Twin Atlantic – Novocaine
The last couple of years have felt like Twin Atlantic have largely spent them tentatively going forward and backwards between whether to return or not. The stodgy classic rock of GLA really did a number on their momentum in 2016, and while they’ve kept a fairly consistent live profile, they don’t feel entirely like the Britrock golden boys they once were. And with Novocaine, it does feel like they’re improving again but they’re hardly on the unshakable footing they once were. This time, they’ve embracing a wider, indie-influenced palette complete with backdrops of skittering electronics to fully capture the size and bombast of the stages they now occupy, and why that leads to an enormously propulsive hook that is genuinely good, there’s an inherent disposability that’s difficult to ignore, especially when it feels as though all stock has been put in that hook and nowhere else. As for the band themselves, they still know their way around and anthem, and Sam McTrusty’s typically powerful earnestness continues to translate well here, but on the whole, Novocaine isn’t exactly the knockout all-rounder that Twin Atlantic used to specialise in, and more a vehicle to see them rub shoulders in the indie-adjacent crowd with bands like The Amazons and The Hunna. It’s still worlds better than anything either of those bands have ever done, but it’s going to take more than this to convince that this album will be a true return to form.
Beach Slang – Bam Rang Rang
It seems to have been quieter in the Beach Slang camp for longer than it really has. Their stripped-back side-project Quiet Slang only put out its last release last year, but the usually quick turnaround time for Beach Slang albums proper has made the interim period seem far lengthier. And while the fact that their new album is releasing in early January could set off some alarm bells, Bam Rang Rang does seem to be hitting their usual level of quality, if only for the sneering raucousness that’s brought to the table with the scrappy garage-punk guitars and James Alex’s more enclosed vocal style. It’s the classic garage-punk mould that’s always been Beach Slang’s best feature as well, throwing away the deliberate muddiness of newer examples in favour of a sound that’s a lot sharper and more robust, but still with the bashed-out style that really hits the punk sweet spot. It’s hard to say whether this is among their best given how the traditional Beach Slang sound is pretty much of a muchness, but this is definitely good, and puts to bed at least some worries how this next album will turn out.
Fickle Friends – Amateurs
As far as the modern wave of indie-pop goes, it can be difficult to determine how influential Fickle Friends have been. Their deliberately sunnier sound hasn’t prevailed to the extent of peers like The 1975 or Pale Waves, and while last year’s You Are Someone Else really was a great debut, it’s not really being talked about all that much anymore. Thus, it makes sense that Amatuers feels a bit weirder and more off-kilter in its stuttering synths and whirring, more unconventional progressions, but it’s difficult to say whether it works or not. The Muzak breakdown on the chorus is distinct but also tinny and weird in a way that doesn’t connect with anything else, and Natassja Shiner feels significantly more drained of personality that many of her past performances. To their credit, there’s definitely a unique bent that serves to drive them to a space closer to where their aforementioned contemporaries lie, but that doesn’t feel like the most auspicious idea given what Amateurs delivers. Fickle Friends were comfortably at their best when channeling lighter, sunnier synthpop, and with that basically gone here, it’s tough to see where the can convincingly head.
Palaye Royale – Hang On To Yourself
Up to now, Palaye Royale have enormously failed to justify any sort of hype that’s been thrust upon them, due to the simple fact of sounding dated as all hell and having no control over which direction their messy yet overdone garage-rock goes in. It means that any new singles aren’t exactly stepped into with much confidence, but Hang On To Yourself might just be the first case where the band have struck something that actually feels halfway decent for them. It’s still far too busy in the sawing bass clashing with guitars and horns, not to mention Remington Leith’s typically brazen vocals, but there’s no denying that there’s a certain amount of swing and groove that’s never previously been present, and there’s an element of tightness in the progressions that does make this feel so much more cohesive and propulsive, perhaps in a way that’s maybe even likable. That’s not to say that Palaye Royale have found the right path for themselves or anything, but it’s the closest they’ve been to there possibly ever, and for as misguided as they’ve always been in the past, that’s a fairly significant achievement indeed.
