Alanis Morissette – Such Pretty Forks In The Road
You can tell that Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill is a classic because, a quarter of a century after its release, it’s still surrounded by discourse about how good / overrated / ‘problematic’ it is. It’s also really the only pillar of strength within Morissette’s career, and while its impact on music as a whole is hugely significant – You Oughta Know, Hand In My Pocket and, of course, Ironic are now permanently embedded in the pop culture psyche – it’s also an album that exists demonstrably within its own ecosystem, even among the rest of Morissette’s output. As a body of work, it’s a contribution and concentration of ‘90s alt-rock angst that’s never been replicated by Morissette since, instead making way for a more placid adult-alternative route as her spotlight has continued to shrink. And thus, that places Such Pretty Forks In The Road at an interesting juncture, where all expectations would point to a further continuation of Morissette’s existing musical threads but, coming just a month after the 25th anniversary edition of her seminal album seems to have relit at least few fires, has seen a much greater focus placed on her as not just a musician, but a rock musician. The strange thing is that’s how Morissette seems to be carrying herself here too. This is a blistered statement of intent that, in terms of knotted repressed grievances, is the closest to Jagged Little Pill’s intensity that she’s come since, only now through the eyes of an older woman who’s experienced just how much psychological toll a corrupt music industry can actually take. It’s an incredibly open portrayal on its own, in how self-medication and a crippled perception of self-worth has just become an unfortunate norm on Reasons I Drink and Diagnosis respectively, and the unhealthy relationship with sex that emerges from cycles of abuse on Reckoning and Sandbox Love, but it’s the weariness and weight of age that Morissette gives these songs that takes them to another level. These airings of toxic industry practices aren’t anything new, but they’re often from the perspective of much younger artists; with Morissette, there’s such a resignation in how she’s weathered so many of the same blows that keep being dealt to her on Losing The Plot, and how the only option that sees for herself is to grin and bear it on Smiling, and keep ploughing forward for her children’s sake on Ablaze.
It’s the sort of achingly poignant narrative and perspective that really comes out of the blue, and yet Morissette delivers it with such a pristine balance of poise and righteousness. There are noticeable imperfections to her wordy lyrical style and frayed, yowling voice, but there’s supposed to be throughout, and having the primary instrumental accompaniments be pianos and slight hints of guitar is ultimately tasteful, but never so much that it’s placid. There’s a choppiness in Ablaze and a very tense, filling drive to Reasons I Drink that clearly have rage and determination simmering beneath the surface, and the ever-expanding pulsations of Nemesis serve as the big, theatrical moment to bring it all rushing out. Meanwhile, Diagnosis and Losing The Plot are much more insular by necessity in their lonely piano tones, and Missing The Miracle has the feel of a glorious soft-rock ballad in its gentler progressions and immaculate strings production. The production on the whole has a lovely sense of restraint and porcelain polish to it; maybe it’s a bit too clean for the ferocity of emotion that Morissette conveys, but as a means of slotting into a definitively adult-alternative landscape, this is about as good as anyone could ask for. That’s true of the entire album, really; Such Pretty Forks In The Road goes above and beyond whatever middling expections could’ve been attributed to it, showing a haunting honesty and level of depth from an artist for whom that rarely gets attributed to. It’s the late-period resurgence to greatness that many crave but few expect, and this is about as strong as that gets. • LN
For fans of: Natalie Imbruglia, The Corrs, Lisa Loeb
‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’ by Alanis Morissette is out now on RCA Records.
Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant
Going back to Stand Atlantic’s debut Skinny Dipping now, it raises a number of questions about sustainability. At its best, that album was capable of throwing out hugely catchy pop-rock that occasionally could rise above its weight class in terms of writing, but like a lot of pop-rock, it’s really only held up in those isolated moments. If anything its flaws have only become more pronounced; Stand Atlantic could feel really uneven and struggle to rise above some obvious influences, and found themselves more often than not held up by Bonnie Fraser as a powerhouse vocalist. The fact that wasn’t exactly a star-making debut in the vein of plenty others is pretty telling too, particularly within an industry machine that’s never usually that fussy, and that’s certainly a plausible explanation for why Pink Elephant hasn’t seen nearly the same smooth rollout. Almost all of the many singles have felt like detached pieces that can’t coalesce all that naturally, and while that’s mitigated somewhat on Pink Elephant as a whole, it’s still easy to get the impression that Stand Atlantic don’t have a plan to move forward that’s all that succinct. They’re basically in the same position as they were with Skinny Dipping, with a handful of really strong cuts jostling for space with some otherwise pretty blasé pop-rock. And yet, overall Pink Elephant still averages out to a decent listen, if only because the strengths that remain constant for Stand Atlantic once again are utilised to a high enough degree here. Like That and Hate Me (Sometimes) are both excellent bookends as propulsive, ever-so-slightly harder pop-rock anthems, similarly brought to head on Blurry, Jurassic Park and Soap to at least get that foundational core nice and sturdy. Fraser also stands as the clearest feather in this band’s cap, as a vocalist with an adrenalised power that can tip into over-singing a bit on the piano ballad Drink To Drown, but otherwise is the feature that gives Stand Atlantic their imperative boost.
