Bush – The Kingdom
History seems to have placed Bush on the back foot almost regardless of where they’ve been. Success in the US through the ‘90s didn’t translate nearly as much in their home on this side of the Atlantic where they became something of a grunge footnote in the landscape of Britpop, something that doesn’t seem to have shifted given that frontman Gavin Rossdale is now best known for a stint on The Voice and for being Gwen Stefani’s ex. And while both Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase leave their generally agreed-upon status as pop-culture also-rans feeling not entirely fair, it also wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bush haven’t aged the best either. When none of their albums past those first two ever show up in conversation, it says a lot, and trailing off into dry, dreary post-grunge in recent years has only left them feeling more and more like a ‘90s relic hanging on by a thread and trying to feign whatever relevance they can. Granted, to place them explicitly into that category wouldn’t be totally true (we’re yet to see a true blue sellout moment from them, which is always good), but The Kingdom really only hangs as highly as it does in the release schedule because of everything that’s come before it. Because, let’s be honest – if this didn’t have Bush’s name attached (or even if it did in most cases), no one would care about this album, and it’s not particularly hard to see why. Even this isn’t an example of unashamedly resting on their laurels, any sort of spark within Bush really isn’t a factor anymore, and as such, The Kingdom simply plods along and can’t wait to leave the brain when it’s over. There’s been plenty made of Rossdale’s less-than-stellar lyricism here (and on a song like Bullet Holes, those criticisms are entirely justified), but they don’t stun or offend in any way, such is the case with effectively everything this album has to offer. Bar Flowers On A Grave and the title track starting things off on an uncharacteristically high note (and maybe Our Time Will Come for a pretty cool showing of Corey Britz’s bass work), The Kingdom lacks a real sense of motion or verve that good grunge really needs. As it stands, Bush are still bereft of the punk spirit that they’ve never had, only now it’s even more noticeable.
And yet, even among all of that, there still needs to be some degree of credit given for not taking the easy radio-rock route and actually having that distance in mind. The impact of having Helmet’s Chris Traynor on guitar makes itself apparant in the fatter riffs of Blood River and Send In The Clowns, and when that intensity and volume hasn’t been dialled back too much (it’s not left intact either, but nor is it shred to ribbons, such is the danger of albums like this), there’s at least the sense that Bush want to be a proper rock band instead of a nostalgia act. But that just seems negated by a fair amount by how often Rossdale is positioned as the leader here, given the most room and prime position within the mix when he’s far from the strongest tool this band have. At his best, there’s an arena-rock belter that breaks its way out on Flowers On A Grave, but try and wedge that into U2-esque balladry on Undone or anything more impactfully emotional than half-mournful, half-angsts on Words Are Not Impediments, and it becomes abundantly clear how limited of a presence he can be here. In fact, his problem is endemic of the entire album, in that it can never properly get itself going without sounding as though its grinding to move itself. There’s so little about this album that doesn’t feel like hard work, and Bush themselves seem to actively facilitate that; there’s already something of a marginalised rhythm section with how flat Nik Hughes’ drums can sound, but the feet-dragging progressions and surprising lack of confidence across the board really do sour what could’ve otherwise been fine, if not a bit forgettable. It still is forgettable, mind – this is a Bush album in 2020 we’re talking about – but it’s also notably flawed in a way that does hold it back even further. Perhaps that’s to its credit, as it least it’s spurring on some form of reaction, but it’s one that only further highlights how little The Kingdom has that’s worth revisiting, and how Bush’s continued run as a perennially underwhelming and under-remembered presence in ‘90s rock isn’t set to end in a hurry.
For fans of: 3 Colours Red, Silverchair, Our Lady Peace
‘The Kingdom’ by Bush is out now on BMG.
