The Catch-Up – 2019 (Part 2)

Lingua Ignota – Caligula

The praise awarded to Lingua Ignota’s Caligula this year has been nothing short of flooring, mostly because it’s rare to see an album that falls so far out of the boundaries of ‘traditional’ heavy music pick up steam in the way that this one has. At the same time though, in the search to elevate music looking to challenge and display true artistic intent and emotion, this certainly feels like that, the work of mastermind Kristin Hayter who crafts collages of noise-rock, avant-garde metal and classical vocal training to break apart a history of abusive relationships in one of the most bleak, harrowing and genuinely frightening listening experiences of 2019. As trite of an expression as ‘exorcising demons’ has become within music, that feels like Caligula’s statement of intent more than anything, as Hayter’s blood-curdling screams emerge from her subdued, ethereal screaming on Do You Doubt Me Traitor before forming the basis of Day Of Tears And Mourning against the quaking production of pianos and calamitous drums. There is an artlessness to it all, primarily down to the magnitude with which Hayter lays herself bare and how that shapes so many of the creative decisions here. Screams feel entirely instinctive, and the clear dichotomy formed between softer piano passages and abrasive walls of sound makes the curdling, warring feelings of pain, betrayal and seething anger feel all the more palpable and pronounced. And because of that, it’s difficult to really recommend Caligula as an album, in that the walls constructed by any sort of artifice or even artistry are nonexistent, and this hour-long tour de force really is as challenging and uncomfortable as it has every right and desire to be. That’s not to say it’s not compelling though; quite the opposite, in fact, with each turn and layer contributing to an enormously deep and complex listen that’s honestly like very little else released this year. That alone makes Caligula worthy of huge praise, and while it’s as far from as easy listen as it comes, digging into it and putting the time in leads to a massively rewarding one. • LN


For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, The Body, Liturgy

Have Mercy – The Love Life

It feels as though Have Mercy have been facing nothing but setbacks recently, between an entire lineup shift besides vocalist Brian Swindle before 2017’s Make The Best Of It, to the unfortunate passing of founding drummer Aaron Alt earlier this year. But what’s stood out more than anything else is how much interest in them has dwindled; they’ve never been an enormous commercial force, but that last album felt as though it came and went with barely a whisper, and that’s even more for The Love Life, an album generally seemed to be ignored across the board upon its release. Then again, this is a far more low-key release, moving past the curdled teeth-baring the characterised a lot of Have Mercy’s last album for something that’s no less emotionally driven (see songs like Mattress On The Floor with its languid, delicate emo backdrop and Swindle’s hushed vocals), but there’s a core of wistfulness that does seep through in tracks like 40oz., where peace and tranquility become more prevalent feelings in Swindle’s life. Of course, there’s always going to be the enormous emo melodies that take to the fore, but The Love Life does so through cleaner production that accentuates that size with hints of gleaming synths, and the likes of Clair and the phenomenal So Like You make so much of them in their surging, tense progressions that still feel hugely accessible. By comparison, the sparer acoustic cuts don’t quite have the same impact, but they aren’t as disruptive to the flow as they potentially could be, and they add to the multifaceted presentation of this band that feels suitably refreshing and no less engaging. It’s yet another sleeper hit from a band that seem to have made that their speciality, and it’s basically as rich and engrossing as this brand of emo gets. • LN


For fans of: The Dangerous Summer, Citizen, Trophy Eyes

Carnifex – World War X

If there’s one band that could definitively be called a standard-setter for deathcore above anything else, it’d most likely be Carnifex. They’ve never been the most acclaimed band in the world, but they’re a band who can ultimately be trusted to get their heads down and knock out consistently crushing deathcore that deftly sidesteps the genre’s more tired tropes to a higher standard than most. And indeed, World War X is no different, another slice of textbook Carnifex that’s not shooting for anything more adventurous than their usual fare, but still does enough to keep their space on top secure. For one, the more expansive melodeath influences do a lot right, alongside smatterings of strings and pianos in a way that makes this feel so much bigger and especially allows Shawn Cameron’s phenomenal drumming to land with so much more potency. It’s indicative of a band who know they’ve landed on a winning formula and don’t really need to grow it or expand it, although it would’ve been nice to give both Alissa White-Gluz and Angel Vivaldi more meaningful contributions to contribute to at least some miniscule variety. Otherwise though, the guitar work is frequently tight and sharp; Scott Lewis aptly replicates the unfettered destruction of the lyrics in his vocal performance; and as a whole package, it’s never one that outstays its welcome. Par for the course for Carnifex, then, but extremely welcome nonetheless. • LN


For fans of: Whitechapel, Thy Art Is Murder, Winds Of Plague

Hobo Johnson – The Fall Of Hobo Johnson

The cult of personality around Hobo Johnson is hardly an unfamiliar phenomenon, especially when more indie hip-hop is finding dominance and artists can more reliably get by on tapping into their own imperfections to cultivate the audience that suits them. It’s typically a description applied to emo-rap as its presence only continues to balloon within that sphere, but Johnson’s deliberately small yet more sonically adventurous brand of indie-rap can just as easily draw some parallels, especially when the appeal is just as isolated to a very specific audience. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but when Johnson leans so heavily on his image as yet another awkward, self-deprecating sad-sack with so little to differentiate himself from the numerous others trying to squeeze into that same broad personality trope, it makes it hard to find anything of note to gravitate towards, and playing it up to almost comical levels with an untrained, cracking voice and a dirt-kicking lyrical style on Mover Awayer and Ode To Justin Bieber makes the whole performative aspect of it all feel enormously grating. At least there’s a couple of instrumental turns that make better use of a wider alt-rap canvas like the jazzy smoothness of Uglykid or the genuinely fantastic beat of Subaru Crosstrek XV, but mainly, the default setting comes from playing up the imperfections, trying to muscle through increasingly messy or unflattering production, and selling it as a supposedly competent artistic vision. It’s more aggravating than outright awful, playing to stereotypes and tropes that have already been worn down to nubs, and only able to find the most fleeting glimpses of light among them. The Fall Of Hobo Johnson as a title might just be another blanket statement to create that ever-present personality, but on this album, it’s an accurate one nonetheless. • LN


For fans of: Rex Orange County, guardin, grandson

The Night Café 0151

Disappointingly, 0151 perhaps isn’t as great a debut album as The Night Café have the potential to put out. The hour and two minute runtime includes far more filler than there really should be, and considering that plenty of the high points on the record have already been aired on past EPs, it could be easy for fans to be put out. The Night Café’s choice to follow through with a more mellow and subtle vibe that none of their peers in indie have opted for themselves has paid off, playing to their strengths as musicians with swirling, almost shoegazey guitars creating a landscape in which Sean Martin’s beautiful chilled voice can really shine. As commendable and pleasing to the ear as this direction is though, plenty of songs on the album meander, lacking any hooks for listeners to grip onto. The songs that stick include the gorgeous Endless Lovers and Please, indie bangers Strange Clothes and career highlight Mixed Signals and the catchy Addicted, but it’s too small a number in such a long album. As a whole experience, the way these songs blend together is an hour of dreamy bliss, but for the most part this is a one-and-done album. • GJ


For fans of: Sundara Karma, JAWS, The Magic Gang

Lagwagon – Railer

It feels as though bands like Lagwagon have gotten incredibly far on replicating the same trick over and over again, and while it’s hard to deny the appeal of a band like NOFX and how they’re able to twist said trick in enough ways to meet their needs, the rather narrow window of opportunity that skate-punk offers can frequently mean that these bands, especially older ones, can come across as spinning their wheels. At least Lagwagon are able to keep the pace up and dish out another dose of punk on Railer that has more appeal than an old name going way past their prime. Sure, Joey Cape’s voice is a little worse-for-wear, and the closing cover of Journey’s Faithfully doesn’t really work, but Railer is about as solid as a new cut from the old guard gets, dealt with an unmistakably youthful intensity and, on a track like Surviving California, the know-how of when to throw in some really great guitar work to cap it all off. There’s not really much to say about an album like this, mostly because Lagwagon have gotten the formula down pretty handily to the point where they’re unlikely to deviate in either style or quality, but mostly because the rush of adrenaline that Railer provides is about as straightforward as thrills get, but almost equally as effective. This is one band who are continuing to hit some impressive heights even so far down the road, and Railer is a great example of just how good that can be. • LN


For fans of: NOFX, Face To Face, Millencolin

Bayside – Interrobang

Bayside have never been the biggest or flashiest band within emo, pop-punk or any of their adjacent scenes, but the fact that they’ve kept rolling along as steadily as they have off the back of pretty decent runs of quality ultimately speaks for itself. They fit the role of a more mature, 2000s-leaning act better than a lot of their contemporaries (even if the payoff in terms of size hasn’t been quite as noticeable), but it’s in how emphatically Interrobang bucks against those expectations that makes it so potent. The most stark point comes in the beefed-up guitars and formidable bass rumble that really isn’t indicative of a pop-punk band, as the title track and Bury Me adopt a genuinely powerful sense of drive and snarl, while Tall leans into the galloping, hardcore-adjacent tones of late-period Sum 41 and Heaven has more than a shade of classic rock in its squalling guitar acrobatics. Whether it all gels with Anthony Raneri’s reedier vocals can be a more hit-or-miss proposition, mind, but there’s enough spit in both his delivery and the writing to make for a pretty impactful listen, arguably the first time in years that Bayside have properly stood out and having a lot to like in their approach to doing so. All the pieces mightn’t quite come together yet, but if this is the direction that Bayside are looking to continue down going forward, a late-career renaissance mightn’t be totally out of the question. • LN


