Trash Boat – Synthetic Sympathy
Trash Boat’s Crown Shyness last year was a huge step up for them, moving away from the boring, overplayed pop-punk of their earlier material for something closer to melodic hardcore that felt so much more vital and exciting. And yet, no one really could’ve expected new music so soon after, let alone a track like Synthetic Sympathy which is another fairly sizable swerve into new territory. This time, alt-rock is the strong foundation, coated with a slightly more polished surface that’s pretty much industry standard at this point, but never to the extent that it ruins what was Trash Boat’s appeal. This is still demonstrably a rock song, with Tobi Duncan’s shapeshifting vocals that still drift into rougher affectations and prominent, surging guitars that form a really strong baseline, and it’s all done to feel like an update rather than a retcon. Trash Boat have still kept their strengths in mind right down to very visceral writing, and by doing so, Synthetic Sympathy shines in a way that so many other attempts like this just don’t. It’s another great move for a band on one hell of a roll at the minute, and makes it all the more interesting to see what they’re going to do next.
Stray From The Path – Kickback
There’s a prolificness to Stray From The Path that rarely gets discussed, and while it doesn’t always feel necessary given a relative lack of diversity in their sound, it’s not like having them around is ever a bad thing. Of course, over-saturation is still a thing, and as Only Death Is Real proved, they’re not immune, but a track like Kickback looks to be bucking against that as much as it can. For one, having a guest appearance from Counterparts’ Brendan Murphy brings a more traditional hardcore bent compared to Drew York’s rap-metal-inflected delivery, but there’s a general sense of heft to the groove that isn’t exactly redrawing the blueprint, but has enough momentum to keep the wheels rolling at a serious pace. Factor in the closing breakdown that’s genuinely bone-rattling in its size and bloodshot destructiveness, and it seems as though Stray From The Path are still hitting a standard of quality fairly regularly, something that’s always good to see.
Angels & Airwaves – Kiss & Tell
It’s kind of funny that Tom DeLonge’s first piece of music with Angels & Airwaves in years Rebel Girl was ultimately better than anything his former blink-182 bandmates have done in a long time, but it really was that good, taking a glossy, new romantic flavour for a big, bombastic love song that wasn’t exactly nuanced, but hit those joy centres all the same. With Kiss & Tell though, while it’s pleasing to see that the pretensions towards sweeping, fake-deep space-operas have seemingly been dropped altogether, this is definitely a weaker cut, mostly because it’s playing in the complete opposite direction that saw Rebel Girl land in a groove that truly worked. The guitars are more prominent, but they’re also choppy and compressed in a way that’s not beneficial, and there’s an amount of overproduction on DeLonge’s vocals that’s seemingly meant to crowbar them into place, but only accentuates how awkward his ever-emphasised inflections are in this context. Otherwise, it’s not the worst song ever, but just as Angels & Airwaves finally seemed to be getting hold of what they were doing, they’ve taken an unfortunate step back.
Counterparts – Wings Of Nightmares
It’d be hard to say that Counterparts aren’t one of the best-loved hardcore bands around at the minute. Everything they do seems to get washed in both fan and critical acclaim, and it’s not hard to see why given how hard they lean on intensity and emotionality to such great effect. And thus, it’s no surprise that Wings Of Nightmare continues to go down that direction, only now with the sort of production style that feels even more sweeping, as intricate guitar parts dance around a far bigger canvas in a way that gives Brendan Murphy’s vocals even more of a bleary-eyed volatility. Relying on a tried-and-true breakdown to close out does feel like a move below their pay grade, especially given how much of a step up the rest of this actually feels, but it’s the solitary black mark on what’s otherwise a pretty great track, and one that does solidify Counterparts’ presence as a genuinely potent force within hardcore.
False Advertising – Influenza
False Advertising’s signing to Alcopop! doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that they’ve always felt like the kind of band that would fit that label’s ethos perfectly, but what’s less certain is what it could do for them. They’ve often had a bit of trouble finding their own sound, and there haven’t been any obvious routes left open for them to take to rectify that. Though saying that, Influenza perhaps feels like the most definitive example of that yet, moving away from post-punk slightly into a scuzzier indie-rock foundation that emphasises a particularly ‘90s quality in Jen Hingley’s vocals that does sound really good. That’s the case for most of this track actually, with the warping guitars and strident bassline carving very distinct grooves for themselves and meshing well for the sort of propulsive little track that makes no bones about wanting to be just a simple, straightforward rock song, and yet owns it. It’s perhaps one of False Advertising’s strongest cuts to date, and it that’s any indication of what’s coming down the pipeline, that could be some exciting stuff indeed.
Thornhill – Nurture
Up to now, Thornhill haven’t really impressed all that much in terms of musical output. They’ve fallen into the same tech-metal lanes as an insurmountable number of their contemporaries, and without much of unique spin on that sound, they’ve often felt like a band on the sidelines and little else. At least Nurture aims a bit higher in a more defined melodic focus, but it’s still not enough to stop this from feeling like just another one of these songs. The guitar tone sounds virtually identical to any number of Northlane songs, and while there’s a decent level of malleability in Jacob Charlton’s vocals, he can feel strangely drained of power when going for his quieter, lower range that doesn’t really seem to gel with anything all that well. It’s not exactly terrible as there’s enough here to warrant calling this is a step in the right direction, but Thornhill are still refusing to deliver the killing blow that’s needed now more than ever, and holding back that much will only prove to be a hindrance going forward.
White Reaper – 1F
White Reaper’s journey from their 2015 debut to now is an interesting one, mostly because it’s a transition that’s happened quicker than it usually does. It’s hardly uncommon for punk bands to mellow out with age, but going from raucous garage-punk to fuzzy pop-rock in the space of four years is slightly strange, but it’s not like the band can’t handle it. In fact, 1F somewhat unwittingly draws from the same pop-rock headspace that a band like The Maine sometimes like the explore, dipping into classic pop tones in its firm bass progressions and backing vocals, but keeping a sharper twinge thanks to Tony Esposito’s thinner, more distinct vocal style. It’s not quite as well fleshed-out as The Maine, largely because the presentation adjacent to garage-rock skirts dangerously close to territory that’s low on mileage, but White Reaper are still hitting all the right notes to be a perfectly serviceable pop-rock band, and leaving the right avenues open to go down and achieve much better things.
The Velveteers – Tale Of The Bad Seed
It’s not exactly new information that garage-rock is reaching its saturation point, but for some reason, bands just don’t want to let go of it despite a naturally limited sonic palette that’s only going to make things even more difficult for them. In terms of that, The Velveteers are hardly the worst band to emerge from this particular scene, but Tale Of A Bad Seed isn’t doing much to break away from a particularly rigid template that’s been formed, namely in the scuzzy guitar tone that sounds deliberately bashed out, a slight air of the macabre to pay homage to earlier proto-punk and psychedelic rock sounds, and in Demi Demitro, a vocalist channeling the wild, ragged shrieks of the genre’s heyday that are pretty easy to pin down. On the flip side, having two drummers is definitely a cool gimmick for a more forceful sound, but it’s not enough to fully divorce Tale Of A Bad Seed from its numerous influences that are still pretty recognisable. There’s still plenty of time for a band this young to grow into their sound, but it’d be better if that happened sooner rather than later
Words by Luke Nuttall