Sleater-Kinney – Hurry On Home
It feels as though the return of Sleater-Kinney a few years back couldn’t have been more timely. They were an integral in the riot grrrl movement in the ‘90s, and with a lot of today’s punk looking back on those feminist and left-leaning themes to place them in a modern context, it’s felt like the right time for such a key component of that scene to return. And indeed, 2015’s No Cities To Love felt like a natural continuation of that ethos, but with Hurry On Home, there’s definitely a different direction being taken. For one, this feels a lot poppier on the whole, capturing an essence of more modern indie-rock in its fizzing guitar progressions and an almost disco-esque strut from touches of more electronic elements, but it’s still a sound defiantly lodged in Sleater-Kinney’s wheelhouse. It’s an updated one, sure, but Carrie Brownstein’s yelping, occasionally breathless vocals feel just as vital, rattling off her own insecurities to deviate from the perfect view of relationships that this song initially feels like it’s masquerading as. It mightn’t be quite as hard-hitting as some of the band’s past material, but it’d be wrong to think that Sleater-Kinney have lost their edge or dulled down to an unsalvageable degree, especially when material like this shows they have plenty to offer.
Poppy & Fever 333 – Scary Mask
The pairing of Poppy and Fever 333 actually makes more sense than it might appear on paper. For starters, there’s no conceivable way that Poppy can be spun as a traditional pop artist anyway, not with her very abstract, avant-garde presentation that’s always been a key factor of her persona from the beginning, but the pivots towards harder rock and metal on Am I A Girl? last year is what fully smashed any sort of veneer with regards to unnecessary boxing-in, and teaming up with one of the most exciting bands currently operating in a mainstream-adjacent sphere seems like a very natural next step. Then again, it’s not like Scary Mask is quite as subversive as that all might make it seem, rather than just some recognisable elements of both Poppy and Fever 333 mashed together. The lolling, gentle guitars and beat might feel a bit more divorced from Poppy’s typical hyper-pop sound, but it still fits her porcelain cooing, before the hardcore breaks come in that see her flip to more assertive chattering before Jason Butler’s paint-stripping screams provide the accompaniment. It’s definitely a jarring listen but it certainly has value, if only to see the sort of off-kilter collaboration that could really only be borne from an artist deeply embedded in the internet age, and arriving with a similar level of uneasiness and bittiness that doesn’t feel exactly advantageous, but shows an idea stretched to its limits in a way that’s definitely admirable. It’s not exactly stellar, but it feels about as cutting-edge as both of these artists are capable of, and it’s hard to dismiss it of that one way or another.
Telethon – Youdon’tinspiremelikeyouusedto
It always feels like a joy to get new Telethon tracks these days, mostly because the band keep continually proving exactly the sort of brilliance they’re capable of time and time again, and – surprise, surprise – Youdon’tinspiremelikeyouusedto is no different. Contrary to what its rather unwieldy title would suggest, this is the classic pop-infused snappiness of Telethon boiled down to its purest form, with the glistening pianos forming the perfect bassline for joyous, major guitars and Kevin Tully’s big, august vocal performance once again being such a wealth of personality and richness. Capped off with a saxophone solo that feels perfectly on-brand for this band and yet still comes out of nowhere in the best way possible, this feels like the clearest example yet that Telethon are able to cram so much great stuff into a short, crucially accessible song without it feeling lumpen or awkward, something that very few bands can actually muster. That alone is reason enough to pay attention to them, but when the results are songs like Youdon’tinspiremelikeyouusedto, the latest edition to this band’s repertoire of summer classics in the making, there’s no excuse not to get onboard immediately.
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Good Ones / One Down
As well loved as Modern Baseball were, it always seemed like a fair consolation to see Jake Ewald adopt Slaughter Beach, Dog as his main project. Birdie was a fantastic album of understated yet deeply poignant indie-rock, and the fact that it clearly took off as much as it did to warrant a follow-up is most certainly a good thing. And while it’s all too easy to chastise an artist for a relative lack of progression between their albums, the wistfulness and emotional resonance that Ewald displays in both of these tracks does enough to warrant a pass for them both. That said, it’s not like either is as impressive as the best moments from Birdie; with their rather basic progressions, be that the acoustic thrum of One Down or the electric one of Good Ones, there’s definitely a few layers of instrumental depth that could prove beneficial, but Ewald still remains a captivating presence, with a pained yet strangely soulful delivery that mightn’t be all that different from his emo peers on the surface, but the undercurrents of melancholy have a pronunciation that can compel a lot more. Overall then, it’s not like these are the most fantastic displays of Ewald’s talents, but they’re still solid, and Slaughter Beach, Dog has often been a project that fares the best in an album context rather than on simply isolated cuts. Thus, there’s definitely more to look forward to here.
VISTA – Electric Souls
VISTA are keeping a fairly steady track record going at the minute with their string of singles that have only really seen their profile grow, but the issue is, with no known album or longer-form release currently on the horizon, it doesn’t feel as though they’re really leading towards anything, and Electric Souls feels like the clearest example of that to date. It’s not precisely a bad song, especially when vocalist Hope remains a powerhouse vocalist that’s a natural fit for this sort of electronically-driven pop-rock, but where VISTA have always thrived in the past on enormous, towering hooks to maximise the sense of darkness and an almost industrial veneer that can come from this sound, Electric Souls’ choice to opt for something more low-key and flat feels like a rather inconsequential move that, when placed in context with previous tracks, doesn’t pack nearly the same punch. It’s definitely a nice idea, particularly when VISTA seem to be diversifying beyond the archetypal song structures they’d previously slotted into without fail, but looking back on them, it didn’t feel as though there was much wrong with them, and this feels like the underlining evidence for that. Again, it’s not a bad track, but of their current crop of singles, it’s probably VISTA’s most forgettable.
