Sharptooth – Transitional Forms
It’s hard to overstate the size of the crater that Sharptooth’s Clever Girl left upon its release in 2017, an album that came virtually out of nowhere quite late in the year from a band without all that much noise around them, and ended up being the best hardcore album of that year, bar none. It’s not like it was some boundary-pushing experiment either; Sharptooth’s only goals on that album were to streamline the rage as much as possible and make it hit hard, and Clever Girl proved to be a masterclass at both. So now, three years later where it feels like the number of things to be angry about have been piling themselves up higher and higher, Transitional Forms arrives with more or less the same objectives that are pulled off just as excellently, if not even better. This feels like an angrier album, and there’s no way that could be misconstrued as being insincere, not with a vocalist like Lauren Kashan whose skin-flaying intensity and tone has only gotten more vicious over time, to the point where she could genuinely be among the conversation of the best screamers in modern hardcore of any gender. It’s the sort of blast of energy that takes the unmistakably punk sentiment of Sharptooth’s writing and gives it the potency it needs to aim so wide and hit all of its targets with masterful precision. This is an album that has its sights set on moving forward and – just like the dinosaur on its artwork – evolving, all of which involves Kashen setting alight everything in the present that’s preventing that. And this is volatility personified, whether that’s towards other bands in the scene neglecting or abusing the magnitude of their platform on Say Nothing (In The Absence Of Sound) and Hirudinea (the latter being blessed with the eternally excellent line “You’re not a feminist just because you’ve fucked one”), her own mental health and paranoia on Mean Brain, or simply anyone continuing to preach the “keep politics out of music” argument on 153.
It’s about as ferocious and bloodily confrontational as hardcore gets, and where a lesser band could easily get lost in their own furor, Sharptooth never lose focus here even once. At a lean thirty minutes, there’s not a lot of time wasted at all, and that gets channelled into hardcore that sounds equally as destructive as the words it’s soundtracking. The balance between punk and metal influences are especially important in recognising that; Sharptooth have an undeniable heaviness that can be tailored to various styles and tempos with real ease (see how well they hit moments of slow, guttural pummelling on Life On The Razor’s Edge and the first half of Nevertheless (She Persisted)), but there’s definitely a tangible melodic quality brought over from punk that does appear, meaning it makes total sense for Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane to make a guest turn on Evolution, or for the band to just go full Gallows on 153. Of course, there’s still the middle ground of hardcore between those two extremities, and with production that emphasises the monolithic, rampaging force that Sharptooth bring in their guitars and a rhythm section that has a similar amount of fury, Transitional Forms really is a whirlwind of a listen, and the sort of album that it’s hard to see how any fan of hardcore could actively dislike. It mightn’t be the out-of-the-blue head-turner that its predecessor was, but it’s most definitely a step up and comes just as close to hitting that vaunted high status as that album did. Just like last time, Sharptooth are making vital, incendiary music that’s about as good as it gets, and that only subsequently furthers their standing as one of the best hardcore bands around.
For fans of: Knocked Loose, Stray From The Path, Year Of The Knife
‘Transitional Forms’ by Sharptooth is released on 10th July on Pure Noise Records.
A.A. Williams – Forever Blue
An underlying goal of an artist like A.A. Williams is always going to be to differentiate themselves from Chelsea Wolfe, because those comparisons will inevitably arise at one point or another. It’s an archetype that’s fairly new but has already become rather recognisable, that of the typically female soloist drawing on folk and gothic soundscapes, with a penchant for a latent tension and doom-inspired heaviness that makes for an easy crossover into metal. What’s more, it’s one that’s already been applied to Williams with little haste, even though her self-titled debut EP last year felt a bit further removed from the sound’s heavier aspects, and found more stable footing in the bleaker folk side. It’s not a tremendous deviation but it sets its own stage for things to come, especially on an album like Forever Blue where it’s been refined to such an excellent state. Naturally it’s much grander and more expansive than the EP, and achieves that in a way that doesn’t disregard any of what made Williams so special in the first place. The atmosphere is formidable throughout, built around the baleful acoustic guitars, piano and strings, and letting them hang in the implacable, frosty air around them. It’s a very wintry sounding album, shrouded in veils of dark greys and whites as tracks like All I Asked For (Was To End It) and the absolutely stunning Dirt exhale and build in as natural a way as possible. It’s a beautifully crafted album, but none of those decisions ever feel the result of micromanaging, and so when Fearless opens up into doom-metal knells and Glimmer and Love And Pain grow into towering, mile-wide giants, there’s a sense of achieved catharsis that’s so incredibly satisfying to hear play out.
