What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
If Public Enemy were judged purely on their best material, their standing as one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time would be all but certain. Yo! Bum Rush The Show, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet are all mandatory listening when it comes to incendiary, genuinely important political hip-hop, and the crossovers that Public Enemy made into rock and metal audiences because of them only furthers that importance. But when looking beyond that, Public Enemy’s career has been anything but smooth, and their bulletproof legacy is arguably the main thing keeping them afloat today. More recent events like the overwhelmingly negative reception to Chuck D and DJ Lord’s Prophets Of Rage project and the ‘firing’ of Flavor Flav that turned out to be an unnecessary publicity stunt only further reiterate that fact that Public Enemy’s attempts to do more than just coast by as a legacy act aren’t exactly panning out smoothly, and despite returning to Def Jam and recruiting an eye-watering guestlist for this new album, that leaves some apprehension when going into What You Gonna Do…. It’s not as though that’s exactly unwarranted either, though Public Enemy do have a certain magnetism here that’s more reminiscent of their classic material, even if they’re demonstrably at their best when their songs are overloaded with guests to bounce off. There’s a certain warmth that comes from having both Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys for what’s essentially a crossover hip-hop love-in on Public Enemy Number Won (as well as bringing Terminator X back for a scratching interlude), and the album centerpiece Fight The Power 2020 pays off on its stacked cast of Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi and YG thanks to direct, potent verses from all involved. The problem comes when Public Enemy’s intentions at the centre of it all come to the fore, and their inherent shakiness begins to make itself known in earnest. They’re easily at their best when leaning into their biting political side; while Chuck D holds onto the same sources and sentiments in the barbed criticisms of State Of The Union (STFU) and Toxic, it’s difficult to say that he lacks conviction throughout, and Fight The Power 2020 once again stands as the highlight with each verse unspooling prescient commentaries on racism and police violence, with intentional parallels drawn to the original to highlight how little the system has changed. On the other hand though, the demonisation of technology and social media on GRID can be extremely heavy-handed, and there’s something more than a bit cringeworthy about yearning for the good old days of hip-hop purity on Yesterday Man and Rest In Beats, especially in the latter’s case when it’s openly being likened to the deaths of other rappers.
It can be an issue of a lack of nuance, in which Public Enemy favour a more direct approach that shows how much they can rely on their higher-profile guest artists. It says a lot when the majority of guest appearances actually turn out rather short, seemingly to keep any deviations to a minimum and get them out before that’s much of a factor. It naturally turns the attention towards Public Enemy themselves, which in itself has pros and cons. As a definitive high point, Chuck D still sounds great with the sort of bold, authoritative voice that handily makes up for the fact that he’s not really an intricate rapper, and even though Flavor Flav is a considerable step down on the few verses he’s given (not to mention the final full song R.I.P Blackat which he takes on on his own and feels like a bit of dud to end on), he’s got the energy and slight cartoonishness to fit the hype-man role that’s demanded of him. As a group, it becomes easy to see why Public Enemy have withheld for so long, particularly when the classier, old-school production GRID or the alt-rap flips of Public Enemy Number Won and Beat Them All see them sink in totally naturally. But beyond all of that, there’s an element of self-indulgence to What You Gonna Do… that severely weighs it down, not only in the vast quantities of interludes that honestly serve no purpose, but in lack of focus that feels endemic across the album, and that Public Enemy seem to pay no mind to. It’s already an album that pretty much tailors its appeal to Public Enemy diehards simply through where it falls in their extensive catalogue, but when there’s also moments like the clumsy thud of Smash The Crowd and the greasy, grinding rap-rock of Go At It, it becomes clear that there’s a hefty amount of filler here looking to be held up by proxy from a couple of big collaborations and overriding nostalgia. That in itself is fairly disappointing, but the fact of the matter is that there’s definitely still health in Public Enemy, and when they’re looking to embrace that and show it off through more than just the bare minimum, there’s something to at least respect there overall. This is far from a great album and doesn’t even offer a lot worth revisiting beyond the obvious moments, but for what it is and for where Public Enemy find themselves – both in the own career and in hip-hop in general – it’s a hard album to really hate, even if it can also be sometimes just as hard to pay attention to. • LN
For fans of: Run-DMC, Ice-T, Beastie Boys
‘What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?’ by Public Enemy is released on 25th September on Def Jam Recordings.