Broadside – Into The Raging Sea
Broadside have often felt like a B-grade pop-punk band with the dreams and ambitions of the A-tier, something that they’ve unfortunately never been great at bringing to life. Their debut Old Bones had the chunky Victory Records sound that felt more or less like a riff on where easycore was going at the time, something that proved to have very little staying power on the glossy, super-sanitised pop-rock of its successor Paradise. Even if neither of those albums were the worst thing ever, they both displayed Broadside’s lack of stability in earnest, something which has ultimately held them back from hitting goals as lofty as theirs are. They can dish out catchy hooks and melodies with no problem, but that’s come at the expense of a real identity for themselves, or a sense of progression that could see them excel instead of floating around stagnant. At least Into The Raging Sea feels more stabilised as an expansion on the sound of Paradise, and for as many limitations as it may have within the modern scene, this isn’t bad at all. Sure, the very sparkly production might fall on the side of saccharine, Summer Set-esque pop devotion that might rub some the wrong way, but it’s pleasant to see that it doesn’t totally marginalise a guitar presence like on Foolish Believer and Heavenly, and the willingness to drive that into a fast, poppier lope on Overdramatic and Dancing On The Ceiling (With You) finds this album at its most enjoyable. Broadside have always been able to eke out one or two killer anthems, but Into The Raging Sea definitely feels like the most their energy has been focused on that; as nonexistent as a traditional summer might be this year, there’s a lot of that sun-struck, carefree energy that’s been channelled into this album, and Ollie Baxxter’s more fluid voice fits a lot better in that poppier framework.
It’s not tremendously innovative, just like all of Broadside’s work, but there’s definitely more comfort and confidence into playing to these strengths than before, to the point where the darker brooding of the title track and the chilly pianos and dramatic swirls of production on closer Burning At Both Ends couldn’t feel more redundant. Presumably it’s some kind of framing device for everything else, detailling a relationship that was riding high and came crashing down, leading to Baxxter reminiscing among his own dejection, but that’s a stretch when considering what this album actually offers, most of which falls into a very clear-cut pop-punk mould that doesn’t lend much room for such digressions. It’s good that they’re trying and at least keeping the idea of branching out in mind, but Into The Raging Sea isn’t improved by it at all, and really just finds itself distracted from being a solid, lightweight album that, amidst a current drought of good pop-punk, at least serves as some form of consolation. Granted, it’s hard to see Broadside staying at that level when considering what’s coming down the pipeline, particularly when it is a bit too light to fully stand its ground within a scene that’s honestly moved past this point now, but it’s still good at dishing out digestible hits for a brief sugar rush, arguably better than Broadside have ever been before. That isn’t much of a superlative to hinge on, but this does work, and that counts for something.
For fans of: New Found Glory, The Summer Set, Grayscale
‘Into The Raging Sea’ by Broadside is released on 24th July on Sharptone Records.
The Aces – Under My Influence
The Aces really surprised with When My Heart Felt Volcanic in 2018, the sort of understated indie-pop surprise that mightn’t have broken the mould entirely, but in a breezy sound positioned somewhere between HAIM and early The 1975, and one or two genuinely unshakable earworms that still haven’t faded to this day, they laid down the foundations for something potentially great to come from them. At the same time though, it’s entirely possible to recognise why they’ve yet to really jump out on a greater scale, and the early signs of Under My Influence making some expected tweaks to fit in with mainstream-friendly pop aren’t all that surprising, but for a band like The Aces whose razor-tight knack for melodies has always been their greatest strength, it’s incredibly telling. There’s never been an attempt to hide how poppy The Aces are, and diving straight into it has become the de facto way for bands to show what they can do in that particular setting, both for good and for ill. Thankfully, Under My Influence owes the most to the Dua Lipa school of pop-craft, namely through incredibly tight grooves and progressions that balance just the right amount of modernity with some rather blatant worship of the classics. Of course, The Aces are nowhere near the same level of profile as Dua Lipa has, and thus Under My Influence isn’t the exemplary force of sturdy wastelessness that Future Nostalgia was; there’s definitely a number of looser, less driven cuts like 801 and Thought Of You that wouldn’t do much harm if they were cut, and a bit more organic percussion wouldn’t go amiss either, especially when it’s so obviously stiff and synthetic on tracks like My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me. Otherwise though, The Aces’ transition to pure pop feels wholly natural and embraced, whether that’s in the efficiency with which grooves and basslines provide such a clear and crisp foundation (it’s easy to pick up on lifts from INXS’ Need You Tonight and Ace Of Base’s All That She Wants on New Emotion and Kelly respectively), or how, in its best moments, the focus on creating an absolutely immovable hook hasn’t dulled whatsover. If anything it’s gotten even better, in the watery lilts of Kelly and Zillionaire and especially Lost Angeles, the sort of sun-drenched pop smash that’s probably The Aces’ best song for just how sharp and concentrated it is. It’s moments like this where the sleeker, cleaner production pays the most dividends, and lends a much clearer tone to Cristal Ramirez’s already excellent vocals.