That all has the makings of a really solid album if Stand Atlantic could consolidate it into a stronger whole, but that wasn’t the case on Skinny Dipping and it isn’t here either. Part of that comes from tracks like Shh! and Eviligo trying to replicate the gusto that works so well elsewhere but not being able to break through that ceiling, and that’s only broken down further by the frustrating inconsistencies with the production. Again, it’s not quite as scattered as the initial run of singles might’ve made it seem, but with Stand Atlantic simultaneously pulling in the directions of grittier pop-punk and clean, modern-to-a-fault pop-rock, they fall into the same unflattering limbo as every other band who’s tried a similar tactic, where perfunctory electronic beeps and gurgles fill out a mix in a way that they aren’t required to, and they just feel tacked on for the effect. It’s the same case with Drink To Drown and the moody alt-pop of Silk & Satin, where they just feel thrown in to expand the canon of sounds rather than create any meaningful progression. To their credit, Stand Atlantic at least throw in a bit more interesting lyrical imagery to avoid being wholly derivative, and the overarching metaphor of the pink elephant to serve as a nebulous anthropomorphism of Fraser’s own issues gives it all much more flexibility to work with on Blurry or Jurassic Park, something which does generally work to this album’s credit. It’s just a shame that more distinct turns like that feel so scuppered so often, and where Stand Atlantic could be a great band, they end up undercutting themselves just as they’re getting there. As it stands, Pink Elephant is still pretty good with the hooks and power that made Stand Atlantic stand out in the first place, but it’s also evident of how they aren’t progressing as quickly as they need to be to fully hit those heights. There is greatness within this band, and like in all of their material, it flashes through across this album, but it becomes more and more frustrating that it hasn’t properly crystallised across an entire release yet. That’s going to be the real litmus test for Stand Atlantic – pushing themselves and not making another album that’s just good, which they’re already more than capable of achieving. • LN
For fans of: State Champs, WSTR, Hot Milk
‘Pink Elephant’ by Stand Atlantic is released on 7th August on Hopeless Records.
In Hearts Wake – Kaliyuga
Rarely has a band failed to live up to the expectations and ambitions set up by themselves as In Hearts Wake. Conceptually, there’s not another band in metalcore that can touch them, seeing how deeply themes of environmentalism and the earth’s elemental power have ran through all of their work (not to mention their own philanthropic projects to give aid to indigenous Austrailian communities), and it goes without saying that the resonance of that side of them has towered over the actual music. They’ve developed a bad habit of being one of the most faceless, nondescript metalcore bands out there, the poster boys for the UNFD sound and the sort of band whose material has next to no staying power beyond the very initial hit. That vast gulf between sides has kind of just become their thing, to the point where there wasn’t much of an expectation that Kaliyuga would differ. Environmental consciousness is still a huge factor, and the pretty cool fact that this album’s creation has been entirely carbon offset has been by far its most publicised feature, but with that once again taking all attention away from any music, it creates the implications that In Hearts Wake aren’t progressing. That isn’t true though, because not only is Kaliyuga definitively In Hearts Wake’s best album to date, it achieves that through an experimental glee that’s never been present in their music before. Kicking off with the belligerent nu-metal clatter of Crisis is a bold first step, but it’s indicative of the ground a lot of this album covers; the coursing grooves of Hellbringer and titanic radio-metal stampede of Husk are familiar but have the life and verve that In Hearts Wake have starved themselves of for way too long. Meanwhile, there are brushes with the novel on the glossy vocal collages of Crossroads or what feels like a much richer metal sweep on Iron Dice, accentuating a much more diverse and fluid range of vocal styles from both Jake Taylor and Kyle Erich across the board. On the whole, Kaliyuga is just a much more bold and standout album than previous efforts, even if it can still be a bit bloated and reliant on garden-variety metalcore on Moving On and Timebomb to prop itself up. In that sense, it remains easy to spot In Hearts Wake’s limitations, in how there’s still a bit of tentativeness when it comes to really getting a running start, and how the production can still have a rote, pseudo-tech-metal finish that they can clearly do much more than. Thankfully Kaliyuga is a lot more liberated for the majority, and it’s good to see In Hearts Wake enjoying some more musical freedom that actually suits them quite well.