For fans of: Sum 41, Millencolin, I Am The Avalanche

Starset – Divisions

As everyone knows by now, Starset aren’t a band to do things by halves, which is why Divisions comes as their third slab of electro-hard-rock monoliths in a row to examine the weighty sci-fi concepts that – let’s face it – have always been enormously out of their depth. Regardless of how many good moments they can pull from them, Starset albums have always been chronically bloated and in no way deserving of their feature-length runtimes, and Divisions is really no different. It’d be easy to say that nothing has changed since 2016’s Vessels, mostly because the tactic of filling every song to the absolute brim with overworked guitars, buzzing synths and strings is still implemented without fail, but where that album bothered to be memorable in places, there’s no such luck here. Sure, the more tangible rock bombast of Echo and the surprisingly cutting electronic pulse of Solstice are good, and despite the questionable premise of an Imagine Dragons / Shinedown hybrid, Faultline is fine enough, but Divisions follows Starset’s typical example of cramming itself with as much nebulous content as possible in order to ensure its abject hugeness never even runs the risk of becoming lost. It’s actually quite impressive that a band is willing to forgo any sort of modulation or proper productional form to sound this consistently gigantic, but just like everything that comes before it, Divisions is left as a lumbering, dramatically overweight and flat-out exhausting listen that, when all the outer layers are peeled back, isn’t that different from just another radio-friendly hard rock album. That shouldn’t be a problem for Starset fans who’ve stuck it out this long, but it’s the sort of endurance trial that isn’t going to cross over outside of that group with much ease. • LN


For fans of: Linkin Park, Nothing More, From Ashes To New

Cigarettes After Sex – Cry

Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled debut record still feels like its own gorgeous entity. An untouchable blend of atmospheric guitar and airy synth chord instrumentals that feed listeners through a steady drip rather than all at once and crooned, romantic lyrics which illustrate all types of romance timelessly, it’s a concoction that’s won over plenty of people. Second album Cry sees them attempt to continue riding that wave by following the same blueprint. These are still dream-pop songs that wash over you, Greg Gonzalez’s vocals and narrative voice at the helm, but much of Cry is a textbook example of an inferior rehash of something that worked well before. It’s not a bad album per se, just has fewer notable and likeable songs than their last record. A main issue with Cry is that Cigarettes After Sex’s lyrical approach seems much messier compared to last time, clumsy lines about Playboy shoots and heading off to the gym feeling horny really take away from the atmosphere they usually succeed in creating (Don’t Let Me Go and Falling In Love are both great examples from Cry that such talent is still very much there). Any hint of smut on their debut was enveloped in the all-encompassing musical world they built so fantastically, but here such unsubtlety is distracting – we dare you to listen to the first verse of Hentai and not cringe. Luckily for Cigarettes’ After Sex, they have a mostly universally beautiful thing going on that would probably make many listeners not care about what they may see as small issues. But for others, such a sound would always need to run like clockwork to live up to standard, and it looks like tightening the screws would do the band a world of good should they carry on the same way next time. • GJ


For fans of: Alvvays, Beach House, Grizzly Bear

Black Futures – Never Not Nothing

While industrial music is as niche as it’s really always been, it’s been impressive to watch just how far-reaching Black Futures have become, not only in pulling in guest spots from both P.O.S and Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie on this debut album, but in just how well they’ve managed to infiltrate the modern Britrock scene and reap the benefits of the more creatively fertile ground it rests on. And as such, an album like Never Not Nothing comes, rooted as deeply in punk with its choppy, scrappy progressions as industrial music, and it’s able to reach a pretty good confluence of those influences. There’s definitely something akin to a much more toned-down Ho99o9 in terms of the snarling delivery and buzzed-out production (especially when P.O.S jumps on for his guest turn on Love), but there’s definitely a more identifiable personality here, perhaps one that’s not totally realised yet given how many different textures and tones that Black Futures try, but there’s a whole lot of promise pretty much everywhere. There’s palpable, righteous anger that comes through in Body & Soul and Gutters in both the clattering sound and the gnashing lyrics and delivery, while Youthman’s attempts at something more anthemic while still keeping the more raucous elements intact actually work rather well. It’s an interesting blend of noise and intent throughout, but it’s one that really does work well, and with a bit more honing could turn into something enormously potent and long-lasting. There’s a rough-around-the-edges quality right now, but when that undoubtedly fades over time, there’ll be even more to pay close attention to here. • LN


For fans of: Mojo Fury, The Cooper Temple Clause, Hounds

Black Stone Cherry – Black To Blues 2

It’s not as though this is a release that needs all that much scrutiny in its analysis. Black Stone Cherry have already proven they can dish out solid rendition of blues classics on the first edition of this EP series, but even if they hadn’t, the fact their blatant classic streak when it comes to southern rock and blues has always seen them surpass so many within the radio-rock bracket they seem unfairly lodged into is a pretty good indication of how things are looking. And just like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is a solid channelling of that musical acumen into another generally unnecessary but immensely enjoyable release, buoyed by Chris Robertson’s voice that’s as phenomenal as ever in terms of range and malleability in curving around the beefed-up grooves that come from the likes of Big Legged Woman and All Your Love (I Miss Loving). It’s the only real means that Black Stone Cherry have of putting their own spin on these tracks, but it does admittedly work, with guitars that don’t skimp on the bluesy sizzle and a fantastically balanced rhythm section to make those grooves stand out as prominently as possible. Of course, the intentions rarely elevate beyond producing good renditions of these songs, and the faster chug of Down In The Bottom doesn’t really match up even then, but this is remarkably solid once again, and only reinforces Black Stone Cherry as a band whose capabilities far surpass plenty of those within their scene. • LN


For fans of: Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, George Thorogood

The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

It’s hard not to believe that The Regrettes couldn’t do better than what they’re currently doing. What started out as a pretty solid indie-punk band seems to have fallen for the ever-enticing allure of wider hype, and subsequently dialled back their sound for yet another permutation of modern indie-rock that’s just as forgettable and toothless as the others. It’s that lack of identity that’s How Do You Love?’s damning flaw as well, as it’s not like The Regrettes are doing anything particularly horrendous with what they’ve got here. The lyrics have definitely lost some punch but they aren’t badly written, and from a musical and production standpoint, the band show capability in bringing a classic pop angle forward into their melodies. But those descriptions could be applied to virtually any other Californicated indie-rock band that’s currently active, and when The Regrettes display so many of those similarities in such rapid succession, How Do You Love? ends up bleeding itself dry of any character and becomes almost irritatingly rote. The influence that’s clearly come from touring with Twenty One Pilots feels pretty evident on the indie-pop skips of I Dare You and Here You Go, and the combination of faux-scuzzy production and a far longer runtime than necessary just further hammers into the ground the notion that The Regrettes are simply looking to assimilate on this album rather than make any bigger, more definitive statement. That’s a shame, and when the knock is so profound on the whole compared to what they’ve done in the past, it’s more than a little disappointing. • LN


For fans of: The Strokes, SWMRS, Bleached

Hawk Eyes – Advice

Hawk Eyes were once primed and ready to be the next it-band within British rock, but after getting lapped by countless others taking a similarly angular, grungy angle much further, it feels as though they’ve been left somewhat without a home. At least they’re still going, which the four years between this album and their last ensured was always a worry, but it’s hard, at least on the surface, not to picture a band somewhat deflated by how far their stock has fallen, and then subsequently imagine an album that follows suit. That’s something like the case with Advice as well, but to call this outright bad would be missing the mark by a fairly hefty amount. It’s not like Hawk Eyes have overly truncated their approach or anything, given how the searing riffs of Follow Me and State Of Opposition constantly feel on the edge of fully combusting, and having actor Richard O’Brien deliver a surprisingly well-fitting spoken word performance on Smokes feels like a genuinely inspired decision. There’s definitely still creativity running through this band’s veins, the magnitude of which unfortunately only comes up in isolated moments across Advice, with everything else falling as pleasant noise without burrowing in deeper. It’s a shame when instrumentally and production-wise, everything feels as fleshed-out and complete as it should (perhaps with the exception of the title track), but there’s just a couple of extra steps that need to be taken to get this album to the point of true greatness that Hawk Eyes are still capable of delivering. It just feels a bit too apprehensive to leave a lasting impact, something which is easy to rectify but, for this band especially, needs to be done sooner rather than later. • LN