Woes – Fancy
Any desire to keep up with Woes at this point seems to be solely buoyed on hope and good will. They’ve clearly got ideas beyond just another standard pop-punk band, and while they’ve shown flashes of being able to execute them on previous songs, it’s never materialised into a full product. So it feels a bit ironic that the reason that Fancy works is because they’re doubling down on summery pop-punk with little pretense to depth in a way that’s been such a crucial boon for so many before them. The reference points might be incredibly easy to identify, but the massive, bouncy chorus paired with guitar work that’s slick without being overdone and a relaxed yet fluid sense of pace is pretty much a winner right of the bat for this sort of thing, and Woes really do hit it with everything they’ve got this time. As trite as the notion might be, Fancy could well be the pop-punk anthem of summer 2019, and the fact that it’s coming from Woes of all bands means that’s high praise indeed.
Phoxjaw – Melt, You’re A Face Of Wax
To see Phoxjaw currently doing as well as they are is a promising sight to see, especially since their Goodbye Dinosaur… EP felt like the sort of left-of-centre release that might get some tongues wagging, but wouldn’t exactly cross over to the wider market. To say they’ve done that now would probably be something of an overstatement, but the waves they’re making can’t be ignored, especially with another new release just around the corner, and if Melt, You’re A Face Of Wax is anything to go by, it feels like the sort of progression that looks to deepen Phoxjaw’s niche even further, but also attract plenty more onlookers, if only to see where they’re going to go next. There’s something of a theatricality here in the squalling guitars and flamboyant affectations in Danny Garland’s vocals, and it’s the juxtaposition that has with the creeping, ominous bass and darker atmosphere that really pulls the listener in. It’s a weird cocktail, that’s for sure, but it’s one that Phoxjaw genuinely feel well-equipped to make the most of, something that a lot of bands in this lane are unable to boast. Whether they can keep it up for a considerable amount of time is a different matter altogether, but it’s going to be fascinating to see them try.
BONES UK – Filthy Freaks
There’s been a lot of buzz around BONES UK lately, and it’s been for good reason. The duo’s previous singles have shown a great knowledge of mixing classic rock swagger with the grime and electronic coldness of industrial music, making for the sort of hit that’s incredibly to-the-point, but has enough pointed precision to really leave a mark. That largely feels like the case with Filthy Freaks as well, taking a very basic outsider anthem template in the writing but leaving it to Rosie Bones’ sneering rasp to give it the muscle that’s rarely allowed. It actually feels like it’s coming from the perspective of the outsider for a change, with the warping synths behind programmed percussion forming a devilish, unstable template before Carmen Vendenberg’s guitar work comes in to amplify the crunch by a fantastic degree. It’s definitely a brief hit that could maybe afford to explore some deeper avenues to really mine the most from this overall concept, but for what it is, BONES UK are verging on the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle rock music that could definitely stick around if given the right platform. Given how much an impression they’ve already made, finding tFhat platform shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Jade Jackson – Secret
While Jade Jackson exhibits plenty of the signs of falling into the Chelsea Wolfe / Sargeant House camp – a solo female vocalist with a penchant for gothic swell and drawing heavily from certain sources of Americana – hers is quite the different approach when really paid attention to, primarily in a use of country tones that’s been compared to Hank Williams above anyone else. And to be quite blunt, she’s absolutely great at it, with Secret showing the extent of the lushness and depth she can bring to the table, backed by ringing guitars and a swirling sense of darkness that lends some truly fantastic atmosphere. As for Jackson herself, she’s got something of a twang to remain rooted to the southern sound, but the soul and blues elements in her voice are hard to ignore, especially in the power that exudes from her and serves as the driving force behind a rather low-key track. In other words, she’s the sort of fascinating artist with the skill and intelligence to remain subtle and layered, but still bring so much personality and pain to the table that it’s genuinely exciting to see where she’ll go next. This certainly isn’t a track to be slept on.
Real Authority – Can’t Face It
There’s always going to be room for bands like Real Authority, if only because theirs is a brand of punk that never seems to get any less exciting no matter how many times you spin it. This sort of groove-driven, exceptionally lairy fare is pretty much always great, and for a rather early showing from this band, they’re continuing with that trend, albeit in a way that does feel a bit more truncated in its sub-two-minute runtime than would be preferable. But even so, with John James Davies’ guttural shouts backed by a loose, snarling punk backdrop that’s reminiscent of The Bronx in a pretty great way. Obviously there’s more needed here before Real Authority can properly rise to that level, but they’ve clearly got the potential for that sort of firepower, and if they can channel it into more great songs that can keep up this same level of raucous energy, they could be ones to keep an eye on going forward.
Petlib. – Shell
The journey that Petlib. have taken to reach this point is certainly an interesting one, starting as an emo duo before morphing into a three-piece and adopting a sound far more entrenched in noisy, angular hardcore. That’s culminated in their upcoming album Maker, the sort of ambitious concept album that can really take a band to a far higher level if they pull it off, and that’s something that’s rather fittingly explored on new track Shell, where the protagonist debates whether he should allow himself to be raised up to become that higher power. Like with a lot of concept albums though, there’s a distinct feeling that Shell will work better in the context of the entire piece, not just because of its short runtime, but because the sludgy, downbeat guitars and guttural vocals already feel as though they’ve been plucked out of a larger piece of work, and that can really limit the appeal this has overall. It’s still solid, and sonically, Petlib. sound as though they have plenty to offer, but that’ll ultimately come when they’ve fleshed out their ideas on a full release.
Words by Luke Nuttall