alongside some remarkably thin production that gives the whole thing a flat, threadbare feel, This Baby Don’t Cry ultimately comes across a little more than a first draft, laying down ideas that could ultimately be spruced up into something interesting, but never following through with them, and leaving a hollow, truncated shell of a track in its place.
Cassels – A Snowflake In Winter
It’s been a while since we’ve heard much from Cassels, and that’s been a shame. Even if their angular, incisive noise-rock didn’t always stick the landing, the ideas that burst from everything they did can’t be ignored, and in general, the scene has been lesser for their absence. But with A Snowflake In Winter, they look to be hitting the ground running once again, taking jabs at the political mire that sees anyone striving for change or simply just not on the right branded a ‘snowflake’. It’s all done with the typical erudite twists and unwavering intelligence that’s become synonymous with Cassels as well, not just in Jim Beck’s winding spoken-word poetry, but in the shapeshifting guitars and drums that strike in fits and spurts before easing back while the release builds up once again. It’s the sort of post-hardcore creativity that’s always been Cassels’ forte, and they’ve not missed a beat with this return. Hopefully there’s a lot more like this to come, because they’ve already made a fantastic start.
Words by Luke Nuttall