Furthermore, it gives some much-needed parity to the thematic focus that’s always been a good part of In Hearts Wake’s work, and it’s not different here. In a way, it’s similar to what’s being done with the music itself, in that they aren’t straying too far from what they’ve laid their foundations in, but there’s definitely more freedom to explore and make their boundaries less rigid. This time, it comes in framing their environmentalism around the concept of Kali Yuga, the final stage that the world undergoes in Hindu belief where destruction, depravity and chaos rule. That in itself seems like a natural fit for where In Hearts Wake’s thematic epicentre lies (song titles like Worldwide Suicide and Dystopia don’t even entertain the idea of displaying that subtly), but there’s definitely a scale to their work here that emphasises how calamitous those implications are. That in itself is used to turn the view back onto humanity and how it continues to perpetuate said destruction, even on an indirect level; there’s acknowledgment of those who’ll dismiss the band’s own dogged efforts on the grounds of them being ‘just musicians’ on Hellbringer, and how crushingly heavy that feeling of powerlessness can be on Iron Dice. This is exactly the sort of thing that In Hearts Wake should’ve been doing from the beginning, and although it’s taken them a minute to get here, the results really are that good. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but this is a leaps-and-bounds move that’s evident of a band coming into their own and trusting their own creative drive, at long last. It’s hard to overstate how much of a good thing this is; one of metalcore’s perennial mid-levellers finally seems to be picking up some necessary steam, and the effort shows in almost every area. • LN
For fans of: Cane Hill, Bury Tomorrow, Like Moths To Flames
‘Kaliyuga’ by In Hearts Wake is released on 7th August on UNFD.
Glass Animals – Dreamland
There’s been no shortage of acts to whom Glass Animals can be compared – seeing that hothouse psych-pop still has a very wide audience and artist-base – but when taking in their career as a whole, including these next steps, the band that comes to mind the most is Foals. That’s undoubtedly a strange parallel to draw, but it’s one that makes a lot of sense when considering overall arcs and trajectories, in how both started under a geeky indie-pop banner before undergoing an almost complete overhaul to become a lot cooler in their own approximations. That’s where Dreamland falls for Glass Animals, but when continuing to extrapolate that shared pathway, the divergence becomes stark; where Foals’ metamorphosis has seen them become howling, hairy-chested rockstars, Glass Animals have crossed over into hip-hop and sharper R&B, something that isn’t all that out of the question given frontman Dave Bayley’s production credits for artists like Joey Bada$$ and Khalid, and even a feature from Denzel Curry on this very album. It’s an incredibly contemporary sound, more so than anything Glass Animals have done by a considerable margin, to the point where the strength of that moving creative locus almost feels like it’s coming from a completely different band. It’s generally what accentuates the modernity all the more, unwrapping a more chameleonic identity that operates on a smaller, more focused scale, and when that’s applied to songs like Space Ghost Coast To Coast and Your Love (Déjà Vu) that balance between glassy fragility and steel-tipped efficiency, that’s an incredibly potent sound that’s cultivated. There’s definitely a fidgety energy around this album, but it’s one that shows a band keeping their creative feet moving rather than throwing scattershot pieces at a wall. It’s why the SoundCloud-R&B lushness of Hot Sugar or the cavernous build of It’s All So Incredibly Loud work here, almost like different refractions of the sound that Glass Animals are feeding through their lens that still come from the same source in the omnipresent production gleam that makes the bedroom-pop scale a lot easier to stomach. It’s also provides a greater boon for Bayley’s vocals; in plenty of other context his willowy, rather meek croons could easily be seen as underweight or even annoying, but there’s definitely a workable context to Tangerine or especially Heat Waves that places an onus on the intricacy of the craft here. As a sonic experience, Dreamland is razor-tight in sound, and even if it could do with a track or two being taken out towards the end, there’s never the impression of self-indulgence; rather, it does genuinely feel like Glass Animals believe each piece is a necessary inclusion in their mosaic, and that comes through in how finely-tuned they can be.