God Damn – Strangers
Among the glut of back-to-basics riff-rock bands, God Damn were always one of the more interesting, simply for having the gall to tune into some real menace and heft in a way that their frequent contrast point Royal Blood never could. That was a few years ago now though, and it’s worth wondering how that still fares today, and a track like Dreamers proves that, while not quite as thrilling as it once was, it’s still pretty good. The hoarse, unkempt shouts of Thom Edwards still have a suitably guttural feel against the heavier guitars and drums, and even if the cracks in the whole rudimentary setup can’t be papered over quite that easily, there’s the sensation of hanging over the abyss while still having a whole lot of fun that keeps God Damn chugging along at a fairly decent pace. Maybe it’s not their best attempt, but they’re keeping consistent, and when such acts in recent times have been making a meal of that to the extreme, there’s something worth praising there.
Like Moths To Flames – Smoke And Mirrors
The problem with Like Moths To Flames isn’t that they’re necessarily bad, but they’re so boring that when it comes to having to think of something to say about them, nothing comes up. It’s been like this basically since the start too; metalcore might be having a slow time evolving properly, but this band are fully digging their heels into the ground to avoid moving anywhere. So here’s Smoke And Mirrors, another track of metalcore banality that would’ve been okay had it been released about five years ago, but now feels so dated and uninspiring to listen to in its utterly insipid lyrics, composition that feels stitched together from three or four very distinct stock pieces within this genre, and production that isn’t too bad in how grand it aims for, but doesn’t necessarily put its own spin on anything. All of that comes together for a track that’s the serviceable workhorse of the scene, making all the necessary moves desired of it at a steady pace without even contemplating doing anything different. Basically then, it’s another Like Moths To Flames song.
New Politics – Ozone
Even if 2017’s Lost In Translation wasn’t a good approximation of modern pop-rock and alt-pop, there’s enough to justify New Politics’ place in the scene today. They’ve at least been capable of decent, propulsive hooks in the past even if they’ve not really found their own sound, and continuing to leverage that is at least a good move on paper. What isn’t, on the other hand, is digging even further into the hole of emulating Twenty One Pilots, and yet that’s exactly what Ozone does in big drum progressions flooding out synths and hints of guitars while David Boyd furthers his Tyler Joseph impression to almost unnecessary levels. But even with all of that removed, this is just another indie-pop song that could’ve been released by literally any no-mark chancer looking to slot themselves into the same C-list as the likes of Judah And The Lion, and no one would bat an eyelid. New Politics are so much better than this, and why they continue to restrict themselves by slinking into the nebulous alternative holding pen feels like more of a mystery than ever.
WhoHurtYou – Not The One
Up to now, there’s not been a whole lot to be impressed about with WhoHurtYou, a project that really only seems to exists so Jack Barakat has his own underwhelming alt-pop project to put his name to and match up with All Time Low bandmate Alex Gaskarth’s Simple Creatures. With that being said though, Not The One does feel like a step up, mostly because in its very rigid pop context, there’s enough here that connects in terms of emotionality and melody to actually work. Sure, the main guitar flutter sounds uncannily similar to David Guetta and Sia’s Titanium, but the misty production and airier overall vibe in the synths and percussion does have a nice delicacy to it to match the solid vulnerability in Kevin Fisher’s vocals. Like every WhoHurtYou track to date, there’s very little about it to suggest that any huge alt-pop revolution with them leading the charge in on the cards, but at least this is a better example of what they can do, and that’s something.
Raised Fist – Into This World
Though arguably never getting as much attention as they deserve, Sweden’s Raised Fist have always been a solid hardcore band in their twenty-plus year career, but the fact they’ve remained generally unnoticed on the whole has been rather underwhelming. Still, they’re the sort of band for whom chugging on regardless of adversity seems to be a necessity, and Into This World is another case of a band using their continual momentum to great advantage. Here, there’s an almost Rise Against-esque instrumental palette adopted in the surging, arena-ready guitars and militant drums, while Alle Hagman delivers a vocal that can parallel Tim McIlrath in terms of throaty passion, but still has a foot planted firmly in hardcore soil for an extra burly edge. It’s nothing all that new, especially in punk like this, but Raised Fist continue to execute it well, having a good knowledge of size and scale without sacrificing their bite in the way that so many have fallen victim to. Perhaps not essential, then, but an incredibly worthwhile listen all the same.
Words by Luke Nuttall