Her expressiveness and exacerbated sense of comfort in her performance within these songs is really what makes Under My Influence so good; the breezy gentleness of the debut still holds some influence, but it’s been clad and reshaped into a much sharper, Hollywood-ised version itself. It’s the sort of sound and performance that’s unwaveringly suited to the TikTok climate it finds itself arriving in, and though the rather awkward brevity of Daydream and Can You Do is a less preferable impact of that, there’s definitely more of an ease to the entire process here. A big sign of that comes in the same-sex relationships within Ramirez’s writing that were left notably ambiguous last time, and that inherent freedom is more of a lyrical factor here, be that in heady moments of liberation and discovery on New Emotion and 801, or in succumbing to the other girl’s capriciousness on Kelly that’s never quite enough of a turn-off. There’s definitely turbulence that runs throughout it all too, but it’s the sort that’s held together by the thick layer of pop gloss that holds it very firmly where it is, and it does feel like The Aces play into that mindset. It’s honestly where the Dua Lipa comparisons can continue, in The Aces’ recognition of pop’s natural artifice that they’re looking to embrace rather than ignore. That does make Under My Influence a really likable album for what it is, unafraid to be lightweight and pulling it off with a real sense of gusto and charm. Even if a few tracks could be tightened or shaved off for good measure, this is still really solid stuff, and a nice source of freshness and lightness in a particular branch of the indie-pop landscape that could really do with seeing some of that. There’s definitely more to come from this, and bigger things at that.
For fans of: Fickle Friends, HAIM, MUNA
‘Under My Influence’ by The Aces is out now on Red Bull Records.
Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
With regards to the recent post-punk explosion that’s been fairly unavoidable lately, it’s worth noting that a lot of the prominent names within it have largely tailored their sound to forge clearer inroads into indie-rock or more traditional punk. Thus, that leaves a few questions with regards to what that overall scene will do with Protomartyr, a band who’ve been going for a while now through playing to the more strained, off-piste sides of post-punk and noise-rock that have typically become more and more scaled back. And really, the question is whether the scene will bend for Protomartyr rather than the other way around; their last album Relatives In Descent might have clipped into the very initial wave of post-punk’s greater mobilisation in 2017, but showed barely even a hint of budging from the dense weirdness that so regularly defines Protomartyr’s work. But that’s what makes Ultimate Success Today such a fascinating and thrilling listen, and how it highlights a fearlessness within Protomartyr’s work when it comes to detailling the ills of the modern world and rallying against them. It might come across as implacable at times, but there’s something so rich and darkly incisive about the imagery and word choice used, right from the rather self-explanatory opener Day Without End before tackling the abuse of power that comes in the untouchable police system on Processed By The Boys, the commodification of creativity that eventually becomes just another part of the machine of I Am You Now and The Aphorist, and the veneration of the workaday lifestyle that only serves the benefit the privileged even more on Michigan Hammers. The sense of pessimism is almost overwhelming at times but always feels earned and backed up, especially given how Protomartyr in no way tailor themselves to make any of this a more palatable listen.