For fans of: Therapy?, Marmozets, Pulled Apart By Horses

The Lumineers – III

When The Lumineers broke through with Ho Hey in 2013, the whole thing smacked of a one-hit wonder, the sort of quaint, milquetoast folk song that was perfectly suited to a scene blown wide open by Mumford & Sons but would struggle to find its feet at any other time. Sure enough, that’s been the case with pretty much all of The Lumineers’ subsequent work, even to the point where this third album effectively came and went without a trace in the space of just a few weeks. Sure enough, III feels like the work of a band that hasn’t advanced past 2012 as well. To give them a bit of credit, there’s at least some more ambition here, with a chaptered narrative focusing on three members of the same family, but being anchored in the blank, brittle acoustics of tracks like It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy make it all the more difficult to become invested, as do the vocals of Wesley Schultz which seem to be actively trying to be as waifishly trembling and unthreatening as possible. Once in a while, there’ll be a more tense build that does actually pay off like on Leader Of The Landslide or to a lesser extent My Cell, but for the most part, III doesn’t have a great deal that feels all that interesting or can fully prop up what The Lumineers want to do. It’s even more galling when tracks like Gloria and Jimmy Sparks clearly want to invoke a more biographical writing style like Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash in places, but the weak, weedy presentation sandblasts away any human grit that could possibly allow them to reach that point, and what’s left is a pretty hollow and uninteresting collection of songs. And when that’s about all The Lumineers have ever been good for, III doesn’t feel like something investing much time into. • LN


For fans of: Mumford & Sons, Lord Huron, Of Monsters & Men

Slaves – The Velvet Ditch

There doesn’t seem to be much point in Slaves releasing an EP. It’s not like their full-length albums have all that much worthwhile content in them to begin with, so to deliberately rend that again and limit themselves even further just seems counterproductive by anyone’s standard. And to give them the benefit of the doubt, The Velvet Ditch could easily be just a throwaway collection to try some new ideas out that might be a bit too out-there to include on an album proper, but it’s still not very good. One More Day Won’t Hurt is easily the standout, both here and within Slaves’ entire catalogue over the last couple of years, simply for showing more palpable garage-punk intensity and what borders on a hip-hop influence in its flows, but what feels like a potential return to the style that actually worked for this duo is chopped to pieces on the underweight acoustics of the title track or the baffling piano-ballad When Will I Learn?. Points for experimenting, sure, but when Slaves are playing so far away from their own well-known strengths, it’s a wonder why they even bothered making this in the first place. Capped off with production that still feels grainy and uninspired even within this new context, The Velvet Ditch might be more interesting and diverse than what’s come before, but it’s still just another example of why Slaves’ star continues to plummet, even with all the measures taken to try and rectify it. • LN


For fans of: Oasis, Drenge, Peace

Off With Their Heads – Be Good

The influx of gruffer, earthier punk’s current wave spearheaded by bands like The Menzingers has undoubtedly been successful, and because of that, it feels as though a band like Off With Their Heads should get more attention than they really do. It’s true they’re not ones for big, innovative shakes, but a strong baseline of quality has always served Off With Their Heads well, and for punk like this, their reliability is definitely appreciated. At the same time though, it does need to be acknowledged that there are better bands out there, and while Be Good has its niche within the scene, it’s ultimately not the sort of thing that transcends that. It’s definitely good to have an album like this as a louder, burlier alternative with Ryan Young’s screams on the title track and No Love or the louder guitar swelter on Let It All, and thus it’s not really surprising that Be Good does hit its most consistent stride when it leans into those aspects. Otherwise, it’s generally fine, but between an instrumental execution that doesn’t feel as carefully crafted and lyrics that aren’t quite as evocative in their imagery, the high bar set by their contemporaries isn’t one that’s being hit all that often. That’s not to say this is a bad album, especially when it thrives far greater as a different branch of the scene than yet another one trying to hit the heights of the current vogue sound, but in the conversation in which they’ll inevitably be placed, Off With Their Heads aren’t quite setting the standard here. • LN


For fans of: Hot Water Music, The Bouncing Souls, The Menzingers

Hellyeah – Welcome Home

Even for those who see Hellyeah as just another name on the US wrestle-metal map, there’s at least a bit of poignancy to Welcome Home that can’t be denied, being the last album to feature drummer and all-around metal legend Vinnie Paul following his death earlier this year and subsequently framed as something of a tribute. Granted, a lot of that does feel more peritextual, and even when there’s a clearer throughline like the expulsion of emotion on Black Flag Army or the tender, more openly vulnerable Skyy And Water, it’s not like they don’t fit within the usual segmented areas that typically constitute albums like this. It makes what could’ve felt a lot more personal and uniquely cathartic listen feel more like just another Hellyeah album, but it’s not like that in itself is a bad thing. The title track has the right combination of big radio hooks and steamrolling guitar chugs to make for a pretty convincing radio hit, while the more outward viciousness of tracks like 333 and Boy mesh with Chad Gray’s snarling delivery with far more volatility than just more run-of-the-mill radio-metal. It’s a good combination that has moments of real power; it’s just a shame that Hellyeah could’ve done a lot more with it given the circumstances, even retroactively, to prevent this from unfortunately falling by the wayside as what is fairly par for the course for this band. It’s certainly not bad, but there’s still a couple of pieces missing from the overall recipe that could’ve turned this from a decent album into a great one. • LN


For fans of: Pantera, Five Finger Death Punch, Mudvayne

Carousel Kings – Plus Ultra

It’s always satisfying to see a hard-working band’s grinding pay off, and Carousel Kings earning praise and year-end spots from US rock publications on their fourth record is just that. Plus Ultra is a solid rock record, with David Alexander acting as a more than compelling focal point. He pulls off pop punk on the title track, driving epic rock songs like Move Slow and Code Breaker (Smile), as well as stepping into heavier territory like on closer Jamais Vu with consistent skill and conviction. As is often the case with wannabe-breakout US rock bands, it can be hard to stand out in such a saturated scene, and Carousel Kings’ refusal to stay in one niche and hone their skills in fewer of the many areas they’re already proficient in could be what’s stopping them from being great. Just because they can do pop punk, harsh vocals and Zeppelin-esque guitar widdles doesn’t mean they should all be thrown together on one song (we’re looking at you, Truth Seekers). Skeletons of great songs obviously already come naturally to the band – just one listen to Monarch, one of the catchiest things on the whole album, proves that – and just a little more work on making their strengths unforgettable could really help them separate themselves from more established counterparts. There are definitely worse ways to spend forty minutes than listening to Plus Ultra. • GJ


For fans of: Sleep On It, Trash Boat, In Her Own Words

Brutality Will Prevail – Misery Sequence

It’s weird to think of Brutality Will Prevail as something of a vanguard band within UK hardcore, but they have been going for a while now, and despite falling off the radar in recent times, a lot of their material from the early-to-mid-2010s is still viewed tremendously fondly among those in that scene. But when it feels like a lot of bands have overtaken them at this stage, there’s quite a lot that an album like Misery Sequence needs to accomplish, even without apart from being a plight to push Brutality Will Prevail back to the forefront of British hardcore once again. It’s hard to say whether Misery Sequence will really do that though, not because it’s bad but because it feels more like a demonstration reel of what Brutality Will Prevail are capable of instead of an application of those factors. Still, the fact they’re able to do that pretty well is an enormous strength, with the reverberating knell of the guitars and Louis Gauthier’s savage vocal style doing a lot to create an expansive hardcore canvas before adding a more chaotic touch with Deny The Truth or the ethereal vocal contributions from Toni Coe-Brooker on Breathless, but there’s a lot about this album that feels arguably more truncated than it should. It’s already short, and when the payoff can be more slight that Brutality Will Prevail have achieved in the past, what’s left is a good selection of fragments waiting to be inserted into better overall pieces. In that lane, this is an extremely solid piece of work; it just needs more within it to stand as a proper album instead of what it currently is. • LN


For fans of: Broken Teeth, Hang The Bastard, Cruel Hand

grandson – a modern tragedy vol. 3

It’s pretty evident that, despite both his own efforts and those of his handlers and the press so hell-bent on him seeing success, grandson simply hasn’t caught on. It must be dispiriting, but given that Yungblud is currently plugged into the niche (that, for some reason, exists) of broadly-written, badly-produced political alt-pop that thinks it’s far more pertinent than it is, grandson just seems to be getting left at the roadside. At the same time though, it’s hard to feel sorry when, three EPs into his a modern tragedy series, there’s clearly been no effort to rectify the glaring problems they face, as vol. 3 is more of the same that’s just as unlikable and irritating. The guitar tones are still terse and oily to almost unlistenable levels; the gurgling dubstep breaks aren’t getting any less dated; and grandson as a vocalist is still putting on a clipped Tyler Joseph impression which, especially on a track like Destroy Me which tries to move into floaty, introspective indie-pop, doesn’t sound any less cloying. If nothing else, there’s a bit of life to Rock Bottom thanks to a slightly more upbeat tick that feels as though it’s putting its alt-pop side to good use, but otherwise, grandson only continues to show how limited he is as an artist, with lyrics that once again default to the same open-canvassed socio-political landscape that makes so little effort to engage deeper with what it’s saying beyond the very surface level. It’s just an empty listen overall, compounded by an artist who clearly has big ideas but no way of executing them without sounding completely out of his depth in every way. • LN