And of course, there’s Williams herself, the sylvan presence at the centre of it all and the emotional core that turns Forever Blue into such a great album. Lyrically it doesn’t stray too far from sheer bleakness and destitution (in that it rarely moves away from those topics at all), but it’s so evocative all the time, and the vocal layering has an almost fragmented quality at times like on Fearless that grounds Williams’ darkness so well. It certainly helps that she has a gorgeous voice anyway, and a vibrato that comes through at just the right times, but it’s the little edges offered in the performance and the production that take it over the top, especially on Dirt where former Wild Beasts bassist Tom Fleming lends a perfect rumbling baritone to even further cultivate the atmosphere. It’s moments like that that give Forever Blue real power, elevated by perfectly balanced production that’s clear and open, but doesn’t mask how oppressively dark it can be. That engulfing quality is almost reminiscent of an artist like Nick Cave in how borderline insidious it can be, but that’s where so much of the beauty of Williams’ music stems from. It does craft that atmosphere, and it does so almost flawlessly at that, but it’s the way that it holds on so and progresses so powerfully that makes Forever Blue worth returning to again and again. There’s clearly more still to come from Williams yet, but this is one hell of a way to draw that first blood.
For fans of: Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, Chelsea Wolfe
‘Forever Blue’ by A.A. Williams is out now on Bella Union.
DMA’s – The Glow
At a time where the reverence for Oasis is yet to wane and every tiny move coming from that camp is widely extrapolated to mean a reunion (it’s not gonna happen, just accept it), it makes sense that DMA’s are still around, if only to capitalise on Britpop nostalgia, despite hailing from Australia and coming around two decades too late to do anything meaningful with what they do have. And really, that’s all the argument needed for why DMA’s feel like such a non-entity, even in the sea of non-entities that is modern indie; that fixation of replicating a very specific ‘90s sound (and going off previous evidence, not the premium version, either) has left them in a spot where expanding just doesn’t seem feasible, and it’s only a matter of time before they run their course entirely. Points for trying on The Glow then, but they can be deducted almost immediately when the end result is as unfulfilling as it is. Now, not only do DMA’s have their typically dozy Britpop to go through, but they’ve also sought to incorporate elements of adjacent baggy and house scenes, as well as giving it all an alt-pop finish because that just seems to be a prerequisite for every mainstream-trending indie band nowadays. In that respect then, there’s something that can be said for Life Is A Game Of Changing using all of those resources to create the sort of airy euphoria that regularly holds up in ‘90s trance (something that’s attempted again on Cobracaine, albeit to a far lesser extent), but that’s really all The Glow has when coming to a stable or worthwhile creative nexus.
It’s a simple case of DMA’s just not being that interesting of a band, and even with a selection of new sounds and influences at their disposal, they haven’t so much displaced that sense of disinterest as copied it over to what they have now. Tommy O’Dell’s voice is almost universally weedy and powerless (something that doesn’t help a set of equally wishy-washy lyrics like on Criminals and Learning Alive), and pairing it with an instrumental selection that’s already drained of so much punch doesn’t help whatsover. To be charitable, it’s easy to see what DMA’s are going for here, with the grand, echoing mix and lashings of vocal reverb to continue the illusion of the absolute biggest of ‘90s Britpop bands, but there’s all the cleanliness of modern, anaemic alt-pop on a track like Silver, and that’s not a good fit for a band whose primary anchoring sound is built on roughness and everyman charm. This feels as though it’s trying to keep one foot in that sound but appease modern alternative markets at the same time, such is the reason that the drums are so slappy and gated almost across the board, or why returning to grittier passages on Hello Girlfriend and Round & Around feels like such a forced, clunky move. At the very least, the better-than-most intentions poke through – this doesn’t feel like an album built around cynical conceits nearly as much as some can – but it’s still not all that good, and only nails down further how limited DMA’s are as a band, only now it’s regardless of what sound they’re co-opting. Because really, the effort only counts for so much, and The Glow makes it worth considering how much that was even worth it.
For fans of: The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, The Happy Mondays
‘The Glow’ by DMA’s is released on 10th July on BMG.