It’s the sort of reinvention the band are trying to eke the most out of, but the general theme of progress and moving forward is one that’s not quite as tightly hewn as everything around it. Perhaps that’s the point – Bayley’s journey through life is meant to be deliberately open-ended with no set-in-stone answer at any junction in which he finds himself, and that’s pretty well articulated in the opening title track – but the overall stumbling into self-actualisation is something that feels more grounded by the music than anything the lyrics try to convey. These tracks might all go in different directions, but the original source can still be traced; the writing doesn’t do that, and so what transpires is a lot of pop culture references (sometimes taking the form of out-and-out lists like on Space Ghost Coast To Coast), and clips of home videos as interludes, all of which presumably serve as some form of tether to childhood that’s being reshaped rather than outright broken. There’s definitely still something to appreciate in that though, and you can really tell that thought has gone into how Glass Animals want these songs to come across, to the point where the lumpen, misshapen mess that is Tokyo Drifting where nothing even remotely comes together might even be deliberate. It’s fittingly obtuse and layered for an album that wears both of those traits with pride, and that’s what makes Dreamland such an alluring listen. It’s an album that feels as though it was plucked out of nowhere with no connection to anything its creators had going for them, but at the same time it’s also a natural endpoint mightn’t go quite as far as it wants to, but brings the inspiration rushing in nonetheless. If nothing else, it puts Glass Animals among acts like Bon Iver or Foals in the indie set whose liability to do whatever the hell they want is etched in deeply; for all anyone knows this could be some weird little experiment that’ll get completely paved over on the next album, but let’s hope that’s not the case. It’s too interesting for that to be the case, and Glass Animals pull it off too well. • LN
For fans of: alt-J, The xx, James Blake
‘Dreamland’ by Glass Animals is released on 7th August on Wolf Tone Records.
Slaves (US) – To Better Days
After the release of this new album, Slaves are going to be undergoing a name change, and that’s quite a sensible decision to make. It mitigates any potential confusion with the British band of that name, but more so, it’s a much-needed detox from the fact that this was a band fronted by Jonny Craig for a longer period of time than they probably should’ve been. On top of that, there’s quite a clear demarcation made that this is a new era going forward; titling their album To Better Days espouses that pretty forcefully, but it’s the decision to recruit Matt McAndrew as their new vocalist, a runner-up on The Voice that, from an outside and nakedly cynical perspective, could be seen as the inroad to pop that’s never been off the table for a band like Slaves. Their sort of hyper-focused post-hardcore has always had its pop flourishes, but they’ve got the potential to interesting band than a movement like that could accommodate for (even if their last couple of albums haven’t exercised it all that much), and that leaves a rather heavy question mark hanging over To Better Days concerning what Slaves actually want to do moving forward. The answer really isn’t all that shocking though – Slaves continue to go through the motions of poppier, heavily-produced post-hardcore that sounds more anonymous than ever now. Even within the overall detrimental streamlining of their last two albums, Craig could bring a versatile, R&B-tinged performance that sounded distinguished if nothing else; McAndrew, meanwhile, sounds like he’s literally just been 3D printed to front a band like this, such are the myriad unavoidable similarities to vast numbers of other singers in this scene. He doesn’t have an unpleasant voice and for a vehicle to knock out some big choruses on Prayers and Talk To A Friend, it does the job, but from register to tone to even various intonations and inflections, McAndrew snaps into the expected form with all the predictability you’d expect from a reality show alum. It doesn’t help that he’s not got much to work with either, cycling through relationship struggles and mental health topics with a very rote efficiency, and without leaving much room for expression beyond that defined norm.
