PVRIS – Death Of Me
Sometimes it feels as though PVRIS can be the greatest victims of their own hype. Given that their debut White Noise was universally lauded as an alt-pop masterpiece that took them to the scene’s highest echelons almost immediately, when a similar result was expected on All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, the results inevitably fell short. But after a couple of years away, Death Of Me feels like a band well and truly transitioning into another era, ditching the smoky gothic aesthetic that served as such a cornerstone feature for wiry synthpop struts to bolster their arena-rock hooks. On some level, it’s easy to be disappointed by such a clear mainstream pivot when the band had previously been doing so much more with it, but the roiling, rumbling bass and synths do have real weight behind them, and a presentation that allows Lynn Gunn to tone her vocals down without sounding waifish or underpowered is something this band desperately needed to get a handle on like they have here. It makes for a track that heralds something of a sharp about-face for future releases, but there could be something to that at the end of it all.
Asking Alexandria – The Violence
Asking Alexandria can be a rather contentious band at the best of times, and thus, no one’s really expecting everything they do to land without a hitch. That said, there’s usually been something in what they do regardless of how the end product turns out, and yet with The Violence, it’s hard to see how this could’ve worked in any possible way. Even beyond the instrumental build ripped directly out of the lumpy synth-rock playbook that infected the last Papa Roach album, Danny Worsnop is operating totally on autopilot here with maybe less vocal charisma than ever, before the whole thing is drenched in effects and pop-lite touches to make this unholy mess feel even more cluttered and overweight. And it’s not like this couldn’t have worked with the right vision, but Asking Alexandria’s take on this formula feels so royally botched that it’s honestly a wonder anyone left this leave the studio. And yet, for as much of a disaster that it is, it’s absolutely fascinating that any band could let themselves get to this position where they so clearly have no idea what they’re doing.
Dream State – Primrose
It’s frustrating that Dream State haven’t made the leap to the huge things they’re clearly capable of, even with the ample opportunities they’ve been given. Granted, it’s not entirely their fault, particularly when it feels like they’re taking their time with their music instead of rushing it out, but some action is definitely needed sooner rather than later, especially when Primrose feels like another tantalising taste of something that could absolutely soar across a full album. Once again, Dream State have captured their enormous, cinematic scale with consummate ease, and while it would be nicer to have the production ease back slightly and let the guitars roar, the centerpiece is still CJ Gilpin’s remarkable vocal performance, arguably showing more malleability and versatility than ever before and she leans much deeper into the band’s post-hardcore side with screams that really would be great to see more of. It’s tracks like this that prove why Dream State are as ready for prime time as they are; they just need something to really secure a solid breakthrough.
Steel Panther – All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight)
So this is still happening apparently, despite roughly no one believing that Steel Panther need to continue existing. Sure, once upon a time they were a good parody of the debauched, chauvinistic nature of ‘80s hard rock, but with every diminishing return that’s seen their one joke eat itself more and more, it’s just become tiresomely routine to go through each album and be met with the same thing. So here’s All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight), Steel Panther’s usual cocktail of unsubtle crudeness and genuinely solid instrumentation that provides the only source of levity once again, but the sticky machismo that diverts literally everything else towards itself isn’t getting any less workmanlike, and when this is the lead single for a fifth album that, in principle, seems no different to the first, it’s not like there’s going to be some rich core of inspiration dug up in the eleventh hour to the point where this isn’t indicative of everything else to come. In other words, Steel Panther fans will once again lap this up, but for everyone else who thinks that this joke has long since run its course, this isn’t going to change any minds.
Palaye Royale – Nervous Breakdown
At this point, the general burnout around anything regarding Palaye Royale is far more noteworthy than the band themselves, mostly because they seem to be consistently pushed and pushed to do big things even though nothing they’ve delivered up to now has come even close to living up to those expectations. But on the bright side, the grazed, sneering riff that the first part of Nervous Breakdown anchors itself in is one of the most immediately likable things this band has ever done, even if the track as a whole continues to display a band totally floundering when it comes to managing their career and progression. The transition between snarling rock ‘n’ roll and polished, preened pop-rock in both halves is jarring at the absolute best, as well as being far from the progressive intentions the band clearly had in mind, while Remington Leith continues to have precisely zero control over his vocals with no impetus whatsoever to consider him even a decent frontman. In other words, it’s a Palaye Royale track, and while there’s the inkling of some positive motions being made, the net negative is far more pungent in the grand scheme of things.