For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, Tom Morello, Yungblud

Kaiser Chiefs – Duck

Does anyone still care about the Kaiser Chiefs? Even with the handful of indie-disco staples they’ve got under their belts, it feels like people generally lost interest around Off With Their Heads in 2008, given that none of the three albums that followed did anything that made it easy to give the impression of being invested. Well, you might as well call it four now, because Duck is the epitome of a past-their-prime indie band succumbing to the fact that they’re basically running on fumes at this point, and just getting something down for the hell of it. To be fair, The Only Ones and Lucky Shirt aren’t bad approximations at recreating their old simple-but-effective indie hits, but Duck generally feels exactly like how all of these albums try to ‘update’ themselves, namely by chucking in a few more synths with little else improved. They don’t amount to anything, naturally, but it doesn’t help that these songs just aren’t memorable in the slightest, and even if Ricky Wilson is doing the best he can with some solid vocal charisma, the whole thing just feels outdated and unnecessary, probably because it is. It’s hardly surprising seeing that the Kaiser Chiefs embody lad-rock irrelevance at its most flagrant these days, but at the end of the day, it’s tough to care one way or another. • LN


For fans of: Catfish And The Bottlemen, The Libertines, The View

Camila Cabello – Romance

Her presence in the media, at awards shows and on red carpets may feel constant, but it seems that reactions were somewhat muted in the lead-up to Romance, Camila Cabello’s second album. She’s been marred with criticisms, be it lacklustre singles, cringeworthy behaviour and over-reliance when it comes to her relationship with Shawn Mendes (whose pairing on the number one single Señorita took almost all focus away from her upcoming record), or the striking similarities the concept for Romance (though not the toughest idea to think of in the world) has to former tourmate Taylor Swift’s Lover album which came out a few months prior. While it’s not a through-and-through awful album, it just about meets expectations that were already not the highest. The dramatic Shameless and Bad Kind Of Butterflies, along with sweet-as-pie Easy and Dream Of You are the highest points on the album; more playful songs often feel too silly (does Liar really need an Ace Of Base interpolation?), while some specifically designed to show off Cabello’s vocal range are downright painful (all eyes dart to Living Proof). All of these aspects, even the ones that don’t land, should be working together like they have done for the singer in the past, particularly the Latin flavours in songs like Should’ve Said It and Señorita that are both modern but represent an authentic part of who Cabello is (something done brilliantly on her last album), but the issue is a total lack of sparkle. Too much feels formulaic – nursery rhyme chorus that are desperate to get into your head but too forgettable, and often complete dead-behind-the-eyes delivery on the part of Cabello herself. Don’t let a luxurious-looking concept, column inches and chart success fool you – there are plenty more interesting pop stars to be checking out from this year. • GJ


For fans of: Selena Gomez, Bebe Rexha, Anne-Marie

NF – The Search

NF seems to be the hip-hop equivalent of those indie bands that get huge amounts of success but no one actually cares about them. He’s become something of a prominent figure in the genre’s current mainstream landscape, but he’s not bringing anything all that engaging or interesting, and all The Search does is highlight how little in the way of creativity and inspiration NF actually has. He’s not exactly untalented as the fast, technical flows on the opening title track prove, but the whole thing is entirely reminiscent of a PG Eminem, from the overplayed surliness where any swearing is omitted to keep the final thread linked to his Christian rap angle attached for as long as possible, to the constant reliance on dour rap-rock tones and over-dramatic orchestral and choral samples to feign some form of intensity that NF as a lyricist simply can’t back up. That seems to be the kicker; there’s clearly a lot that’s been weighing on his mind for the past however many years, but it’s never articulated in a way that makes it seem as heavy as NF is trying to portray it, and thus The Search winds up feeling like more of a pissy crutch to soundtrack spates of teen melodrama that, even then, falls apart simply through how dreary and boring it is. That’s not to denigrate NF or his mental state by any means, but really digging into this album reveals it as catharsis by name and surface level only, with everything underneath trimmed and pruned to maintain some vestige of a clean-cut image to serve as a much-needed buffer. Add on top of that the fact that this thing is over an hour long with enough real content to fill maybe a quarter of that at a push, and The Search feels less like a statement of real, powerful intent and more like a new soundtrack for angsty teenagers to mope and punch walls to. • LN


For fans of: Eminem, Machine Gun Kelly, Logic

Death Cab For Cutie – The Blue

As much as the somewhat muted reception that last year’s Thank You For Today got isn’t all that surprising (new music can frequently be a trial by fire for any band with an accepted classic album to their name), it’s a bit strange to see that this is how Death Cab For Cutie are choosing to follow it up. They’re not a band who tend to rush with releasing new music, but The Blue arrives as a pretty standard stopgap EP, itself a rarity for a band of this stature. Then again though, The Blue has the underweight, ephemeral quality that can be an unfortunate reality in indie-rock, and thus the EP structure can be something of a small mercy for how little this actually sticks. It’s honestly not awful – a track like Before The Bombs has a nice, shuffling melody that’s perfectly agreeable, and Ben Gibbard’s hushed vocals are as easy on the ear as always – but if this was pitched as a handful of castoffs from the past couple of recording sessions bundled together, that wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest given that these do feel like a lesser version of the mould that Death Cab For Cutie have been peddling for years, now more subdued and underweight in a way that simply drifts by without a trace. It’s hardly worth complaining too much over considering it is only about twenty minutes long, but when the majority of those twenty minutes fall between a wasted opportunity and an effort that didn’t need to be made in the first place, it’s hard to recommend it all that heavily either. • LN


For fans of: Band Of Horses, Modest Mouse, The Decemberists

Liam Payne – LP1

The members of One Direction will never escape the world’s eyes being on them even if a reunion doesn’t happen in the future. It must be tricky if you’re Liam Payne, whose career path post-1D-hiatus has been scrutinised by fans and critics alike. That said, he has chosen the most cookie-cutter, cash-grabbing, egocentric route he possibly could have, so he must have seen at least some of it coming. LP1, his debut, carries on Payne’s aim of making the music he really wants to make, free of boyband constraints – music that will chart and make him cold, hard cash. For an album that’s supposed to showcase maturity, there’s not a lot of it to be found in the empty love songs, smirking brags about money and partying, and maybe the worst ‘sexy’ lyrics of the year (a tenner to anyone who didn’t roll their eyes / pause the song in horror/want to throw up during the first verse of Rude Hours or all of Both Ways). Such moments of hilarity are glints of joy in a tracklist so monotonous it hurts, but nothing represents Payne’s search for an identity more than the last third of LP1, consisting mostly of the singles he’s dropped over the last few years. There, we cycle through every genre that’s been popular in the late 2010s – the trap-influenced Strip That Down, Polaroid’s EDM-pop, theatrical Fifty Shades soundtrack single For You, reggaeton track Familiar all mostly remain completely faceless. And just because of this album’s December release, Payne has tacked a soggy Christmas piano ballad onto the end, just in case no one has realised how shameless and pandering this whole record is. If you’re still curious (for some reason) about this one, save your time and energy and listen to Fine Line by Harry Styles instead. • GJ


For fans of: Chris Brown, PRETTYMUCH, Justin Bieber

half•alive – Now Not Yet

So apparently half•alive are the new, hot band on the indie block (or were, given that their customary fifteen minutes are effectively up already), which in itself demands a level of scrutiny that many often refuse to give it. After all, it’s not like this sort of indie-pop always stands as the standard-setter it’s billed as, especially nowadays, and while half•alive will more than satisfy those in need for another quirky, awkward slice of what can only fall into the nebulous zone of unqualified ‘alternative’, it’s not like Now, Not Yet is doing anything to elevate this trio beyond the same thing that so many others are doing. Their clear sonic touchstones only have to be broken down to realise that this is nothing special; of course Twenty One Pilots appear in the mix on the reggae lilt of TrusT and the lumpy stumble of Rest (complete with vocalist Josh Taylor reducing his voice down to the clipped, Tyler Joseph-esque whinge that always sounds on the precipice of falling apart), but even the indie-funk grooves of Maybe and still feel. – while actually being rather good in relation to everything else – pull fairly liberally from Friendly Fires and modern Two Door Cinema Club, to the point where it’s almost impossible to discern where half•alive’s own identity lies. There’s no consistency which makes a good chunk of this album totally forgettable, and when the majority is doused in the modern tippy-tappy indie-pop sensibility that rends any sort of depth or layering away, the fuss around half•alive seems to make even less sense. That’s not to say there’s no good ideas here, but in isolation they make a minute part of an album that has only marginal ideas of what it wants to be, and can only get so far with them in tow. • LN


For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, Friendly Fires, Portugal. The Man

The Script – Sunsets & Full Moons

Do many people still care about The Script? It feels like every new album of theirs spawns a singular throwaway pop hit like Superheroes or Rain which does the rounds until the band fall off the face of the earth, re-emerging a couple of years later for the cycle to begin again. Their more successful beginnings as a band happened alongside the likes of Train (who’ve also gone on to more stagnant things), but The Script had an air of sincerity around them, not to mention much better songs. Now, they pander to confessional pop tropes and produce little of note, and this years record Sunsets and Full Moons is yet another example of the trio sticking to what they know. Opener Something Unreal soars in a way that’s impossible for soppier music fans to resist, but the instrumental swell in place of a chorus schtick quickly gets old, mainly because it’s near impossible a) not to notice overreliance on such a device and b) for The Script to use even a little creativity to make it all feel fresh. The one-two of If You Don’t Love Yourself and Hurt People Hurt People are not only centred around vague, pseudo-emotional statements, but could genuinely be the exact same song musically too. Love songs on here are bland, which is an area the band used to fare well in. This just feels like the same album The Script have released time and time again, and if anyone who isn’t already in too deep is still bothered about what this band put out, maybe now is time to reassess. • GJ


