It says a lot when there’s genuine buzz around an upcoming indie-punk band that isn’t just another product of scene inertia. Brighton’s Gender Roles may lean heavier on the punk side of that particular genre description, but that’s been the source of the considerable waves they’ve been making recently, especially in the way it’s forged a fair distance between them and some of the overused tweeness that’s become indie-punk’s main sore spot. That’s only widened the trio’s reach though, not only finding their feet in Brighton’s famously fertile and diverse rock scenes, but also through festival appearances and tours with the likes of Pup and Touché Amoré that have long solidified them as one to watch. It’s the sort of refreshingly simplistic and grassroots come-up that tends to be indicative of quality, particularly in the age of marketed hyperbole at every turn, and it sets up some high expectations for what their debut full-length Prang can achieve.
But even so, it’s not like that’s an unfamiliar launchpad that Gender Roles are approaching. Admittedly, the results do usually come out positive, but on paper, it’s not like there’s much more to be expected beyond that norm. But Prang feels a bit different, keeping the intricacies and deeper introspection of Gender Roles’ peers, but infusing them with the spirit of the biggest bands around for a melodic rock album that hits both of those camps firmly. It’s a similar case with bands like Nervus and Martha who’ve managed to shake off their indie-punk shackles for something a lot more ambitious, and it won’t be a surprise if Prang is the catalyst for Gender Roles to do the same, because this really is great stuff.
And right off the bat, it says a lot about how strong and refined these melodic compositions are when they remain so sturdy even amongst the album’s flaws. They definitely aren’t plentiful, mainly showing up in an unnecessarily fuzzed-out production technique on Tom Bennett’s vocals that doesn’t lend much of value and could’ve been left out, but it’s really the only bum note that Gender Roles hit here. Otherwise, this is about as strong as this brand of indie-punk gets, giving its guitars a bit more room to bite and opening out the mix slightly to sound a lot bigger and more vital. The effect is noticeable as well, particularly when a track like If This Is Your War generally sticks to peppy indie-punk progressions in its underlying melody, but warps into something new with rougher guitars and darker, minor passages. Among that, the ear for a truly tremendous hook remains intact – Always would’ve been an indie radio smash had it been released in the mid-2000s – but the details count towards a more intricate picture overall, like the twisting guitar roils of Hey With Two Whys and Ickie, or the expansive, shapeshifting closer Bubble. There are clearly roots placed in the world of unashamedly massive alt-rock, but the subtleties and twists that Gender Roles bring do a lot to elevate them and give them a constant hook that, on an album like this especially, feels invaluable.
It makes the ground-level content have a bit more weight to it, something that, when it comes to albums like this that stand so centralised around modern struggles, isn’t always the case with some bands. With Gender Roles though, there’s no artifice here whatsoever, partly because of Bennett’s very no-frills vocal delivery, but also because in terms of any sort of melodrama, there’s next to nothing here. The title really does say it best, describing these issues as prangs or bumps in the road, but without downplaying the emotionality felt in the moment. It spans a rather wide variety of fields too, whether that’s the death of a loved one on Always or feelings of insecurity and self-doubt on Hey With Two Whys, or something as comparatively trivial as leaving home for the first time on You Look Like Death. It’s not necessarily a new concept, but there’s an ease to which Gender Roles latch onto it that gives it so much appeal.
That’s generally where Prang falls in the grand scheme of British rock in 2019; it’s hardly anything new, but what it does do is so emphatically likable and infectious pretty much from front to back that it’s hard to knock it too heavily for that. If anything, it lends Gender Roles a familiarity that does work to their favour, not straying too far from the big, melodic rock template, but freshening it up enough to make an album that’s consistently engaging and entertaining. There’s the potential for widespread appeal here that most indie-punk doesn’t have, similar to – once again – Nervus and Martha in terms of breaking away from such a restrictive mould and moving into something a lot more fruitful on a wider scale. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that could happen, and Prang is the perfect jumping-off point to make it so.
For fans of: Nervus, Milk Teeth, Pup
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Prang’ by Gender Roles is released on 30th August on Big Scary Monsters.