Waterparks – Turbulent
When talking about Waterparks, it feels almost obligatory to discuss the flak they get for pushing pop-rock’s trendiness to its absolute limit (occasionally with fairly grating results). And even with that flak and the portion of it that’s deserved, a lot of the hate is unjustified, mostly because Waterparks aren’t all that bad of a band for what they’re doing, especially in terms of bending such a stock formula to meet their own desires. That said, a lot of that admiration comes with the acknowledgment that they’re treading an impossibly thin line between quality and total obnoxiousness, and Turbulent might just be the moment that highlights just how thin that line is. It’s clear that the meme-y online personae designed to appeal to a younger fanbase has seeped into the music given that the very first line is ”You had your own Pete Wentz and Patrick combined”, and when that’s integrated with sour, post-breakup angst, it can come across as a bit too petty and childish for its own good. That said, the darker, more brittle drum ‘n’ bass inspirations do have a lot to like about them, and for as one note as this track can feel as a whole, the feeling of looking beyond such clearly-outlined pop-rock tropes is as clear as always. All that is to say that Turbulent is probably the most apt name to lead in to the next phase of Waterparks’ career; they’re trying to hang on and doing so admirably, but it’ll be interesting to see how long they can do that for.
Alexisonfire – Complicit
While many saw Familiar Drugs as proof that Alexisonfire had picked up right where they left off in terms of quality, it wasn’t really that great, mostly feeling like a truncated version of the truly vital post-hardcore they’d delivered through the 2000s. Still, that’s no reason to write a band like this off completely; rust is a very real factor, and getting back on the horse can take time. Fortunately, Complicit feels a lot more in line with what we’re used to from this band, with the foolproof combination of rampaging guitars and pounding drums to soundtrack George Pettit’s looser screams as he rages against a culture of inequality that so many remain reticent to change to improve given that it doesn’t directly affect them. It’s a very basic form of anger, particularly for Alexisonfire, but it’s barbed enough to work when it’s as laser-focused on its goal as this track is. There’s still room for improvement – the layering between Pettit and Dallas Green’s cleans doesn’t sound good at all – but on the whole, Complicit feels like a much-improved step forward for this band compared to their last effort. They’re not up to their best yet, but at least that doesn’t seem completely out of the question anymore.
Knocked Loose – …And Still I Wander South
New music from Knocked Loose is always going to garner some attention. They’ve become arguably one of the biggest names in modern hardcore through an incendiary live reputation and the ability to dish out lashings of breathless brutality with ease, to the point where they really don’t need to do much else at the minute. After all, their current formula is working so well for them, and while it would be good to experiment with new sounds, this is all ultimately paying off. And so, here’s …And Still I Wander South, a track that certainly has its fair share of Knocked Loose-isms to sate those hungry for more of the same, but actually makes some unprecedented left turns to broaden the band’s repertoire in an admittedly unexpected way. That largely comes from a use of atmosphere to highlight a coldness within this band’s heft, and even when they are going full force and rampaging through, the slower, more deliberate guitar work feels like a great fit considering how colossal the band’s guitar tone is. Alongside Bryan Garris’ breathless vocal delivery, it has all the hallmarks of Knocked Loose at their most vicious and volatile which, if the reception to their past material is anything to go by, should only take them even further once again.
Yungblud – Parents
Rejoice, everyone – Yungblud’s back with a new song! If it wasn’t clear, that was meant to be a sarcastic statement, mostly because up to now, the quality in his music has generally spanned from disposable and cringeworthy to absolutely irredeemable, to the point where one of his crowning achievements as an artist has come from having Halsey salvage 11 Minutes. Parents is a lot less fortunate, this time seeing Yungblud cutting out the middleman of subtlety when pandering to his audience of children entirely with the refrain of “Parents ain’t always right” to highlight societal shifts between generations, a good idea executed with all the tact of someone who’s well aware that their cult of personality royally trumps their musical capabilities. Speaking of the music, it sounds about as good as screeching guitar lines, dinky keys and a lumbering beat can (namely not at all), with Yungblud’s disaffected drawling being the final layer of shit-flavoured icing on this generally execrable cake. It’s still a conundrum why this guy even has a career in the first place given that he’s without question one of the least redeemable artists working at the minute, but if Parents is anything to go by, he’s clearly not even trying anymore.
The Dangerous Summer – Bring Me Back To Life
With Mother Nature’s release just around the corner, it’s easy to think that The Dangerous Summer are going forward on their strongest foot to date, fully solidifying what’s needed to make themselves a great band and largely sidelining their disappointing self-titled album from last year. And for as easy as it is to wait for them to show just those few signs of faltering, Bring Me Back To Life doesn’t do that, instead producing another excellent example of emo that really is making the whole thing look all the more promising. The slower burn is a nice contrast from what’s preceded it, with ghostly synths interwoven around more delicate, glassy guitars, giving AJ Peromo plenty of room to let his gravel-strewn vocals convey as much emotional damage and rigour as necessary. It’s an excellent blend of elements, retaining a maturity that feels so enormously earned while keeping the wide-eyed wonder and scale that The Dangerous Summer have frequently likes to dabble in, only so much better executed and realised here. It’s genuinely great stuff across the board, and makes the prospect of their upcoming album feel all the more tantalising.