Asylums – Genetic Cabaret
It’s a shame that Asylums haven’t caught on in the way they should have, but it’s also easy to extrapolate a reason why. They aren’t an easy band to place into one particular scene, let alone one that would get an inherent boost from trendier sounds, and that – for lack of a better term – ‘placelessness’ has seen them float around indie-rock scenes for a few years without making a play to break out, but also seemingly comfortable in the increased flexibility and freedom that gives them. Just look at how that’s come into play on Genetic Cabaret, where the taut alt-rock melodies have been hoisted onto hard rock riffs like on Platitudes, and given a Steve Albini production job that lends it a grungier tone, especially in some fantastic bass work from Michael Webster, like on the title track. The result is entirely indicative of the lack of set rubric that Asylums have built for themselves, at that on the whole lends Genetic Cabaret the sort of liberated feeling that’s decidedly a rarity in modern rock. And yet, there’s still focus, so when tracks like A Perfect Life In A Perfect World and Dull Days fall back on slower introspection, it’s akin to how a lot of premier ‘90s alt-rock built itself on that particular slant. Granted, Genetic Cabaret is shorter on wall-to-wall standouts compared to the very best of that scene in that era, but tracks like Catalogue Kids and Yuppie Germs prove that Asylums of plenty capable of hitting those relative heights when they want to.
And even if the comparisons to ‘90s alt-rock are nothing new – the description of “if Blur had signed to Sub-Pop” has been one that’s followed Asylums for years now – Genetic Cabaret arguably gives it the most purpose for what it’s trying to do. This is an angry, disenfranchised album, but one that brings a deliberately contemporary nuance of uncertainty into the mix with its opener Catalogue Kids, where frontman Luke Branch, now a father, contemplates the world his child has been brought into and what impacts that can have going forward, leading to the desire to get away from the stress and noise and just live on A Perfect Life In A Perfect World. The viewpoints aren’t disengaged though, and even if tracks like Platitudes and The Difference Between Left & Right aren’t exactly radical in the prospects they present, there’s definitely an ear for lyricism and word choice that stands out more in Who Writes Tomorrow’s Headlines? and Yuppie Germs that’s a lot more engaging on a deeper level. In truth though, Genetic Cabaret does a lot right on the whole, with the ear for melody that Asylums have always displayed and a sonic palette that matches their more robust and hard-edged intentions. Even for a band who aren’t at the summit of mainstream hype, this is arguably the best that Asylums have done to date when it comes to grabbing the attention of potentially a wider listener-base, and that’s worth acknowledging for the sort of band that they are. They’re not a particularly cool or cutting-edge band, but it’s a case where the music undoubtedly speaks for itself, here more than ever.
For fans of: The Amazons, Nirvana, The Automatic
‘Genetic Cabaret’ by Asylums is released on 17th July on Cool Thing Records.
Silverbacks – Fad
It’d be all too easy to be glib and say that Silverbacks are this week’s new post-punk band arriving like clockwork before giving them a due amount of praise, but this is actually an interesting case where there’s a bit more to base the inevitable comparisons to the existing scene on. Because, conceptually, as an Irish band blending motorik 2000s indie-rock with modern post-punk snark, that sounds awfully similar to Fontaines D.C., one of the biggest breakout successes to come from this current wave. To be fair though, Siverbacks aren’t a clone in the way that many others could be dismissed as, but debut full-length Fad isn’t quite up to that standard either, even on its own merits. It certainly isn’t bad though, especially as an attempt for Silverbacks to do more than what might be expected of them, leaning more deeply into their indie-rock side while keeping a mechanically tight grip on the fundamentals of post-punk in the bass tone and stark production style, like on Klub Silberrücken and Just In The Band. It’s definitely a lighter album on the whole, with a rather endearing quality of approaching a turbulent world with uncertainty and slight awkwardness rather than the usual steely-eyed anger on Pink Tide and Fad ‘95, as well as having Emma Hanlon’s occasional vocal contributions as a gentler foil to co-leads Daniel and Kilian O’Kelly’s more direct, but still less aggressive delivery. It does make for an interesting balance overall, one that lends some fresher dynamics to Just In The Band with its skittish guitar squeals, or the touches of ‘90s indie-rock staples on the clearly defined groove of Grinning At The Lid.