For fans of: Train, Imagine Dragons, Parachute

William DuVall – One Alone

For as much of a musical polymath as he is, it still feels rather strange that this is William DuVall’s first ever solo album. What’s even stranger is how much One Alone wears its sense of minimalism on its sleeve, be that in the stark isolation of its artwork and title, or in how the primary compositional approach is DuVall and his acoustic guitar, worlds away from any sonic touchstones gained from spending over a decade fronting Alice In Chains, or indeed the numerous other projects that DuVall has under his belt. It’s certainly a stark creative decision, but despite DuVall’s best efforts to deliver something potent, One Alone doesn’t really get there quite a lot of the time. From a technical standpoint, the fact that he’s able to bring out so much intricacy from just a simple acoustic setup on the likes of Til The Light Guides Me Home and White Hot is enormously impressive, and his soulful voice does enough to mirror that dexterity with its ranged but simultaneously intimate presentation, but rarely does any of that coalesce in melodies that stick or songs that can be appreciated for more than just technical prowess. Sure, there’s a certain amount of pleasantness that comes from it all, but the limited pace that’s endemic of a barebones setup like this doesn’t help, and placing such a hefty focus on its languidness and just how stripped-back this all is removes a lot of key elements that could have developed within these songs to be more. It’s just a forgettable album on the whole, buoyed slightly by a good performer, but one who isn’t placed in a context that best suits what he’s capable of, and that leaves One Alone as an album that only feels halfway towards what it could potentially do. • LN


For fans of: Bob Dylan, Mark Lanegan, Scott Weiland

Future Teens – Breakup Season

It’s easy to look at a band like Future Teens, see the general reactions they’ve cultivated, and slot them among the swathes of other quirky indie-pop-punk bands who’ve been touted to revolutionise modern alternative music and yet have done nothing of the sort. They’re certainly strong impressions, but Breakup Season actually does a lot to avoid the more negative implications of those thoughts, and while the ever-lofty ceiling of hype is still out of Future Teens’ grasp, they’ve at least laid down some good foundations here. It’s reminiscent of how The Sonder Bombs did more with the indie-punk framework last year on Modern Female Rockstar, and while Breakup Season doesn’t quite have the melodic strength of that album, there’s still plenty to like about the deftness and pop focus placed on tracks like Frequent Crier and Heavy Petting, anchored in a much-appreciated depth that’s emphasised on the centerpiece ballad So What. On the other hand, Amy Hoffman and Daniel Radin’s vocals can lean a bit on the saccharine side (though nowhere near as bad as some of their contemporaries), but that’s generally counterbalanced by the writing, examining the emotional impact of a breakup that definitely has its fair share of teen-movie tropes, but feels a lot more impressive when digging into more tangible psychological ramifications like on Swiped Out. It’s enough to give Future Teens the leg up against many bands who’ve been in a similar position to them but have frankly failed to capitalise on it, and while Breakup Season itself isn’t a heralding sign of world domination, it presents a stronger piece of evidence for its creators sticking around than most in its vein. • LN


For fans of: The Sonder Bombs, Charly Bliss, Telethon

James Arthur – You

He’s never shied away from controversy in his music career, and for all his talk about other artists lacking originality, James Arthur hasn’t really done much to prove he’s much more than another radio-friendly X Factor alumnus. October’s You is mostly more of the same. Material like the earnest Marine Parade (2013) and Sad Eyes, Treehouse featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Shotty Horroh and the synth motif-led If We Can Get Through This, We Can Get Through Anything (cringeworthy lyrics aside) provide slight hope, but the balladry and uncompelling mid-paced meandering it’s all surrounded by makes the record a slog rather than just slightly twee. Guest spots from Travis Barker and Adam Lazzara hint at material rock fans could possibly get on board with, but both featured artists are underwhelming. Barker delivers a run-of-the-mill rap verse that most people wouldn’t be able to tell was him if it wasn’t for his name being parenthesised in the song’s title, while Lazzara is practically indiscernible next to Arthur’s belting. You wouldn’t spark the reaction it does had Arthur just spoken about it maturely and honestly, not trying to sell it so adamantly and arrogantly as so different from another X Factor solo star album. Talking about originality is completely different to actually being original, and more often than not, those who genuinely are doing something don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. • GJ


For fans of: Matt Cardle, The Script, JP Cooper

The Glorious Sons – A War On Everything

Even if it mightn’t have necessarily wowed in 2017, it’s hard to think of a recent album that’s picked up value over time more than The Glorious Sons’ Young Beauties And Fools, which has only matured into an exceptionally solid indie-rock album that’s seen the band fully break out of their native Canada for good reason. They’re not the most inventive band in the world, but they’re capable of dishing out big, uncomplicated rock anthems with crossover appeal that really can’t be denied. And as a follow-up generally taking the same route, A War On Everything does the same thing just as well, showing a decent amount of life still left in back-to-basics rock music as Brett Emmons goes for a more ragged vocal tone on Wild Eyes and Kick Them Wicked Things, and playing up the size and sizzle of tracks like Spirit To Break and The Ongoing Speculation Into The Death Of Rock And Roll. Simplicity does once again prove to be The Glorious Sons’ greatest asset, moving past any sort of pretensions towards extraneous padding that could bog it down too much, and finding the most success with wide-ranging anthems with just enough extra meat and lyrical frankness to distance themselves from mid-shelf indie-rock in the best way. Admittedly it’s a bit bloated on the whole, and trimming back the acoustic cuts like the title track and The Laws Of Love And War wouldn’t exactly be objectionable, but on the whole, A War On Everything is a necessary doubling down on how straight-up rock can still work, and why, with The Glorious Sons, it’s in extremely capable hands. • LN


For fans of: Foo Fighters, Arkells, Kings Of Leon

Becky Hill – Get To Know

Ah, The Voice, the singing reality show that was so desperate to mimic the success The X Factor had in the late noughties and early 2010s, managing to produce precisely one artist of relative note to date. That artist is Becky Hill, who you’ve most definitely heard in nightclubs for the last few years. Her way of releasing music has been a somewhat unconventional one, putting out and featuring on so many singles that her debut full-length album is a compliation. If you’re even a little bit familiar with Hill’s work, you know exactly what you’re getting into here – her throaty and impressive vocal talent adds far more personality to a role in dance music that’s usually a nameless one. Most of the already-released tracks here don’t do more than serve their purpose as EDM songs, but they’re fantastic when they do transcend. Oliver Heldens track Gecko (Overdrive) is a perfect collaboration which represents the very best of Hill’s talents, while Matoma feature False Alarm is still simply gorgeous. This record suffers from a unique issue – that each song is (for now) Hill’s only work with each DJ. As they have limited access to the singer, they use the belt she’s become known for to both meet listeners’ expectations and use what’s perceived as the more impressive side of her voice to really make the most of her feature. Back to back though, it all gets a bit one note after a while. The use of more of her range against a more mid-paced tempo is probably what makes False Alarm stick out so much, as would the four new tracks included on the album if they’d used bolder instrumentation – her voice really does thrive with EDM backing. This all sounds like nitpicking, but it does feel like opportunities to get the balance of all the elements that should make Hill thrive in order for us to really ‘get to know’ her have been missed. • GJ


For fans of: Ella Eyre, Jess Glynne, Gorgon City

Tove Lo – Sunshine Kitty

Since her most ubiquitous charting solo hits’ (Habits (Stay High) and Talking Body) heyday in the early-to-mid 2010s, Tove Lo has often been critically dismissed as pop’s weird girl in the corner, who sits there making grungy and shameless tracks that all too often weird out mainstream listeners. New album Sunshine Kitty feels less instantly provocative than Tove Lo’s previous records – perhaps because her trademark sex-fuelled lyrics that are as subtle as a hammer to the face have had time to settle? – but she’s so skilled at lacing a personality through her songs that even tracks which would receive next to no fanfare on most other pop stars’ records feel fleshed out. The keyboard and acoustic guitar skeleton of Bad as the Boys is mellow for Tove but works well for her. Stay Over and Glad He’s Gone, which follow more traditional pop structures, are delightfully catchy but still quintessentially her. And the large amount of these types of songs doesn’t even point to Tove’s oddness disappearing, either – it’s just manifested itself in more dance influences. Her enlisting of MC Zaac and then Jax Jones to create the swaying, eyes-rolled-back vibe of Are U gonna tell her? and peak-of-the-high Jacques (which boasts a fantastic French refrain) respectively, as well as Really don’t like u, her collaboration with Kylie Minogue (of all people) that fizzes with girl vs girl tension against a pulsing beat are the songs that boast the most character and originality on Sunshine Kitty. Sunshine Kitty feels like an evolved Tove Lo, and it’s received relative critical success since its release – could this be the dawn of a renaissance for her? • GJ