Hundredth – Whatever
Hundredth’s advancement on 2017’s RARE could have easily been jarring in its transition between thunderous hardcore and dreamier shoegaze, but it says a lot that the band were able to succeed in the shift, even if some slight disorientation would be inevitable. But in terms of where to go next, Whatever feels a lot more cohesive, keeping the swirling, neon tableaux that characterised that last album, but punching it up with tighter drumwork to corral Chadwick Johnson’s vocals into more distinctly melodic and fully-formed passages. It really is a good fit overall, leaning on a distinct pop core that never feels overly sanitised thanks to the presence of the weaving guitars that give a phenomenal sense of propulsion and groove, though it’s arguably about as accessible as this band have ever been. And that’s unequivocally a good thing; Hundredth’s continued evolution that could’ve gone so wrong is still spawning quality and intrigue, and that’s really the most important thing with a band like this.
Doll Skin – Empty House
It’s encouraging to see just how much leverage Hopeless’ signing has already given Doll Skin, with Mark My Words becoming something of a breakthrough among larger outlets who’ve previously avoided this band. Granted, that could say much more about an industry willing to take care of their own above anything else, but Doll Skin’s increased exposure shouldn’t go ignored either way. That said, Empty House could well be the first worrying sign of a band bending over backwards to oppose the machine they’ve become a part of, muting the guitars to flatten some of their usual crunch (save for a rather impressive solo) and generally coating the whole track in production that seems to serve to wedge everything in place in a way that doesn’t feel beneficial at all. At least Sydney Dolezal is still a formidable vocal presence with writing that conveys a good amount of claustrophobic darkness, but on the whole, this does feel like Doll Skin’s first foray into territory that isn’t the best for them. Hopefully they can get out before too much damage is done to them.
Oso Oso – Dig
Oso Oso mightn’t be the biggest name in this current wave of indie-emo, but they’re certainly among the most acclaimed. Granted, that’s the sort of blanket statement that could be applied to so many within this genre, but it does seem that, more than most, Oso Oso make up for their lack of numbers with just how well-loved they are. But while it’d be wrong to say that Dig gives no impression of why that’s the case at all, it could definitely be a more comprehensive example than small-scale indie-rock coasting by on shuffling grooves that don’t have a huge amount of presence beyond general pleasantries. Sure, Jade Lilitri’s dejection and vulnerable vocals can be as compelling as they usually are, but when this track can feel more like a composite of emo themes and fragments that its own cohesive whole, that can be slightly disappointing. It’s not bad and will certainly appeal to the niche that Oso Oso have already picked up, but it also might just box that niche in further, and that’s not the best move to make.
The LaFontaines – Alpha
After All In showed The LaFontaines fully doubling down on the potential that’s always been in them to pretty great results, the expectations for what would come next were obviously heightened. After all, this is a band who’ve always been good, and with them finally showing their true greatness, it’s a natural reaction to be excited for what’s next. And generally, Alpha doesn’t disappoint. It’s not quite as good as their last single, but the quick, rubbery guitars breaking into a huge indie-rock chorus blend those influences with Kerr Okan’s typically forceful, snappy rapping in a totally seamless fashion, coming with a freshness that surpasses pretty much any rap-rock band currently operating. It would’ve been nice to see some of All In’s grind and darkness return, but that’s a nitpick overall; for what this is, it continues to see The LaFontaines moving in a consistently strong and intriguing direction that only serves to solidify what they’ve got with each passing track. By the time the album does drop, they could genuinely be a force to be reckoned with.
The Drew Thomson Foundation – A Little More Time
While Single Mothers serves as Drew Thomson’s outlet for white-hot rage and angularity, The Drew Thomson Foundation is a much more straightforward prospect overall. This is indie-rock at its most unassuming and melodic, drawing on ‘90s fuzziness with a keen ear for a pop hook that Thomson’s yelping vocals feel just off-kilter enough to really make work. That’s certainly the case with A Little More Time, as crumpled, skipping guitars form the basis for Thomson’s lovelorn lyrics delivered with a distinctly Weezer-esque wryness that makes this an incredibly likable prospect. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it’s not meant to be; at the end of the day, this is a side-project where quality is the key feature that needs to prevail, and with the overall likable, unfailingly melodic execution that’s here, The Drew Thomson Foundation pass that particular litmus test with flying colours. It won’t change the world, but it’s still worth a few listens all the same.
Bitch Falcon – Panther
To see Bitch Falcon continue to progress and pick up numerous accolades with a sound that’s decidedly not the most radio-friendly is definitely refreshing to see, and provides yet more evidence for the sea change that’s been an unequivocal benefit to rock for the last few years. Of course, Bitch Falcon aren’t the ones spurring it on, but they’ve arguably benefited from it more than most, with a brand of post-punk that thrives on abrasion and mystery and yet has still seen them slotted onto numerous esteemed festival stages. It helps that the music itself is definitely solid, even if it can be something of an acquired taste, and little has changed with Panther. Here, contorted, warring grunge guitars slide across a nightmarish tableau while vocalist Lizzie howls from behind layers of reverb and further darkness to create an oppressive closeness that isn’t always the most appealing sonically, but is kind of hard to look away from regardless. Whether that’s the vibe that Bitch Falcon were going for is unclear, but it certainly works, especially when Panther feels like little else out there and carries itself with that enormous sense of presence and potency. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who it is for, you can’t go wrong with this.
Words by Luke Nuttall