It’s that distance kept between a lot of post-punk’s modern wave that defines Ultimate Success Today that most. Any sort of flirtations with indie-rock feel cursory at most, and the onus is firmly placed on cultivating the anger and oppressive darkness above anything else. Again, it doesn’t make for an easy listen, but it’s one that’s easy to get lost in, held together by Joe Casey’s glazed-over delivery and the intensity that’s become so natural for Protomartyr. It’s not utterly esoteric either, though; there’s definitely melody that comes through in the quaking guitars and bass of June 21 or Tranquilizer, and there’s almost a sense of harmony and elegance in tracks like The Aphorist and Bridge & Crown in more easygoing tempos and reverberating echoes. Granted, the prongs of saxophone that squeal across Day Without End and Processed By The Boys seem to hold on to the notion that straying too far into accessibility isn’t what Protomartyr are about in the slightest, but at the same time, the barrier for entry isn’t quite as high as it can be for a lot of noise-rock, and giving it the time reveals Ultimately Success Today as a remarkably rewarding listen. It definitely sticks around longer than a lot of modern post-punk does, simply on the basis that Protomartyr are, by nature, a lot more adventurous, and when they can pull that off so well, it really does stick and make for something great. It’ll certainly take some patience to fully get into, but Ultimate Success Today is an utterly fascinating listen, and it deserves every moment of time that needs to be dedicated to it.
For fans of: Ought, Preoccupations, Iceage
‘Ultimate Success Today’ by Protomartyr is out now on Domino Recordings.
The Acacia Strain – Slow Decay
You’ve got to hand it to The Acacia Strain – if there’s one deathcore band that can suitably replicate the sensation of having every bit of life bludgeoned out of you, it’s them. And for what they’re trying to do, that’s generally meant as a positive in a sound that’s been known to pull from doom-metal and slower, more deliberate heavy sources; it mightn’t be the most diverse or flexible sound (something which has turned some of their more excessively long songs into a real slog), but it captures dread and bleak, unfeeling violence in a way that fathead deathcore sluggards like Emmure and Attila could only dream of. Granted, that approach doesn’t exactly open the floodgates for great experimentation or progression, and Slow Decay cycling around roughly the same mould that The Acacia Strain have been peddling for close to 20 years now ensures that the needle isn’t moving from its set position. And that generally means that Slow Decay is a very familiar path for The Acacia Strain to take, as they watch a destroyed world crumble around them and replicate that levelling force in their own heft, which is basically their only trick. Even if the monotony isn’t overbearing as it has been in the past, especially in those longer songs, Slow Decay doesn’t have a lot about it that grips or does more than pile on the layers of dread and misanthropy that, even then, aren’t articulated with much insight beyond sheer force. The closest it comes is having Mortality Rate’s Jess Nyx lend a shredded, haunted vocal presence to The Lucid Dream, one of the very few moments when The Acacia Strain loosen their incredibly rigid mould even incrementally. Otherwise, Jesus Piece’s Aaron Heard is just a different flavour of the exact same brutality from Vincent Bennett on Seeing God, and Courtney LaPlan’s ghostly outro on One Thousand Painful Strings doesn’t amount of a whole lot beyond a bit more malleability to the band’s doom-metal side, and even then it isn’t much.
Even with that in mind though, there is some appreciation that needs to be handed to The Acacia Strain for arguably being the deathcore band most ready to recreate this particular desolate landscape, and anyone who’s been actively invested in the past will still find things to like here. There’s still plenty of slow, calamitously heavy moments produced to emphasise heaviness and heaviness alone, and that can be used in a good way when opened out a bit more and allowed to grow in size like on I breathed in the smoke deeply it tasted like death and I smiled. It’s not like what The Acacia Strain have in their wheelhouse is bad, and a good portion of this album’s primal, guttural crashing does prove that, but it’s also extremely one-note and has been a long time, and when so few attempts have been made to rectify that or at least attempt to branch out a bit, it just feels like a band spinning its wheels more often than not. For all the rage that Slow Decay can muster, it’s rage that’s been laid out in this exact fashion a good number of times before, and it’s just not all that compelling anymore when pretty much this very permutation has been around for years. And if The Acacia Strain are looking to appeal exclusively to their existing fans at this point, that’s fine and no one would blame them, but even those fans must be able to admit that this sort of thing is running out of mileage. For what it is, it’s fine, but it’s been in that same state or better for about eight albums now.