That might as well be the underlining statement for To Better Days though, seeing as Slaves continue to marginalise what was once a fairly creative take on this style of post-hardcore, and settle for the stock, basic selection. The production is airy and blemish-free; instrumentation takes a backseat to atmosphere and bombast; modernity and crossover appeal is positioned as its greatest asset; none of this is new and all of it is overdone. At least there’s a bit of a jagged bass presence from Colin Vieira that lends some teeth among the floatier textures of a song like Eye Opener, and an embrace of roughness like that, even in a passing fashion, is kind of impressive to see. To offer it too much praise might be a reach, mind, as it’s really not a key part of what this incarnation of Slaves is apparently about. It’s the emotional beats and sense of broad, ever-expanding lucidity that’s placed on a pedestal, and the end result is as boilerplate as the product from such an overused formula comes. What’s worse is that it’s not even all that catchy or memorable in a way that those older eccentricities and layers could bring, instead playing it needlessly safe and throwing out what used to be good and fresh in a scene that was and still is frequently starved of it. Case in point: this album, where Slaves have resorted to following the pack and using their upcoming rebrand as seemingly an opportunity to shed their best qualities for no adequately explained reason. It’s barely even worth looking into; they’re a shell of what they once were, and when that deterioration has been an ongoing process for the past two albums, this blandness looks to be sticking around. Great. • LN
For fans of: Picturesque, Awaken I Am, Dayseeker
‘To Better Days’ by Slaves (US) is released on 7th August on SBG Records.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – This Moment I Miss
It was only a matter of time, but it looks as though the emo-rap bubble is finally beginning to burst. It was always going to happen and it would take the most debilitating case of cognitive bias imaginable to believe otherwise – because that’s what happens when so much of the same thing is thrown against the wall without a plan for how to sustainably manage it – but what stands now is an industry left to decide what to do with so many of the dregs it openly chose to facilitate. It would make sense for Wicca Phase Springs Eternal to be one of the chosen few to survive the inclement purge given that Adam McIlwee actually does have a background in emo, but his material has been just as unimpressive as the rest, marginalising his former role in Tigers Jaw as leverage for a platform and nothing else. Maybe it’s the Stockholm syndrome setting in though, but This Moment I Miss isn’t all that bad, at least relatively speaking. Compared to so many of his contemporaries, McIlwee has knowledge of decent atmosphere at times that can reasonably forge some connections to emo; there’s a density and echo to the rattling guitars that sound suitably haunted and destitute, and building that up for an almost entirely organic emo track on Obsessed paves over some of the more noticeable cracks in the whole operation with earnest. Granted, that’s still all rather hollow, whether taking that to consider how drowsy and lifeless the trap beatwork sounds on I Want To Go Out Tonight or on purely literal terms for Hardcore’s scratchy, barren progressions, but with releases like this it’s best to take what you can get, and there’s at least evidence that This Moment I Miss isn’t completely devoid of appeal.
Again, that isn’t saying a whole lot when McIlwee still struggles to define himself as an artist in more or less the exact same ways as others in his position. He still has the limp, lolling vocal delivery that’s had any ounce of energy or drive surgically ripped from it (to the point where the humourless drone of the line “No one taught me how to sing, obviously” actually makes it even funnier), and paired with the bleak, worn-down sound of it all, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining listen overall. That’s just as true when considering how uninspired the writing is, though that’s ultimately to be expected by now; not one emo-rapper has displayed any sort of versatility beyond dead-eyed wallowing, and McIlwee clearly isn’t letting that streak go unbroken, leaving This Moment I Miss feeling just as empty as so many others in its lane. Ultimately, it’s just going to be another emo-rap release that’ll fall into the void in no time, and though the efforts to bump McIlwee up on the ladder ever so slightly are apparent (it says a lot when Darcy Baylis makes him look like a wealth of personality by comparison on Pain Killer), they don’t amount to much. This came out with barely any fanfare as it is, and though that’s nothing new for acts like this, it makes them seem even less worth caring about, and the degradation of the scene as a whole only seems to be reinforcing that. • LN
For fans of: nothing,nowhere., guccihighwaters, Lil Xtra
‘This Moment I Miss’ by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal is out now on Run For Cover Records.