For fans of: Charli XCX, Alma, Allie X

Void Of Vision – Hyperdaze

Despite often being so perilously perched on the edge of becoming a good metalcore band, Void Of Vision have often refused to make the final step thanks to decisions that have frequently fallen somewhere between unfortunate and baffling. If they’d stick to the titanic grooves that sees them eke out their best, they’d be fine, but the allure of becoming another faceless anthem band like so many of their Australian peers seems just too alluring, and it’s regularly placed Void Of Vision in an awkward space where neither side works all that well. But even for what’s another rather piecemeal release in Hyperdaze, it’s difficult to pinpoint where any of Void Of Vision’s strengths truly lie. They hit reasonably high marks with the sweeping size of If Only and the crushing Stray From The Path-isms of Hole In Me, but refusal for anything to stick is a key shortcoming once again, and for an album barely breaking the half-hour mark, to feel as wide-reaching but simultaneously unfocused as Hyperdaze does isn’t doing any favours. If nothing else, the production is slightly more consistent in placing the big, metallic guitars and clinical nu-metalcore bounce in prime position, but that’s hardly a concession when there’s so little of note in each individual piece. Kudos for trying to break away from such a rusted-over template, but in struggling with structure and personality as much as they do, Void Of Vision really only continue to plateau. • LN


For fans of: Stray From The Path, Dream On Dreamer, Polaris

Fitz And The Tantrums – All The Feels

Given that The Walker and HandClap are the only prevailing remnants of their career that, in itself, has plummeted from not-terrible but distinct indie-soul to more flavourless pop mush, there’s really no reason for Fitz And The Tantrums to still be around, let alone releasing a fourth full-length running just shy of an hour long. It’s not even worth dignifying All The Feels with any further preamble either, mostly because Fitz And The Tantrums might have just pulled off the most worthless pivot to modern pop since Maroon 5. The lumbering percussion lines drag down basic production that forgets there’s an actual band here, collated by a stiffness and sterility that’s endemic of music this cheap and thrown-together, and while Michael Fitzpatrick doesn’t have an awful voice, there’s nothing worthwhile that he actually says. It’s hard to think of how fewer ideas could’ve been brought to this album, completely missing the mark of Fitz And The Tantrums’ original appeal and spreading itself over seventeen tracks that are just gruelling to get through. And to top it all off, there’s barely one hook or chorus that sticks past the second it’s finished, leaving this whole thing as one of the biggest wastes of time put to record this year. • LN


For fans of: Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic

H.E.R – I Used To Know Her

She’s gotten Grammy recognition for this year’s I Used To Know Her album, but it does feel like H.E.R. is still flying under the radar somewhat. Maybe dropping the vast majority of her debut record on EPs is to blame, but there wasn’t much fanfare surrounding the full project – something the insane talent that is Gabriella Wilson absolutely doesn’t deserve. As mentioned, many of these songs have been heard before, but they have a new lease of life collated and packaged in a more complete feeling way. The star of the show is undoubtedly H.E.R.’s voice, the gateway that entices you and leads you through all of the emotions of a 20-something in 2019, depicted in a journal-like form on this album. Lost Souls still packs a punch with its on-the-nose unpicking of the current US political mess (rapped flawlessly by Wilson), Feel A Way and the full version of already-aired interlude Going which explore the singer’s lower octaves are both hypnotic, and Could’ve Been featuring Bryson Tiller hasn’t lost any potency as a pensive lead single. New songs 21 (which somehow feels naive yet mature at the same time) and the incredibly catchy Racks hint at how confident H.E.R. is in her sound. I Used To Know Her is such a satisfying record, and it’s not only exciting to see H.E.R. be praised by the Grammy panel, but to see where this talented young artist will be in just a few years time. • GJ


For fans of: SZA, Ella Mai, Daniel Caesar

Kublai Khan – Absolute

Kublai Khan have really excelled at making music that’s nowhere near the deepest or most thought-provoking, but can get by on the sheer thrill of heft and destructiveness alone. It might sound overly simple, especially when hardcore and metalcore are concerned, but it’s definitely worked in the past, and for ephemeral yet enjoyable blasts of groove-heavy meatiness, they’re hard to fault all that much. There is a limit to how much that can achieve though, and while there’s nothing demonstrably wrong with Absolute, it’s not like it’s offering much more than the same brusque hit that Kublai Khan have become known for. It certainly does hit, with the low-end guitars and bass having the seismic power to go toe-to-toe with Matt Honeycutt’s guttural vocals, and to their credit, the band are at least smart enough to keep it at a lean 26-minute runtime to trim away any unnecessary fat. But at the same time, while this sort of low-slung hardcore undoubtedly benefits from the creative decisions that Kublai Khan make, the natural limitations of the genre can’t be totally masked, and while Absolute does indeed have some choice moments like with Self-Destruct and Cloth Ears, at the end of the day, there’s really no advancement that’s been made on a sound that’s pretty rudimentary. It’s performed well, sure, but Kublai Khan are relying solely on their existing skillset here, and when that can feel a bit limited as it is, the end result isn’t exactly going to change. • LN


For fans of: Knocked Loose, Cursed Earth, Varials

Kim Petras – Turn Off The Light

Not content with releasing a career-defining record in the first half of 2019, October saw Kim Petras drop Turn Off The Light, an album dedicated to all things spooky in the name of Halloween. Is the album based on a concept that wears thin the further you get into the album? Definitely. Does it really matter? Not at all. This campy, dance-pop project isn’t going to thrill diehard horror fans with its vapid themes that don’t seem to go any further than “you’re gonna die”, but its not entirely traditional format will definitely help get parties started. Instrumental interludes are peppered between every song to add some odd EDM drama between every vocal-led inclusion. And it’s not like these instrumentals aren’t their own entities, either. Sure, some aren’t entirely memorable, but for each of those you have a <demons> or Bloody Valentine which add a hit of adrenaline to the tracklisting. This is an album which pays homage to the morbid (as diluted as those themes may be) while not compromising any of the swagger or sexiness that make Kim Petras who she is. While Clarity is definitely the best of her records this year, this is a fun addition to Petras’ discography that’s sure to soundtrack some grown-up trick or treating eventually. • GJ


For fans of: Slayyyter, Brooke Candy, Dorian Electra

Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance

Tomb Mold’s presence within metal has been ballooning at a frankly phenomenal rate, and it’s really not too hard to see why. They’ve been prolific enough, both in releases and touring, to really get their name out there in a big way, and a combination of tapping into a great, impactful death metal sound and a penchant for co-opting the imagery and lore of Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series in their writing has earmarked them as a distinct, quality proposition that it’s all too easy to root for. The only real downside is that progression does seem to take a backseat between releases, but when that’s the only thing of note that docks points from Planetary Clairvoyance, the end result still seems pretty excellent on the whole. The thick, blackened guitar tone has the necessary destructiveness, but there’s still a good deal of melody that comes through in the titanic grooves of a track like Cerulean Salvation, backed by rumbling backing tones and affixed to low-slung dirges that create a wonderfully full and powerful mix. That fullness really works to the album’s benefit as well; it might only be seven tracks long, but there’s enough packed in to such a dense package that it never feels abortive or rushed, and the constant barrage of brutality that comes from Max Klebanoff’s vocals and drum work feels perfectly suited for the darkness at hand, but also has the scope that fits the expansion into sci-fi conceptualism that forms that album’s lyrics. But even with that, there’s just something about what Tomb Mold are doing here that isn’t too impenetrable in the way that a lot of death metal can be, and when it’s generally kept as tight and proficient as this without sacrificing its heft and brutality, it’s a simple but effective formula from a pretty fantastic metal album. • LN


For fans of: Blood Incantation, Autopsy, Gatecreeper

Lauv – ~how i’m feeling~

The ‘sadboi’ stereotype has become the 2010s translation of eyeliner-wearing emos, with such artists boasting supposed relatability and personality as opposed to the earnestness and musical prowess of their predecessors. Sleeper hit I Like Me Better has seen Lauv become one to watch in the last year, with this year’s ~how i’m feeling~ EP acting as a taster for his upcoming full-length record. While the cutesy perspective worked for Lauv on songs like I Like Me Better, it’s not an approach that works well for every topic, as proved on ~how i’m feeling~. Men speaking out about their mental health issues should be celebrated (especially considering the horrific suicide rate for males), but the aesthetically nu-emo and lighthearted feel that Lauv tries to do it with doesn’t sit right. It all feels contrived, like suits gathered in a boardroom to map out the most ‘hashtag relatable’ music for the youth of 2019. fuck, i’m lonely, i’m so tired…, Sad Forever – they’re titles all so orchestrated to be captions to teens’ pouting edgy selfies. Feelings’ humming chorus break and fuck, i’m lonely’s hook do embed themselves into your brain away from the lyrical cringe, while Mean It is a high point because it’s so obviously a castoff from featured artist LANY, so their mere presence and vocal strength overshadows Lauv immediately. When it comes down to it though, these are songs that, even though they try, aren’t strong enough by themselves to exist outside of the brand and image Lauv has made such an integral part of what he does. It’s a collection of songs so desperate to make a statement, be it about wider issues or Lauv as an artist or person himself, but it doesn’t really say anything at all. • GJ