For fans of: Emmure, Jesus Piece, Oceano
‘Slow Decay’ by The Acacia Strain is released on 24th July on Rise Records.
Oliver Tree – Ugly Is Beautiful
Exactly how Oliver Tree has managed to swan into the alternative landscape is still unknown, but it’s become clearer than ever that it needs him more than the other way around. When virality and memes have become inescapable within music, this is obviously a push that’s being made to replicate similar success within a more nebulous definition of ‘alternative’ than ever, and that’s the role that Tree has become known for; why is it that any song he’s released to date has always been brushed aside in conversation, second to the image of the bowlcut, the weird sunglasses, the windbreaker and the JNCO jeans? Granted, his electro-alt-pop-rap hasn’t left the most pleasant of early tastes as it is, but Tree’s persona isn’t that of a new creative force, but rather, that of a character drafted in to facilitate alternative scenes’ obsession with catching up to trends in pop and hip-hop. But Ugly Is Beautiful doesn’t even do that right, with the Oliver Tree character sidelined to peritextual clues at best, and leaving yet another indie / alt-pop that’s just as deliberately limited as all the others. At times it feels almost stupidly so; topics like picking yourself up after a fall on 1993 and the abundance of materialism on Cash Machine barely even entertain the thought of going beyond the surface level, and the laundry list of dime-store moralities that Tree churns out on tracks like Joke’s On You! and Again And Again feel just as insidiously targeted to younger, less discerning listeners as so much of the worst acts in this scene can. At least there’s a modicum of levity that keeps Tree from fully falling into that hole (for as obnoxious as Alien Boy can be, it at least helps in that regard), but it’s the perfect example of how the curated image is always there to fall back on when it comes to cracks in the output itself.
Taking Ugly Is Beautiful as a whole though, that’s a hell of a lot of weight for one costume to carry, given that moments of inspiration for Tree rarely feel all that creatively fertile. To be totally fair, he’s got a wider, more diverse breadth of sounds at his disposal, and that can manifest in some enjoyably off-kilter production styles like in the powering waves of synths on 1993 or the bassy pop-rap swirl of Bury Me Alive. It’s definitely got the ‘anything goes’ approach that’s become so natural of creators who’ve cultivated their opportunities online, but that also makes it all the more disappointing when Tree’s sound of choice is a rehashed collection of flat garage-rock guitars that never do all that much to forward things creatively, and feel like just another ingredient to throw into the pot for an album that’s modern and trendy in all the worst ways. And alongside the usual muddy production that never sounds good, there’s the slabs of featureless sound that emit from tracks like Let Me Down and Hurt, and they sound just as inert and unworkably loud as they have with any other chancer who’s tried this style and failed in the past few years. Hell, the same could be said of Tree himself, for whom you could easily make the argument that he’s deliberately not trying to be a good singer to further the whole image, but his technique isn’t that different from any other frontman with gratingly tart pronunciations and a habit of making sure every syllable is emphasised as excruciatingly as possible. And then the magnitude of the situation kicks in, where Tree is a guaranteed money-printer for the bigwigs trying to conquer this side of the market, to where he can literally do anything, regardless of how barebones and irritating it is, and he’ll still pull in the clicks and streams. The most exasperating thing is that you can substitute Tree with literally any other band of unthreatening alt-pop white boys and the music would wind up just as mediocre, but it probably wouldn’t get a sliver of the traction that this album will. That’s because the only asset that Tree has above anyone else is marketability, and the fact that’s being given such a huge leg-up ahead of making tolerable music is really all that needs to be said in this situation.
For fans of: Hobo Johnson, Twenty One Pilots, Watsky
‘Ugly Is Beautiful’ by Oliver Tree is out now on Atlantic Records.
Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers
An artist like Courtney Marie Andrews is always going to have some difficulty when it comes to broadening her audience, though to suggest that would be an option seems to be missing the point. Hers is a brand of indie-folk and alt-country that’s a sure shot for critical acclaim (and going by the reception to her last couple of albums, that seems to be exactly right), but can often be too low-key and waifish to really go beyond that, something that Andrews undoubtedly would’ve rectified by now if that has any bearing on her musical direction whatsoever. Having said that though, there’s definitely a part of Old Flowers that isn’t averse to streamlining itself, with a clearly-defined breakup and self-redemption arc that’s all too easy to transpose into an album that’s trying to be far less humble than this one is. That’s a bit more of a reductive viewpoint than it really is, though; Old Flowers still has weight thanks to Andrews’ wonderful knack for descriptors and imagery, and that gives the likes of the title track and How You Get Hurt a sense of lorn contemplativeness that can elevate what’s otherwise a fairly standard arc. Here, it’s definitely a case of the album falling somewhat below its weight class, following a rather tried-and-true path of the breakup, the mourning and the healing, but there’s still a canniness to it prevents it from becoming unworkably stale, coming in the sobered emotional lows of Carnival Dreams and its centerpiece sentiment of “I may never let love in again”, or the closer Ships In The Night, where Andrews still holds a torch for her former love, but has ultimately reconciled with herself to move on and continue forward.
With a narrative that focuses on that particularly insular emotionality though, it does mean that Old Flowers is predictably an album without a whole lot of dynamics, even for within indie-country. It’s all very soft and quiet with Andrews’ voice being the central sonic force, and while she does have a tremendous voice with the sort of trembling clarity that really encompasses what material like this tries to convey, it’s not enough to completely envelop in the way that more instrumental layering of deftness could bring. It’s an album whose simplicity in concept can sometimes bleed into the execution, with gentle pianos and pillowy acoustics providing a foundation that might occasionally let some rattling percussion, if only to hold everything steady. That in itself can make for some beautiful moments like on the piano ballads of Carnival Dream and the title track, or the creaking shuffle of It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault, but there’s also a lack of real definition that prevents these songs from sometimes running together or falling into the plainer side of soft-rock and Americana that Andrews can often skirt. Sure, that’s exactly the atmosphere that will grip some, particularly given the production with its windswept emptiness designed to let Andrews’ vocals reverberate and create their own presence, but for as warm as it sounds, it could do with a bit more richness to really flesh it out. It’s partly a case of having that more cut-down framework to go off of, but on the whole, Old Flowers is quite as captivating as some of Andrews’ past efforts have been. It’s certainly solid and won’t disappoint the easy marks for folk and country this shamelessly small-scale and intimate, but it’s also hard to escape the feeling that more could’ve been done to land with more effectiveness. It’s solid, but this exact thing has also been done plenty of times more effectively, even from Andrews herself.
For fans of: Lori McKenna, Lydia Loveless, Big Thief
‘Old Flowers’ by Courtney Marie Andrews is released on 24th July on Fat Possum Records / Loose Records.
Calva Louise – Popurrí
The interesting thing about Calva Louise that’s shown right from the off is their willingness to embrace diversity. That can be applied in a sonic sense, being an amalgam of indie-rock, punk and electronica that’s only been strengthened and brought further forward on this new EP, but in the overall execution of it all as well, specifically in vocalist Jess Allanic singing in both English and Spanish at points as a nod to her Venezuelan roots. As well as heritage spanning across France and New Zealand, there’s a very wide breadth to Calva Louise, and even if Popurrí isn’t a flawless example of how that can translate musically, it’s a good enough example of how pliable this sort of thing is. These three tracks do admittedly lean on the more full-throttle to approach to Calva Louise’s sound, particularly in the racing dance-punk pulse of I Wish, but the jittery darkwave stomp of Camino and the airy drum ‘n’ bass touches of POP(urrí) are great example of how there are still ways that this sound can be reshaped. It’s definitely a case where the sound is the most important element by a mile; lyrically, Calva Louise aren’t really doing anything too unique or special, but that doesn’t really matter when they’ve got as much sonic propulsiveness and gusto as they do.
