Simple Creatures – Special
It’s odd how quickly Simple Creatures are moving away from Strange Love, mostly because in any usual case like this, it would be because the preceding release ultimately failed to catch fire, which certainly wasn’t the case here. Coupled with the fact that both Alex Gaskarth and Mark Hoppus are allegedly both working on new material with All Time Low and blink-182 respectively, it makes it even more baffling as to why they’re wasting their time on their undercooked alt-pop side-project that struggles to deliver much quality really ever. But at least a couple of tracks on their EP connected; Special feels like such a lazy way of shoveling out new music and coasting on the benefit of having these two names attached, as this is by the far amongst the worst efforts these two have ever made, perhaps in their entire musical catalogues. For one, there’s no distinctive vocal personality to either other them, as they default between flat, undercooked mumbles and smashed-out yelps for a hook that never goes anywhere, backed by grinding synth-horns and a slapped-out backbeat that’s presumably supposed to sound lo-fi, but just ends up ear-bleedingly torturous. Along with no sense of motion or groove that can stop any of this from royally stagnating at any given moments, Special feels like a waste of time, effort and resources for all involved. At least there was once a core of melodic potential waiting to be cultivated with Simple Creatures; now, they’ve all but abandoned that, and all that’s left is a couple of big names.
Mallory Knox – Guts
It’s unfortunate to say that there’s some degree of desperation setting in with new Mallory Knox material. No one has really been taking to it, and after previously delivering some of the best of Britrock in the first half of the 2010s, to see them moving back to rougher, less captivating material feels like degradation happening at a rather alarming rate. At least with Guts thought, they’ve managed to pull something back, cutting their losses for a snappier, punk-inflected track that still hovers around a very standard, dull indie sound, but is actually delivered with some gusto that can be appreciated. If nothing else, it masks the limitations in Sam Douglas’ vocals, and if they’re insistent on continuing down this route, this is arguably the most fruitful thing they can do with it. It’s still not all that fantastic, especially considering what this band was once capable of, but given that the ceiling of quality has been severely lowered over the past year or so, it’s a case of taking what you can get.
Sum 41 – A Death In The Family
Sum 41 have often been one of pop-punk’s less predictable bands, but right now they seem to be zoning in on the heavier aspects of their sound, pulling more from their hardcore and metal influences for Order In Decline. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but Out For Blood felt as though it executed it in a really clunky manner, with the pressure now being on A Death In The Family to pick up the slack. And it does to an extent, but this still doesn’t feel like Sum 41 at their best, mostly because the same structural issues remain largely present given the jerky ebb and flow between its passages of heavier material and quieter, more melodic breaks in the formula. It’s definitely less thrown-together than their previous single, but in general, A Death In The Family feels evident of a strange wave of mediocrity running through Sum 41 that’s never been as noticeable as this in the past. They’ve had moments, sure, but they’ve always had strong foundations to rest upon; here, they sound like they’re struggling with even that, and with the album not too far away, that’s an incredibly worrying sign.
Cultdreams – We Never Rest
There was never really any worries that Cultdreams would be unable to deliver. In their past incarnation of Kamikaze Girls, they’d gained a reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting indie-punk bands, but moving forward into this next stage of their career feels like the perfect opportunity to retool and bring even more ideas to the table. That’s an ethos that seems to have been grabbed with both hands on We Never Rest, as Lucinda Livingstone breathlessly tackles the suppression of true, individual identity in order to conform to what society sees as ‘normal’, broken up by the ethereal backing vocals of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s Katie Dvorak and David F. Bello as the disembodied force pushing for that homogeneity. It’s all delivered just as powerfully as the message would demand, and with the ebbing, shoegaze guitars smashed apart by gigantic walls of noise, Cultdreams are pivoting towards the sort of towering indie-punk that they could easily thrive among. We Never Rest is a prime example of that, opening as many doors possible going forward to really hammer home the great things this band is capable of.
Nova Twins – Devil’s Face
The general consensus among modern bands is that throwing a bunch of genres together is a sure-fire way to be ‘exciting’, regardless of how lumpen or unappealing the ensuing clash might be. It could be easy to throw Nova Twins into that camp too, especially when their entire identity as a band is based on fusions of garage-rock with warping electronics and fat slabs of bass, but there’s actually something here that clicks, and it makes Devil’s Face feel like it comes from a band on the cusp of latching on to something great. For one, there’s an enormously propulsive sense of flow to Amy Love’s vocals, contorting and mangling itself against the blasting instrumentation but keeping itself secured from falling into out-and-out chaos. It’s that control that does a lot for Nova Twins here as well, especially when the rushes of guitars and bass have a huge sound to them, but aren’t so much anthemic as incisive and destructive in all the best ways. This feels like the most modern way to pull off garage-rock that really any band has succeeded with, as Nova Twins are keeping their fingers on the pulse of what makes this sort of music genuinely exciting.
LIFE – Hollow Thing
Another day, another unfeasibly rough-around-the-edges post-punk band currently being showered in praise and looking to nab a slice of the Idles pie for themselves. That alone would be enough to dismiss LIFE almost completely (it’s taken less with some others), but Hollow Thing does actually have a number of solid twists to at least set LIFE apart from the very dregs of the scene. For one, Mez Green’s channel a much more snarky, sardonic tone that’s a nice change of pace from the usual brusque shouts, and lessens some of the overfamiliarity from the usual spiky guitars and prominent bass thrums. It’s still present, mind, and it’s what ultimately keeps LIFE from feeling like their own prospect as opposed to yet another spin-off of an increasingly omnipresent sound, but it’s fine overall, if lacking the spark to be much else.
Tennis System – Shelf Life
While shoegaze itself isn’t an inherently unappealing genre, the issues stems down to bands who don’t know a manageable way to pull off the sound the make it something more than droning, passé nothingness. It’s why there’s a whiff of interest about Tennis System being described as ‘energetic’, something that might be little more than stereotypical promotional hyperbole, but it’s attention-grabbing to say the least. And anyway, it’s not like Shelf Life conforms to shoegaze’s lax, least-interesting impulses either, especially with its roaring guitars and somersaulting drums that do give this a decent sense of a pulse. But when there’s not much that really materialises from that, what’s left is six minutes of neat ideas generally formulated into an order that’s not unlistenable, but feels incredibly slow at achieving the goals it wants overall. There are far worse shoegaze acts than Tennis System currently out there, but they’re not exactly making themselves stand out either.
Words by Luke Nuttall