But like with so many bands in the same boat, Fad displays the unshakable impression of a band who haven’t yet fully latched on to what their doing, spending their time getting unrefined ideas down with more haphazardness than would be preferable. What they’re doing isn’t bad at all, and tracks like Dunkirk and Klub Silberrücken serve as the customary moments of flashing potential that do signpost possibilities for the future. But among that, there’s a pretty unmistakable amount of first-time-ness to what Silverbacks are doing, given that the penchant for it to run together is there, alongside a handful of interludes that couldn’t be perfunctory. On top of that, it can be quite easy to see where their genre conventions break through the overall veneer, and it results in an album that’s making some good steps to differentiate itself from the pack, but the looser focus on cohesion that it has means it’s not quite as far away from that pack as it could be. It’s still extremely solid, especially for indie-rock and post-punk anoraks looking to snap up anything and everything that these genres continue to offer, but it’s not precisely the best in either, even if Silverbacks have some very distinct signs of pointing towards that end of the scale.
For fans of: Fontaines D.C., Talk Show, LIFE
‘Fad’ by Silverbacks is released on 17th July on Central Tones.
Decay – Staring At The Sun
Going back to Decay’s debut EP Modern Conversation now, it couldn’t be easier to see how they slotted into a very defined and frequently burgeoning camp of emo upstarts, namely the bands who aren’t exactly brimming with distinguishing features, but have the one thing they can do really well that, with time, could at least strive to even things out. With Decay, theirs was songwriting that had the potential to dig into more personal and incisive narratives, and paired with an emo template that was at least bracing if not wholly original, there was a lot of promise to be fostered there. Unfortunately, Staring At The Sun does display a great deal of progress; if anything, Decay have more or less redistributed their strengths into a bigger, more powerful sound, and writing that prunes a lot of the detail away to follow suit. There are plenty of melodies here, but it feels like most of them are missing a great hook or lyrical inroad to make them stick, instead of another go-around with emotionally-driven but broadly-sketched ennui and strain that’s rooted in reality without the detail to make it feel as such. It’s a common complaint with albums like this, but it’s still worth reiterating, especially for a band like Decay who’ve proven they can offer more flavour and gripping imagery than this, but choose not to.
It’s certainly the biggest knock this album takes, as everything else has undergone quite the improvement, enough to potentially make Decay something great with the right balance and consistency. Both the title track and September 27th have the steamrolling, mid-paced anthemia that’s an excellent halfway house between Basement and Jimmy Eat World, and the frayed rage of Ache and Misery and sweeping exhale of closer 23 add a bit more variation to the overall sound, albeit one that bands like this tend to find comes naturally. Even so, it’s a good sign of Decay evolving and steadying themselves with production that has the right combination of grit and grandeur that emo like this thrives on, and Daniel Reposar coming into his own much more as a vocalist in finding a burlier tone that fits hit regionalised voice a lot better. On a purely sonic level, Staring At The Sun definitely hits in all the right places; it sounds big and professional, and apart from the unnecessary interlude Endless Silence, it does everything it needs to in just the right amount of time. It’s just a shame that Decay still don’t stand out from the pack despite it, in moving away from the moments of greatness in the writing that, had they been left here, would’ve taken Staring At The Sun at least a rung or two higher. As it stands, it just ends up being pretty solid at best, the sort of thing that might have some repeat listens tucked away in it, but generally falls when compared to bands who can do much more and have it land with more impact.
For fans of: Citizen, Boston Manor, Jimmy Eat World
‘Staring At The Sun’ by Decay is released on 10th July on Fox Records.
ManDown – We Want Blood
Despite being a very new band with next to no profile, the origins of ManDown actually go back around twenty years when Iain Turner and Lawrence Arnold would make music together in school. Since then the pair broke off and did some work in their own individual bands, before reconvening as ManDown and having their big stamp of notability in the form of Jamie Lenman producing this debut EP. That makes a lot of sense when considering the sound of We Want Blood too, in how it pulls from meatier British post-hardcore of the 2000s and affixes it to the more rudimentary, groove-driven riff-rock style. At the same time though, the hallmarks of a very new band are there, particularly in the mixing on Turner’s vocals which only sound even flatter and less robust against an instrumental range that’s clearly been given that necessary attention. More focus seems to have been placed on the raw sound and tone than how it’s used, and as such, We Want Blood can come across as a bit inconsequential; it’s already incredibly short, and even in the writing ManDown aren’t veering too far from a similar brusqueness, be that in laying down their own perseverant mindset on Try Or Die, or leaning further into a snarling, more openly angry timbre on Kiss and the title track.