Of course, there’s still the notion of Popurrí being a relatively blank canvas for Calva Louise, offering not much more than a taste of what’s ostensibly been positioned as new phase for them moving forward. And even though it’s undoubtedly good at setting that stage and moving at a quick enough pace to really grab the attention, it’s still not a lot, and there’s definitely more tightness that could be incorporated to really yield the best results. Again, I Wish is probably where this occurs the most, with the blurred-out production that encompasses a hammering synth progression positioned somewhere between The Naked And Famous and The Prodigy, but compared to a track like Camino that can certainly build tension but not hold onto it all that much, it highlights how transitional this EP can feel. It’s definitely still solid – for all the flaws they might have, there’s not a bad song among the three here – but between the very brief runtime and the fact that the gaps in Calva Louise’s creative arsenal aren’t covered all that well, the impression that there’s more that can be done beyond what’s here is pretty palpable throughout. Still, Popurrí is good enough to at least pave the way for greatness to come, and that’s important to recognise in a band attempting to create a sound that’s all to themselves. It’s a growing pain rather than a cause for concern, and the fact that still isn’t too much of an issue is a lot easier to look past in the long run.
For fans of: Black Futures, Yonaka, PVRIS
‘Popurrí’ by Calva Louise is released on 31st July.
Häxan – White Noise
Look, the chances of a trad-rock album catching on nowadays without it being utterly exceptional are pretty slim, and that means that Häxan are going into this debut album with a climb that’s so uphill it practically doubles back on itself. They might have decent live experience and some semblance of a growing network (Todd Campbell of Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons produced this album), but hard rock drawing liberally from past incarnations has become an almost impossible minefield to navigate recently, largely because it’s all devolved into drilling into ideas that just aren’t new or exciting anymore. And to be fair, while White Noise isn’t the most derivative approximation of this sort of thing, it’s enough to already show how Häxan are comfortable with isolating themselves in the hard rock bubble that doesn’t prove all that interesting. If nothing else, Sam Bolderson as a frontwoman is an okay change of pace from another fella that’s convinced he’s automatically a barrel-chested rock god, but besides anthemic potential, she’s not as distinct or malleable as even the other women in her field, and that can place Häxan in an awkward position that feels as though it’s trying to distance itself from sounding too overtly like the past, but can’t hide how much those influences pass through. And most of the time, it’s that sort of ‘contemporary’ classic rock that feels intrinsically linked to the pub circuit in how little of its boundaries are being broken, not helped by deliberately broad themes that look to circumvent anything too taxing and play to the favour of the classic rock crowd.
It’s hardly fantastic stuff on principle alone, but Häxan do need to be given credit for a sound that’s nowhere near as amateurish as some of their contemporaries might settle for. Naturally they’ve got the big guitars that can be contorted and tensed-up for some Heart-esque swagger on Killing Time or a monster groove like on Black Sheep, and the incorporation of some faster, nervier punk tempos on Louder Than Words and Skeletons strengthen some of the strings on their bow thanks to the harder production, even if they’re not quite as powerful overall. The sound itself isn’t anything special – again, the fact there isn’t a clear single reference point makes the congealing of all of them all the more noticeable – but Häxan do do more with it than they’re liable to, and as far as straightforward sonics go, White Noise has a toughness that surpasses quite a few bands in similar positions. Hell, with a bit of doubling down and pushing the boat out even further, it’s not out of the question to suggest that Häxan could pick up some rather credible Sabbath-style doom textures. That might be looking a bit too far ahead for the time being though, as the lack of experience and the built-in hang-ups of a new band are still holding Häxan pretty firmly. Even as a better example of a sound that only gets more tiresome with each new entry, White Noise isn’t exactly special or revelatory; it does its job fine enough and will probably please those it’s designed to, but given that’s the M.O. of every revival-rock band that thinks they’ll still see success without having to aim any higher, it’s not really something to hold in Häxan’s favour. At this stage, the best thing to say is that it isn’t terrible but doesn’t do much of note either, and until that’s sorted out, Häxan’s story is likely to go the way of so many other middling acts before them.
For fans of: AC/DC, The Pretty Reckless, Inglorious
‘White Noise’ by Häxan is released on 24th July.
Words by Luke Nuttall