Misery Signals – Ultraviolet
Is anyone really all that stoked about a new Misery Signals album? That’s phrased as a genuine question rather than a slight too, because this is a pretty significant album and yet it’s garnered next to no real excitement. Not only is it their first album in seven years, but it’s the first to feature original vocalist Jesse Zaraska since their 2004 debut, and though Misery Signals have never been a tentpole name in the world of modern metalcore, they’ve got enough of a presence in the genre for that to still mean something. More so, even if Ultraviolet isn’t the biggest album, either in terms of stature or size (it’s only nine tracks long and runs for about 30-odd minutes), it’s exceedingly solid across the board, perhaps even enough to give Misery Signals a bit more of a platform than they’ve previously had. It’s worth noting before anything that none of this is all that game-changing, but Misery Signals aren’t unwaveringly by-the-book either; it’s progressive enough in all the right places, allowing itself to run a bit longer when necessary on a track like River King which remaining potent and heavy. And fortunately, this is the type of metalcore that’s focused on sharpness rather than diluting itself for mass appeal, bringing in the slightest elements of tech-metal gleam to ensure everything is at maximum tightness, but bringing in noticeable shades of hardcore on Sunlifter and Cascade Locks to steer away from anything too clinical. It’s only Redemption Key that significantly falls out of that range, mostly using its runtime as an exhaling buildup that, honestly, isn’t needed for an album that’s already this brief, but on the whole Ultraviolent is a pleasantly refined and robust experience that can get a lot of use out of what it has.
That’s probably the biggest hurdle that Misery Signals needed to clear here; for an album like this whose main content focus is a sense of hope that prevails when getting older and can be identified in the darkness more easily, it’s the execution that’s crucial in getting the balance right above the lyrics, and while this isn’t a badly written album by any means, it’s pretty evident that Misery Signals have dedicated more resources to their own power and thunder here. The main focal point is Zaraska, who’s up there with Winston McCall and Jonathan Vigil in the ranks of from-the-gut roars, and brought forward into a sound that’s aiming for similar levels of scope and heaviness, it’s the sort of metalcore album that thrives in how huge and all-encompassing it sounds without being underdeveloped. It’s really strong stuff throughout, let down slightly by the lack of some real stabilising hooks but feeling like a wonderfully fresh take on this stripe of metalcore otherwise. Even if Misery Signals are destined to continue being unrecognised, it’s at least not for a want of trying, and Ultraviolet feels as solid as proof is likely to get for that. They’ve not fallen into the stupor of getting lost in an ever-cramped scene and have endeavoured to cut themselves out a clear space within it, and having that pan out deserves a lot of praise. • LN
For fans of: Norma Jean, The Ghost Inside, Poison The Well
‘Ultraviolet’ by Misery Signals is released on 7th August on Basick Records.
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape is the new album from the progressive death metallers. Since their formation in Pennsylvania is 2012, they have caused a stir on the underground scene. The new nine track album is the result of their intense ambitions to keep pushing themselves and their music. Pushing the progressive nature of their sound even further, Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape marks the latest milestone in their growing career. A sense of chaos runs throughout the album. The exploration of sounds, including the placement of the contrasting styles to create something different, produces an impactful record. Invitation does just that – it invites you into the extreme dynamics of their sound which continue to prevail throughout each track on the album. Opening with a gentle melody, performed on an acoustic guitar and soulful clean vocals, it’s not the introduction you might expect. The sudden drop into heavy instrumentation and guttural harsh vocals creates the most distinctive contrast. The track metamorphoses into something very different. The guitar tones draw in influences of black and death metal. The instrumentation and vocals manifest a dark mood to the track. The acoustic guitar makes a reappearance later on, and its solo involves use of the body to add a drumbeat. It brings cohesion marrying the two opposing sounds together whilst emphasising further the contradiction of the parts.
The album proceeds to show off all sorts of soundscapes, compositional styles and genre influences. Trauma Bonds introduces the technical, more progressive aspect of their sound. Intricate guitar riffs, contrapuntal melodies and non-standard time signatures adds something unique to the track. The soaring clean vocals contribute to the atmospheric soundscape that runs throughout this track. The heavier distorted tones ground the track on the album. Years In Frigid Light features a dramatic, anthemic chorus. The vocals are powerful and soar above the instrumentation to produce an emotional feel. Bellow brings something very unexpected to the album. The haunting, demonic bellow gives the illusion of the devil bellowing up from below the Earth. He Is The Path concludes the album with a sombre tone; the orchestration and low vocals have a powerful effect. Its very emotive with an eerie element. It’s not a standard ending track for an album but it works. It’s safe to say that this album goes into the realms of the unexpected. It’s fantastic to see how much experimentation and creativity Black Crown Initiate have poured into this release. It’s definitely one of those albums which the more you listen to it, the better it becomes. • HR
For fans of: August Burns Red, Rivers Of Nihil, Orbit Culture
‘Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape’ by Black Crown Initiate is released on 7th August on Century Media Records.