Cultdreams – Not My Generation
The big way in which Cultdreams reinvented themselves on We Never Rest was enough to establish them once again as a potent force with barely a hint of rust, but keeping that up can prove to be a far different struggle. Of course, it’s not like there’s any real reason that Cultdreams shouldn’t be able to pull it off – with everything they’ve released up to now, a lack of consistency has never been an issue – and Not My Generation sees them pushing their more lucid, atmospheric new style to even greater extremes with even more powerful results. For one, Lucinda Livingstone has the sort of erratic but vehemently impassioned vocal delivery that really works against the smoky, smouldering shoegaze backdrop, bringing forth issues of misogyny and right-wing ideals in modern society and well and truly taking them to task. Alongside instrumentation that has a sense of intricacy and beauty but is never afraid to crank up the bombast in its walls of sound, Not My Generation is yet another step forward for a band for whom that’s being made to look like the most natural thing in the world.
Wage War – Who I Am
The biggest problem with Wage War is, while they’re often positioned as a heavier, more hard-hitting alternative to modern metalcore’s banality, the differences are really only superficial. Compared to a band like Cane Hill who can bring that nu-metal insidiousness to both their presentation and content, Wage War’s use of meatier tones and little else feels incredibly thin and typically underwhelming. And with Who I Am, that doesn’t seem to have changed much either, even with Briton Bond being far and away the strongest feature in screams that genuinely connect on a more brutal level. But besides that, Cody Quistad’s choruses have body but lack anything necessary in the content, and even the instrumentation feels needlessly truncated to remove any greater crunch for something much more akin to faceless metalcore production line fodder. It’s far from the worst example of that sound, but Wage War used to be at least marginally more daring than this, and that potential just feels mostly squandered at this point.
Oso Oso – Impossible Game
Up to now, Oso Oso’s material hasn’t really impressed as much as it should, and that’s a shame. Within indie-punk, they’ve clearly got the instincts to hit something a lot melodically richer and verve-filled than many of their contemporaries, even if they’ve never really unlocked it yet. With Impossible Game though, this feels like a considerable step in the right direction, mostly thanks to the guitar line it’s anchored in that’s reminiscent of the lazy, laidback college-rock of the ‘90s, something that’s only buoyed by Jade Lilitri’s lurching, slightly uncertain vocal delivery that mightn’t have a great amount of novelty alongside the lyrics, but ultimately synthesises with everything else really well. This feels like Oso Oso carving a lane for themselves rather than simply monopolising one that’s already there in front of them, and that’s a good look for them to pull off, especially when the results are as likable and generally catchy as they are here. It’s not perfect, but this is unquestionably a move that’ll benefit them in the long run.
The Murder Capital – Don’t Cling To Life
Even now with more music, it’s still difficult to put a finger on where The Murder Capital fall in the musical landscape. They certainly belong in the thriving post-punk scene, but there’s always been a sense of darkness to them that’s betrayed a desire to break away from Idles, Fontaines D.C. and the like. That feels especially underscored on Don’t Cling To Life as the bass quakes, the drum work clatters and James McGovern’s vocals sound more sonorous than ever for a track that tried to compound their slightly more macabre edge, even if the results do end up more abortive than would be preferred. It makes the excitement of it all feel a lot duller, and as a result, The Murder Capital don’t quite tap into the fire that they could really use on a track like this, and as such, their aim feels a little off on the whole. It’s certainly not bad, but this doesn’t feel like the best use of the band’s abilities, and when a lot of that refuses to stick, it shows.
Delaire The Liar – Our House Is A Church
Delaire The Liar are the sort of band who could achieve genuinely incredible things with just the right push. There’s an intelligence to their brand of rigorous post-hardcore that few bands of their size are currently capitalising on, and that can take a band a considerable distance when used in the right way. And thankfully, Our House Is A Church feels like the most right way possible to do this sort of thing, not only in the surging yet intricate guitar work that has such a tangible freshness to it, but in Ffin Colley’s vocal acrobatics that find such a novel way to elevate this beyond the expected two-piece sound in a way other than just volume. It’s easy to see where the influences from the likes of La Dispute and Touché Amoré are laid down, but Delaire The Liar find a way to make it their own thing while remaining compelling and, crucially, exciting. It’s genuinely great stuff that shouldn’t go overlooked any more than it already has.
Words by Luke Nuttall