For fans of: LANY, Why Don’t We, Jeremy Zucker

Dirty Heads – Super Moon

At the rate which Dirty Heads seem to churn out albums, it’s no wonder they end up as critically flawed as they do. They’ve already taken a fairly big hit in the move from a more conventional reggae-rap outfit to a band trying to incorporate numerous different alternative sounds in tandem with that, but given that their previous couple of albums have been unable to settle on anything truly stable, they’ve often felt as though they’re fruitlessly grasping for as much as they can to mitigate anything all that negative. Nothing’s changed on Super Moon either; it’s still as wishy-washy and unfocused as ever, but now with an even more subdued production style anchored in wispy acoustic guitars that make it all even more forgettable. Once again, it’s a case where Dirty Heads can muster up the energy to deliver very early on – this time with the opening title track – but as they curtail back to an approximation of their reggae roots on tracks like Tender Boy and Come Back Around, the results are so limp and forgettable, especially when neither Jared Watson nor Dustin Bushnell sound all that enthralled vocally. At least when their last album Swim Team leaned more heavily into their alternative and pop side, it made for some memorable moments; Super Moon doesn’t even have the benefit of that, throwing away the majority of distinctive aspects for an album that evaporates on impact and never makes a return. It’s the sort of thing that makes it increasingly difficult to work out what the long-standing appeal of Dirty Heads is, and it’s a stretch to say if that’ll ever change. • LN


For fans of: Sublime With Rome, Gym Class Heroes, Matisyahu

Mini Mansions – Guy Walks Into A Bar…

It’s not uncommon to see Mini Mansions mentioned in the same breath as the Arctic Monkeys, not only from a sonic perspective that’s sometimes verged on being a bit close for comfort, but also in the fact that this is a band consisting of members of Queens Of The Stone Age and The Last Shadow Puppets, for which the proximity speaks for itself. That can certainly form an amount of issues in terms of traction, particularly when Mini Mansions’ side-project status has rarely been up for debate with regards to their size, but on an album like Guy Walks Into A Bar… that seems to chase a more universal indie-rock sound, it’s honestly difficult to see what they can do to break out of such a rut. It’s not like it’s badly played or anything, and when the trio pick up some more defined momentum like on the lithe struts of Should Be Dancing and Gummybear or the more full-bodied jittering of Bad Things (That Make You Feel Good), they at least tap into some branches of the modern sound that can be workable and likable. But a lot of Guy Walks Into A Bar… does feel like filler, from the colourless cushions of synths that don’t really forge any distinct path for themselves, to the severe dip mid-album where the pace feels all the more languid and nothing moves forward all that much. It’s a rather plain album, all things considered, as Mini Mansions’ big play for a wider indie crowd might get all the pieces together, but can’t find a way to arrange them in a way that feels definitively their own. Topped off by some rather basic lyrical theming going through a dissolving relationship that really isn’t all the exciting, Guy Walks Into A Bar… really does end up producing very little of note, and sees Mini Mansions continue to stand as just another particle in an already overstuffed indie mass. • LN


For fans of: Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Jack White

Tones And I – The Kids Are Coming

The story behind Tones And I is one that’s been heard about plenty of artists plenty of times before, but remains one that manages to take people in. A busker-turned-bonafide-artist thanks to a viral hit, Toni Watson’s career thus far has been the stuff of dreams for many. Said global sensation Dance Monkey is obviously the main reason many have given Tones And I’s debut EP The Kids Are Coming a listen, and it’s unsurprisingly the best thing here. Catchy, funky and unique by default due to Watson’s voice. This EP is Watson’s outlet to stand on a soapbox at least in spirit, something that can be dangerous if you don’t have anything new or particularly poetic to say, which she does teeter on often. The quirky-sounding brass on the title track does genuinely feel like it could lead thousands in some kind of body-popping dance brigade which makes it easier to take the bandwagon-jumping message of the song seriously. Other tracks which try to make statements of similar grandeur don’t fare as well, like anti-homophobia single Johnny Run Away, which despite its important message, doesn’t land due to just not being a very striking pop song. Watson’s voice can also be grating on this EP and it does take time to get used to her tiny flourishes that can be distracting or even affect the quality of the whole record for some. That said, Dance Monkey and the jaunty feel a lot of The Kids Are Coming has does show potential. Definitely one of the most unexpected breakouts of the year. • GJ


For fans of: Lucy Spraggan, Amy Shark, Mallrat

Thousand Below – Gone In Your Wake

Among the most post-hardcore circles they’ve found themselves in, Thousand Below have always felt within a similar weight class as a band like Too Close To Touch, in that they’re bee touted as capable of a lot more than their mid-latter status would suggest, but their moments to really show that off have been fleeting at best. It’s part of the reason why Gone In Your Wake feels as though it’s arrived so suddenly; it’s only been two years since their debut after all, and there’s clearly a precociousness within Thousand Below indicative of a band ready to show what they can do as soon as possible. But besides a guitar sound that can sometimes be vaguely more nu-metal-ish, Gone In Your Wake doesn’t exhibit much of the promise that Thousand Below are frequently said to have, instead falling back into the crowd of scene crowd-pleasers who get that way by remaining as safe as possible. Even when some decent melodic instincts are on show like on Lost Between, they’re often paired with a typically overcooked style of production that’s the norm for songs trying to sound this overtly anthemic, and ‘earnest’ lyrical content that never really rises up to getting its own identity, or even sounding remotely their own. With as apparent as it is that vocalist James DeBerg sounds like an amalgam of about half-a-dozen different post-hardcore and metalcore vocalists across the board, Thousand Below really don’t strive to give themselves any sort of distinction, and that leads to Gone In Your Wake feeling supremely disposable in almost every way. The fact it’s not offensively terrible is, in a way, an even more damning indictment; if it was, there’d at least be something to remember here. • LN


For fans of: Pierce The Veil, Hands Like Houses, Slaves (US)

The Driver Era – X

If the end of this decade has shown anything, it’s that no one should be put into a box. Carly Rae Jepsen has gone from the ridiculed ‘Call Me Maybe girl’ to one of the most beloved pop darlings of the 2010s, while Harry Styles has continued to impress sceptical dads everywhere with his post-One Direction solo efforts influenced by Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles and everyone in between. Last year saw former R5 member and Disney Channel star Ross Lynch debut his new alt-rock project The Driver Era with his fellow boybander and brother Rocky, and they dropped their first record X this summer. They’ve thrown plenty of genres into a cauldron and poured the resulting concoction over a rock blueprint. Does it feel like a not entirely natural statement to differentiate his new work from his old? Sometimes. But there’s definitely some interesting stuff to come from it – hazy, almost stoner-rock tinges on opener Welcome To The End Of Your Life, Natural, which sounds like Royal Blood at their most subtle with a synth embellishment, and there’s even some transformed boyband swagger on Scared Of Heights. It’s probably not what the brothers want to hear, but it’s when they embrace their pop sensibilities that X is at its best. Low, a funky cut that could be mistaken for something from the new Jonas Brothers record and Feel You Now, a feelgood singalong that feels tailor-made for airwaves is the most likeable the duo are on this entire record, when they’re not trying to show off falsettos or guitar skills. X is a good foundation for the new chapter in the brothers’ lives, now they just need to work out the kinks. • GJ


For fans of: I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, half•alive, COIN

Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real – Turn Off The News (Build A Garden)

It’s been a good couple of years for Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real. The clear standout has been appearing in Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s remake of A Star Is Born (for which Nelson also co-produced the soundtrack), which in itself arrives off the back of their stellar self-titled album in 2017, adding depth and detail to a country-rock sound which has become incredibly rote and lackluster over time. But unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Nelson and Promise Of The Real are immune to that either, given how Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) is a far less compelling affair overall. It’s nowhere near as adventurous, for one, with each song condensed into a manageable length to make their roots-rock sounds a lot more palatable, and when that’s played for sweeping scale like on Bad Case or in the vein of scuzzier boogie-rock like on Something Real, that can definitely work. Nelson himself is also a good fit for these songs, with the comparisons to his father Willie Nelson still unshakable, but there’s an easygoing warmth to his slightly more nasal tones on a track like Lotta Fun that’s definitely enjoyable. But away from that, it’s not hard to realise that this is a far safer pivot than what this band are capable of, especially when it’s mostly capped at mid-paced country-rock strolls that might be pleasant, but don’t bring much in the way of individuality that could massively benefit them. It’s all very warmed-over and safe, and with a lyrical sentiment that feels incredibly one-dimensional, particularly on the hippie-rock moralities of the title track that skirts around the politics that Nelson’s father would’ve typically dived right into, it all kind of drifts by without much of an impact. It’s honestly fine for what it is, but they can certainly do better than this, and when the regression is this obvious, that’s a bit disappointing. • LN


For fans of: Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers Band

Steven Battelle – Midnight Between Months

The run of Steven Battelle’s musical output has been an interesting one, but it’s generally been positive. Between LostAlone going unfortunately underrated for the duration of their career to a solo debut that mightn’t have prevailed as much as would be like but is still good, the quality has been evident pretty much throughout, to the point where Midnight Between Months coming with such relatively little fanfare doesn’t feel like the cause for concern as it would be for most others. That seems to be some pretty sound reasoning as well, as Midnight Between Months is another big, open-ended prog-pop opus that’s able to balance an intense focus on unshakable melody with its own grand ambitions in a way that undermines neither. There’s the occasional clunker like the over-loud blast of Apple Tree or some of the more lumbering progressions that severely drag down Relax!!!, but Battelle overall has a knack for bringing Queen-like bombast to the fore and making it stick in a great way. A song like Shark Infested Stalker shows this excellently as it spirals across a seven-minute runtime and juggles stylistic shifts without too much clunk, and the percussive drive of Stick To Your Dreams Not Your Guns and the sun-kissed pop-rock of Magic Carpet Ride show just how applicable that method is in various contexts. Like all of Battelle’s work, this is no less of an acquired taste, but the creativity shown on Midnight Between Months once again shows an artist with truckloads to offer even it doesn’t all land flawlessly. The fact that the majority does, however, is just a testament to the talent that’s here. • LN