Not A Toy – Not A Toy
There’s something that inherently raises some hackles when bands so openly promote their crossover intentions nowadays. It’s a knock-on result of the formless congealing of ‘alternative’ music where it’s basically impossible to discern what it’s an alternative of, and a degree of quality among it that’s become increasingly, shall we say, inconsistent makes it difficult to actively like or be enthused by. So when the great, emblazoned pull quote that Not A Toy have chosen to describe themselves is “a lifestyle of art and creation”, that couldn’t seem more like a band goosing up their own hype machine to cover up what’s distinctly average at the very most. Because for all the consolidating factors of art and clothing design that encapsulates the Not A Toy brand, all that really matters on this new EP is the music itself, and this is not impressive. Not A Toy might be a bit more flexible than alt-pop traditionally allows, but that becomes close to worthless when it doesn’t yield much quality, with what was presumably supposed to be a collection of broody, simmering, emotional tracks instead sounding like they barely get going. This is low-key to the point of evaporating before it’s even finished, as the likes of J Cash and Antidote skirt close to actual melodies but seldom land upon them, and that leads to a profoundly unfulfilling listen when these songs barely even sound complete (or in the case of the closer Drive Slow, are quite a way away from it). And of course all of this is held up by the alt-pop checklist rattled off with phenomenal efficiency; Branson Hoog’s vocals are pretty much unidentifiable among the existing crop of alt-trap ‘emoters’, and for a band so heavily bound to the notion of creativity, they aren’t saying anything that hasn’t been reiterated countless times already by other acts hell-bent on tapping into the surface-level ‘torture’ of the Gen Z mind.
The disappointing thing is that Not A Toy clearly aren’t as devoid of ideas like some of their contemporaries; the guitar of J Cash might belch away with the same grating distortion that grandson likes to abuse, but the acoustic sizzle at the centre has some workable novelty to it, and leaning into steamier, straightforward indie-pop reminiscent of bands like The Neighbourhood on Quit Quitting results in easily the best song here, simply by virtue of sounding the most complete. But there’s a real lack of grace to how Not A Toy operate that only seems to be removed for that one song; otherwise these are such clunky, needlessly weighty compositions that they really don’t go anywhere. Demise tries to mix a drippy synth progression with slabs of bass wedged behind it for a jarring plod of song, while Antidote doesn’t even attempt to blend tempo shifts or tonal changes that make for a track that has no clear structure, something that’s repeated on Sideways that drags itself by and constantly tries to extend its reach to no avail. It really does beg the question of how much consideration Not A Toy have given to their supposed artistic empire that they’ve set for themselves, at least on this front. Musically they’re obviously not ready for prime time, and yet by carrying themselves with the amount of reverence as they do, it’s less endearing or inspiring and more just a bit sad. It’s almost impossible to imagine music this unfocused and undercooked making the impact they clearly want it to, but that’ll probably be something that Not A Toy are going to learn the hard way. • LN
For fans of: grandson, Chase Atlantic, The Sunday Sadness
‘Not A Toy’ by Not A Toy is released on 7th August on Fearless Records.
The Loft Club – Dreaming The Impossible
The Loft Club feel like a band for a different time, or rather multiple different times. Their sound is built on distinct foundations of ‘60s jangle, ‘70s soft-rock and folk-rock and ‘90s alt-rock and Britpop, which has somehow come together with a remixability akin to a lot of the British indie-rock of the 2000s. Basically, it’s as definitive of a throwback as it comes, something which has definitely paid off so far when slotting them among other likeminded individuals, given their crowning support slot with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and even a collaboration with Lisa Loeb on this debut album. And while that dedication to the past has become shorthand in recent years for a band wearing their lack of original ideas like a badge of honour, The Loft Club have much more to offer than that on Dreaming The Impossible, actually taking the sounds that influenced them as using them as a basis instead of the finished product. That’s not an exact result – lyrically they stay very close to the usual AM radio-rock sources – but the blending of each individual tone leads to a lovely feeling of warmth and serenity, something that the generally edgeless nature of this music can easily lean back into. And make no mistake, this is by no means a demanding listen, with the hardest that The Loft Club going being on the swanky indie-rock of I’m Just A Man, but they’ve got a real knack for making it stick that’s played to almost consistently high standards throughout.