It’s kind of slight as far as first impressions go, and repeated spins only further reveal how much of ManDown’s formula hinges on how loud and heavy they can be. It’s a good thing, then, that that’s where We Want Blood goes unequivocally in the right direction, straying in the direction similar to Royal Blood at its core with the meaty riffs blending in different parts of garage-rock, blues and grunge, and tipping the edges with leaner post-hardcore to remove some of the bloat that can frequently afflict that sound. And as stated earlier, it’s clearly where the bulk of the production budget has gone into; ManDown know how to reliably craft a dense soundscape that has a lot of fervor and meanness, especially when the tone doesn’t seem to have been diluted even slightly. The potential for potency is fairly obvious throughout, and the backbone of Arnold’s drumming that can really muster some power like on Tick Tock does a lot to elevate ManDown above the typical ‘loud duo’ tropes. It’s why the very clear shortcomings of We Want Blood aren’t dealbreakers just yet; ManDown mainly sound as though they’re having growing pains more than anything else, and even if that isn’t helping this EP and still makes it kind of rough in spots, the quality that shines through can still be recognised. At the minute then, it’s hard to give ManDown a definitive recommendation, given how much they still need to break away from before they hit their stride, but it’s not like there’s not nothing here either, and that should hopefully bloom a bit more noticeably in time. For now though, that’s needed before going any further.
For fans of: Reuben, Royal Blood, Sœur
‘We Want Blood’ by ManDown is released on 9th July.
The Long Faces – Documentaries
The Long Faces don’t give off the impression of being a normal band. That can stem from the fact that one of their biggest milestones to date is having their 2018 single Jane! become among one of the biggest tracks of that year on a youth radio station in El Salvador (and bear in mind, this is a band from Canterbury with limited musical output even now), but even in terms of the raw nuts and bolts of their sound, it’s not exactly something that has much footing in modern music. That’s compounded all the more by their debut EP Documentaries only having three tracks, of which none of them sound all that much like one another, but there’s overall a general feel that gives an indication of where The Long Faces’ gaze lies. There’s the fidgety, hyper-modern prog of bands like Polyphia or Covet at its core, but executed with an air of quintessentially English prog about it, smoothening out the edges and bringing the retina-burning colour palette down to an earthier range. It’s perhaps most noticeable on the opener Sail Away, where the intricately-crafted guitars zip through a thicker bassline from Kristina Rhodes, but the elements of jazz in Dan Ball’s drumming and the additional violin from Halden Cooke are less blaringly contemporary, and Tom Lane’s swooping, aloof vocal style that’s reminiscent of Morrissey or Robert Smith furthers the older sound and more anachronistic grounding of it all.
And through it all, The Long Faces do have a lot of talent on display, both in the attention to detail that goes into their individual instrumental pieces, and in the fact that they can transpose it all easily enough between sounds that mightn’t share much common DNA. Sail Away might be the closest they have to a baseline, and when that extends to drifting lounge passages on the title track and a more softly-produced take on traditional prog expanse on And Where Have You Gone, Mr. Wolf, pulling it off with a relatively solid level of quality throughout is no mean feat. And yet, despite all of that, there’s something about Documentaries and The Long Faces as a whole that doesn’t seem to click. Maybe it’s a writing style that feels almost universally underdeveloped (or, in the case of that title track and its approach to sounding ‘sexy’, faintly embarrassing), or maybe it’s the fact that a three-track EP that’s this disparate feels as though it’s deliberately leaving pieces of the bigger picture of this band out, but Documentaries doesn’t satisfy all that much when taken as a proper debut release. The important pieces are mostly there, namely in a sound that’s appreciative of its genre roots while simultaneously being completely its own thing, but it’s hard to escape the notion that more could’ve been done to show at least closer to the limits of what that has to offer. Right now, The Long Faces are picking and choosing parts rather than letting a clear throughline develop, and that’s definitely a factor in why Documentaries’ longer-standing impact is so thin on the ground.
For fans of: Genesis, Covet, TTNG
‘Documentaries’ by The Long Faces is released on 10th July.
Words by Luke Nuttall