For BONES UK, the rockstar lifestyle seems to have taken its hold much more naturally than for others. For an ostensibly new band, they’ve already achieved more than their fair share of big breaks, relocating from London to LA, picking up superstar fans ranging from Jeff Beck to Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, and even having one of their songs featured in flagship spots on Orange Is The New Black and the trailer for Amazon Prime’s Anna. This has all come before even a debut album, by the way, instead building the majority of their buzz through an incendiary live reputation, a combination of garage-rock snarl with razor-edged industrial might, and a knack for writing with incisive bite and sardonicism. It would seem as though all the pieces have been firmly put in place for this debut full-length, especially when the buzz around BONES UK is probably more pronounced right now than it’s ever been.
Thus, it’s an interesting case when this self-titled album actually finds a way to justify the hype, not just because the boom-and-bust hype cycles have seemingly produced more casualties than success stories, but because this is perhaps one of the most cohesive and conclusive fusions of old-school rock ‘n’ roll ideas with a contemporary sheen that’s come out in some time. That might seem like in high praise, especially for an album that, to be honest, doesn’t always land on its feet in the most graceful fashion, but it’s more a case of laying down a framework for what BONES UK could potentially do. That’s not to say this isn’t a good album by any means, but the leaps and bounds that this duo are going to make using this as a springboard could be potentially staggering, the extent of which finds itself wonderfully highlighted here.
If that all sounds convoluted, it really isn’t. BONES UK have simply arrived upon a formula that shows incredible sparks of promise that materialise in isolated moments here that stand out as some of the most refreshingly modern yet acerbic mainstream-adjacent rock in some time. The insidious tick and guitar strums of Leach might be something of an outlier with regards to the base sound, but it produces a sense of groove that highlights a genuinely great pop focus within the walls of crunching guitars and bleak electronic tableaux. Meanwhile, the venom-flecked Pretty Waste clearly has Nine Inch Nails in view in its pitch-black synths as it creeps along like Closer’s younger sister, and the white-knuckle cyberpunk dash of Choke is probably the best use of the duo’s rawest impulses here. With rock and electronica in almost perfect equilibrium, it makes way for BONES UK’s to really let loose, harshly veering away from the sanguine modern rock connotations of the two to bring that darker side out. And yet, that level of success isn’t guaranteed, something that’s mostly evident in production that, on the surface, wants to replicate similar darker pulses, but can often feel cluttered and clattering as gnashing industrial beats clash with guitars in a less-than-elegant way (or, in the acoustic snoozer Black Blood, no useful way at all). It’s a similar case with Rosie Bones’ vocals; they have enough of a creeping, half seductive / half feral slice to come across as threatening in all the right ways on a track like Filthy Freaks, but thinning them out and overtly corrupting them with electronics isn’t a good way to achieve that effect, as particularly demonstrated towards the album’s back half.
That just leaves the writing, and while this sort of trade-off between telegraphed sexuality and snarling defiance is nothing new, the personality that BONES UK display along with a suitably dark instrumental canvas makes for a healthy thematic pool. And make no mistake, that defiance is arguably BONES UK’s strongest suit in this field, giving this material the rock-solid throughline that accentuates just how strong this all feels. There’s such a smooth, immediate shift in thematic resonance between the empowerment of Beautiful Is Boring and Filthy Freaks and the rallying against societal expectations that automatically puts women at a disadvantage on Pretty Waste and Girls Can’t Play Guitar, and it honestly holds its own throughout. Topped off with the seedy yet knowing murk radiating from Choke and a rendition of David Bowie’s I’m Afraid Of Americans, and BONES UK’s command of mood and vibe establishes itself among their strongest suits.
And while that might seem like a bit disappointing when that’s the takeaway from so much hype, it honestly feels like more than enough at this stage. This is still a new band after all, and to hone their skills to this level on a debut is still an achievement on its own, especially with everything that it will undoubtedly lead to. This mightn’t be an album of the year candidate or anything, but BONES UK do enough to what they have to ensure that that could certainly be a reality with albums to come, especially if they can carry on growing and building on some incredibly fruitful foundations. There really is so much to like about this album as a whole, and that’s only likely to grow more and more with time.
For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Pvris
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘BONES UK’ by BONES UK is released on 12th July on Sumerian Records.