That prevalence does mean that this won’t be for everyone, especially those who fancy something a bit more high-octane, but the layering and construction alone make Dreaming The Impossible a real joy to dig into. It’s definitely impressively crafted at that, whether that’s in the reedy, slightly scuzzy tone to Daniel Schamroth’s vocals that keeps it firmly rooted in rock territory; the surprising diversity in guitar pickups that can range from sunny alt-country rollicks on Keep Me Coming Home to a lithe, Oasis-esque sizzle on Let It Slide; or, most notably of all, the fantastic bass work from Jamie Whyte that’s always prominent and rock-solid to serve as the crucial injection of groove and momentum. Factor in the perfect amount of texture in the production (it could probably be best described as ‘mild’, without that sounding like a pejorative), and for a prime headphone album that’s such a pleasantly easy listen without feeling too sleepy or milquetoast, Dreaming The Impossible ticks all the right boxes. On the other hand it’s far longer than it needs to be, and the prevelance of songs breaking the five-minute mark can be a little gratuitous, but for the content at its core, The Loft Club deliver a surprising amount to enjoy. For such a clear stab at juicing a whole bevy of nostalgia glands, they stick the landing unexpectedly well – certainly a rarity then, but one that’s good to see nonetheless. • LN
For fans of: Oasis, The Coral, The Byrds
‘Dreaming The Impossible’ by The Loft Club is released on 7th August on So Let’s Talk Records.
Jet Fuel Chemistry – Sign Of The Times
You can blame I Prevail almost exclusively for this. Their baffling amount of success seems to have further propagated the notion that effort or ideas within metalcore is totally optional, so expect to see plenty of chancers coming out with the same mindset looking to reap the same rewards, and further clog up a genre that’s just begun to get its act together. To be fair to Jet Fuel Chemistry, they at least have the leeway of being a very new band just releasing their debut EP, but to let them off any further would be excusing a release that’s really struggling to do anything of note. Clearly Jet Fuel Chemistry have the same crossover metalcore shtick as I Prevail in their firing line, and thus Sign Of The Times sounds like an approximation of that that doesn’t have an infinite (and undeserved) supply of resources pumped into it. And yet, that’s probably to its credit given that there’s still a creative flame burning here, and dipping into faster, chunkier nu-metal on Fever illustrates where that could go if refined in the right way.
Otherwise, Sign Of The Times falls into so many clearly-telegraphed pitfalls laid out in front of it, and almost willingly at that. It’s tempting to cut the production a bit of slack considering, for an in-house job, it sounds professional enough (albeit relying a bit too much on polish that preferable), but that doesn’t apply to vocal mixing, which can be borderline incomprehensible for multi-tracked choruses designed to sound huge and anthemic but just end up cluttered, and ending up so compressed and grainy when trying to show off the synthetic sections of a track like War. It doesn’t help that Dan Cusack isn’t the best vocalist anyway, particularly in his sharply Americanised clean delivery that couldn’t sound more put-on, but it becomes emblematic of the issues plaguing this brand of modern metalcore in earnest – there’s so much of an onus placed on sounding radio-ready and chasing that crossover audience that it marginalises what could actually make this successful as a metal release. Again, Fever is easily the best track here because it’s relatively more unhinged and adventurous in where it’s going, compared to everything else on this EP that’s so hemmed-in and needlessly safe. Even in the writing, there’s no unique flair and characterisation that marks out Jet Fuel Chemistry as their own band; instead it’s the usual default of sweeping social commentary with no flavour to it, evidenced in how Sleep clearly perceives itself as so deep and incisive in its criticisms of fakeness and reliance in the online world when they’re literally the most base forms of those points, or how the title track’s opening soundbite of Greta Thunberg is used as leverage for more cut-and-dry moralities. It’s not exciting or dynamic, and isn’t nearly as powerful as Jet Fuel Chemistry believe it to be, and that can turn Sign Of The Times from just another garden-variety metalcore EP to one that needs some serious work done before its creators stand a chance of making a mark. This sort of rehashing isn’t the key to success, regardless of what fluke wins might have been awarded elsewhere; it’s creativity and tangible passion that goes the longest way, and there’s precious little of that coming from Jet Fuel Chemistry at this stage. • LN
For fans of: I Prevail, We Came As Romans, Bring Me The Horizon
‘Sign Of The Times’ by Jet Fuel Chemistry is released on 7th August.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)