The Deadnotes feel like the sort of band who know they aren’t the coolest around, but they really don’t care. Plugging away since they were 14-years-old goes some way to showing that, but the overwhelming honesty and passion that’s evident in their music definitely roots them down as a band worth wishing the best for. It also helps that they’ve found a sound that suits those intentions, pulling in seemingly equal measures from US power-pop and Britrock for a combo that’s given them some decent legs, particularly in support slots with the likes of Boston Manor and Beach Slang that definitely haven’t hurt. In fact, they seem to be the sort of band with enough unfettered charm and likability to stand a chance on the world stage, and while they’re yet to properly break out of the European market, there’s enough that they can do with their new album Courage to facilitate that rise.
Of course, sonics are one thing, but there’s also the case of the certain x-factor that The Deadnotes need to keep their rise constant and steady, and though Courage shows glimpses of that throughout, on the whole, it’s not quite enough to break the threshold just yet. That being said, The Deadnotes aren’t bolted down to their rubric, which is a definite plus, and the overall approachability and ease with which their melodies are drawn out are certainly strong. It’s not great by any means, such is the persistent problem that comes with a sound that’s based on such well-laid foundations as these, but as another slice of polished alt-rock, Courage does the job it needs to.
Now, granted, that’s not exactly glowing praise in anyone’s books, largely by virtue of an overcrowding issue that The Deadnotes can’t really do anything about. There’s a lot of alt-rock bands out there these days and it takes a hell of a lot of effort to stand out, and while it’d be wrong to say that The Deadnotes aren’t trying, Courage isn’t the sort of album that’s flying to the front of the line or anything. At the same time though, the bit of individuality they do display is pretty effective, primarily circling around Darius Lohmüller’s distinctly curving voice that lends more of a profound identity to the bigger hooks of Makeup and Fickle Fake Friend than would be traditionally found in just another alt-rock or indie band. The small things like that are what give The Deadnotes their flavour, never testing their boundaries but at least decorating them to give the impression of doing something more with them. Song construction goes for a few similar ideas as well; while big, brash hooks do make appearances, Courage isn’t an album that’s reliant on them, and it lends a bit more naturally-evolving tension to tracks like Ghost On The Ceiling our Functionality, or the burgeoning acoustic swell of I Must Have Been Blind. Conversely, the lighter pop-rock production doesn’t do the band many favours in this department, sanding off a lot of the darker, emo-flavoured grit that could’ve made these builds and slow-burns hit a lot harder. As it stands, there’s enough done to get around it, but it’s hard to escape the face that Courage can feel a bit light on stakes, and even if the melodies prevail, there’s not quite as much gravity there to make that sense of passion stronger.
The writing, on the other hand, does seem to do more in this department, as Lohmüller goes into deeper, more human territory in a way that his more unorthodox vocal timbre lends itself well to, and serves as an examination of his own mental health in a way that hits the effective beats that have become commonplace but no less easy to appreciate in alt-rock. The opening duo of Makeup and Never Perfect provide the ideal establishing punch in laying down how damaging the search for perfectionism spurned on by society can be, followed by the toll that can take on one’s mental health going forward on Cling To You and the defensive walls built that end up keeping out even those who actually care on Get Lost, Get Found. Again, The Deadnotes aren’t revolutionising the concept, but their ear for an interesting lyric and melody feels even more pronounced here, even if the whole thing doesn’t burrow as deeply as with some who’ve come before them. Where a band like Deaf Havana have previously taken themes of burnout and mental fatigue down more interesting and meditative avenues, Courage doesn’t quite get there, and as such it’s another instance where it’s easy to admire the ideas for what they are while still recognising the growth that can still be made.
That’s not a bad thing though, and with the solid work they’ve already gotten down, that progression has a lot of built-in potential for The Deadnotes. Right now, they’ve got a few loose ends they could do with tying up and a bit of detail that the writing could do with implementing, but Courage is far from bad for what it already is. An interesting take on alt-rock melody and a more realised presence is a good start already, and a handful of standout moments hint at something a lot more constantly solid to come in the future. Right now, this is pretty decent stuff that’s in need of a bit of tuning up, but quality shines through regardless, and you do a lot worse than giving it a go.
For fans of: Jimmy Eat World, Deaf Havana, The Front Bottoms
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Courage’ by The Deadnotes is released on 14th February on 22Lives Records.