For fans of: Queen, LostAlone, Vennart

Love Fame Tragedy – I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It

After an arguably lesser period in The Wombats’ career, mid-2019 saw their singer Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy debut a new side project. Love Fame Tragedy may have only been a thing for half a year, there’s already a string of tracks and an EP to lap up. Murph has such a distinct writing style, vibrant with metaphor yet still weighed down with autobiography, that instrumentation would be paramount in being able to associate such an integral part of The Wombats with another project. Love Fame Tragedy’s guitars are slightly more amped up on Backflip and My Cheating Heart, but any easy-to-pinpoint difference soon melts away. Brand New Brain’s keyboard backing fares much better at creating a new identity, with the pop vibe to the track feeling natural. A selling point to this project has been the mass of collaborators featured (including Pixies’ Joey Santiago and Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton), but the only really noticeable one on I Don’t Want To Play The Victim… is Lauren Aquilina, whose backing vocals on Pills are sweet, adding a musical depth not really heard elsewhere on the record. As much as Brand New Brain and Pills have promise, Murph as Love Fame Tragedy hasn’t found his voice yet (even if he had, a four-song EP probably wouldn’t display it unless it was completely nailed down), and as a result it’s hard to come up with a reason to devote time to this rather than just listen to The Wombats instead. Perhaps giving his guests more of a spotlight, or at the very least making them noticeable, could help transform this side project into its own entity for real. • GJ


For fans of: The Wombats, Larkins, Picture This

Baest – Venenum

In a genre like death metal that can be difficult to parse a lot of distinct sounds from at the best of times, the fact that Baest are doing a pretty good job at hammering out the basics says a lot about what they can achieve. Their debut Danse Macabre didn’t exactly swing for the fences as far as ambition goes, but it was high-quality enough to do some work for them, to the point where this follow-up comes after a rather rapid turnaround time clearly indicative of a band looking to strike as quickly as possible. As such, Venenum does feel like a rather profound case of ‘more of the same’, and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, it can highlight how limited Baest feel in terms to where they sit in the larger death metal circle. There’s enough heft and out-and-out brutality paired with good hints of technicality on tracks like Nihil, and that does make for a pleasingly destructive listen in the same vein as most other death metal, but the fact that there’s not really more to it than that can be a bit disappointing. Sure, Baest are certainly capable at what they do, but after a debut that was good but needed an extra boost of uniqueness to push it into greatness, Venenum is frustratingly holding still. For death metal completionists, this is another fine addition to the collection, but the appeal most likely won’t extend much further beyond that very small quotient. • LN


For fans of: Entombed, Unleashed, Skeletal Remains

The S.L.P – The S.L.P

It’s hard to imagine that anyone was ever clamouring for a solo project from Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno. Given that Kasabain themselves aren’t exactly at the pinnacle of relevance at the minute, it doesn’t formulate much hope for an offshoot project, even one formed on an idea as retrospectively obvious as splitting the difference between their usual electro-indie-rock and the grainy ‘90s house of an act like The Chemical Brothers. But to Pizzorno’s credit, he doesn’t do a bad job at cultivating that vibe in moments, like with the sweeping strings and gentler beat of Meanwhile… In Genova and ((trance)), or bringing Little Simz onboard for a much-appreciated shot of nimbleness against the weaving bassline of Favourites. But with a project that winds up as experimental as The S.L.P is clearly intended to be, the danger of a considerable amount not sticking is always there, especially on the underweight tick of The Wu and especially the bubbling bass that sounds horribly awkward on Soldiers 00018. There’s a lack of direction that’s the most palpable shortcoming, and while Pizzorno does a solid job at recreating the visions of grimy British cityscapes in the same vein as those old house acts did, he’s clearly swinging even further for the fences and coming out with something that only lands in spots. It’s decent, but still can’t avoid the vanity project pitfalls that can spotted from a mile away at this point. • LN


For fans of: Kasabian, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim

Social House – Everything Changed…

Starting your career by helping make hits for Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez and Meghan Trainor is far from a shabby beginning, but forging your own identity in music can be tricky. Social House’s debut EP Everything Changed… is a collection of six chilled-out yet quite generic R&B tracks which are often led by acoustic guitar. Though both obviously talented, the duality between Mikey Foster and Scootie Anderson isn’t entirely obvious until the energy picks up on closer Tropical Rain, which without a doubt shows the duo’s potential most. Haunt You doesn’t do a bad job either, letting instrumentals and layered vocals around its repeated chorus build to a dream-like fog. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boyfriend featuring Ariana Grande is by far the most memorable thing on this EP, seeing Social House immersed in electronic pop / R&B production for the only time on the release. Grande basically carries the song and makes it likeable, but both of Social House’s vocals blend well with the swerving synth motif. The real letdown of this EP is the lyrics – will-they-won’t-they relationships addressed in the wrong way can come off as immature and boring, just as they unfortunately do here. There’s no nuance or context to the situations described on Everything Changed…, in fact by the end, you’re begging Foster and Anderson to just call their hookup and patch things up (which the lyrics of Tropical Rain may allude to if such a narrative was the intention here). Fans of R&B may pick up more to enjoy on Everything Changed…but if they continue being outshined by featured artists on their songs they may need to change some things up. • GJ


For fans of: Emotional Oranges, Ruel, Kyle

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown – Truth And Lies

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown’s self-titled 2017 album was one of the most boring, insipid albums to come out of this whole retro-rock boom, with it being nigh-on impossible to remember even a single note without it being played (and even then it’s a stretch). And of course, it’s not like Truth And Lies changes any of that; that would go against the entire revival-rock ethos of squeezing every last drop of matter from this already dehydrated sound, regardless of how meagre the results are. In fairness, On To The Next and Ride feel a bit more complete as far as classic rock hook-craft goes, but beyond that, this is another slog from a genre that seems to churn them out like no one’s business. Bryant’s lazy drawl has barely any energy or personality, and with mid-paced snoozers like Trouble taking up a disproportionate amount of the runtime (to say nothing about a wheezing guitar tone that’s biting from the most mediocre members of the classic rock gene pool), the general air is one of abject boredom and tiredness, barely dragging itself across the finish line on an album that runs far too long for the dearth of inspiration it has. It’s honestly a wonder this was made considering how quickly Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown should’ve been lost in the shuffle after last time, but here is is, and it does just as little as the last one. • LN


For fans of: Black Star Riders, Inglorious, Voodoo Six

Seratones – Power

It’d be all too easy to immediately liken Seratones to a band like Alabama Shakes. Both deal in a brand of rock firmly lodged in classic soul and Americana, with few concessions made for the sake of sounding contemporary or modern. But where there’s a potential wildness and raggedness to Alabama Shakes, Seratones feel a bit smoother and more in touch with the opulence that can give good soul its appeal, balanced by a slight fuzzier garage-rock tone. It’s a bit more hemmed-in as a result thanks to keeping that wildness at bay, but on the whole, Power does capture a sense of classic groove and emotion extremely well, in no small part due to AJ Haynes’ fantastic vocals that give that sense of sweltering passion to a track like Gotta Get To Know Ya, or extra suppleness to the waltz cadence of Lie To My Face. It comes together most when Seratones more readily embrace the smokier, more propulsive vibe their sound naturally cultives (rather than the jittery indie-rock of Heart Attack), and with the strings of the title track or the strutting basslines of Over You and Sad Boi, it all feels incredibly well-realised. There’s still a bit more needed overall before Seratones’ place in the revival scene properly clicks into place, but Power has enough isolated great moments to ensure that’s a case of when it will happen, rather than if. • LN


For fans of: Alabama Shakes, Kyle Craft, Liz Brasher

Stolen Jars – A Reminder

It’s always a special feeling when a record has truly impressive musicianship, when the synergy between members of a band is so tight and palpable that it’s hard not to be totally enraptured by every second of whatever they’re playing. That’s the feeling you get when listening to Stolen Jars’ third record A Reminder from October. The band is ultimately the brainchild of Cody Fitzgerald, who has managed to find musicians who not only complement his talents perfectly, but take them to completely new heights. Some of the musical journeys on this record are stunning (particularly the build of the title track and lo-fi anthemia of Younger Nights), and it can often be difficult to place into a distinct genre. Fitzgerald and Peter Enriquez, as well as Matt Marsico’s respective guitar intricacies and virtuoso drumming are captivating, Sarah Coffey’s vocals often steal the show (Ghost Towns, where she takes the lead, is an album highlight), while Grant Meyer’s keyboards keep everything mellow and tied together. This is a band where no one player feels more important than the others, and the idea of what they could craft next if they keep growing and improving at this rate is a very exciting prospect indeed. • GJ


For fans of: Oh Wonder, Yoke Lore, Covey

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

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