King Of Clubs
It speaks volumes that Jamie Lenman’s last release was Shuffle, a haphazard collection of covers and one-offs that could most charitably be described as disposable, and he still has the momentum to proceed unhindered. It does make sense though; he’s got enough scene clout under his belt, both in Reuben and outside of it, to put out these weird little experiments with no repercussions, a feature that’s essentially underscored the majority of his solo material to date. But like Devolver proved in 2017, King Of Clubs proves that Lenman is at his best when feeding his madcap creativity through something more grounded or, dare say, conventional. The mini-album structure already makes this a far more direct and concise release, but there’s genuine, visceral power radiating from basically every track, and the fact that Lenman has such an acute knowledge of how to effectively pair heaviness with titanic melody makes it even stronger. The opening pair Summer Of Discontent (The Future Is Dead) and Sleep Mission straight up lay down Rage Against The Machine riffs like it’s absolutely nothing, and in the scrappy, fidgety post-hardcore of I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend and teeth-rattling stomp and blasting volume of Kill Me which may just be a sleeper contender for song of the year, it feels like everything wonderful about everything Jamie Lenman has even done condensed into its most manageable package yet. The bass is the runaway star of the show here, providing the unceasing thrum across the board that’s the perfect foundation for the restless, volatile mood throughout, and it’s buoyed by guitars that have a wry sharpness to them, but are fully opened up by the production to really deliver some crunch. This is a deceptively heavy listen, taken to its most extreme length by the instrumental title track to close, feeling almost like a doom-metal song seen through a 2000s Britrock lens.
As for Lenman himself, he seems to have scaled back some of the charisma and a lot of the humour that can be present in his material to stick more closely to the overall mood. It’s a wise decision too, not only because it gives him the opportunities to flex his abilities as a heavy vocalist which he really should do more often, but it lends an unmistakable groundedness that feels like a key strength in King Of Clubs’ repertoire. He’s mirroring the fact that this is more serious subject matter in dismantling of the go-nowhere, workaday lifestyle on Summer Of Discontent (The Future Is Dead) and the jabs towards argumentative online mouthpieces on I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend, though there’s still room for wit and his own brand of smartness as shown in the latter. Even on more self-reflective cuts like Like Me Better and The Road To Right, there’s weight and almost a tiredness behind the eyes, and even if the latter of those tracks is probably the weakest here on the basis that it doesn’t lodge itself quite as instantly, it’s a pretty key piece in image of himself that Lenman is trying to portray here. For only delivering seven tracks, King Of Clubs is an exceptionally meaty listen, both sonically and thematically, and when all of that only seems capable of growing more and more over time, this might just be Lenman’s best solo release to date. With at least one track that ranks amongst his best of any project in Kill Me, that very well could be the case, and with every subsequent listen King Of Clubs seems to come closer and closer to hitting that high watermark to a truly exhilarating degree. • LN
For fans of: Reuben, Cancer Bats, Dinosaur Pile-Up
‘King Of Clubs’ by Jamie Lenman is released on 25th September on Big Scary Monsters.
Into It. Over It.
It’s not uncommon for an act like Into It. Over It. to become buried in the wider scenes of emo and indie-rock, and so to see Evan Weiss making the most of that unfortunate limitation that’s been dropped on him is good to see. He’s very unlikely to see any kind of crossover, especially this far in, but steady streams of releases have seen his perennial surge of appreciation in the DIY scene continue. Figure feels yet another example of that, barely acting as a blip on the radar of the wider rock environment, but dishing out more of the simmering, understated emotionality that’s become his key selling point. As a result, Figure is far away from any kind of departure, as Weiss once again leans onto tried-and-true indie-rock progressions, splashing it with emo and folk and turning the sepia filter way up. There’s a good amount of flexibility within that, too; Courtesy Greetings is more bracing and robust as a straight-up rock song, while the likes of A Left Turn At Best Intentions and A Lyric In My Head I Haven’t Thought Of Yet opt for filtering that same approach through a softer, more lush filter. Sonically it has the sort of warmth that Weiss’ past efforts – and indeed plenty other albums like this – have, in how the singer-songwriter template feels a bit bolder and more fine-tuned compared to how it traditionally might be viewed.
It’s not like there’s any tremendous innovation within that though, and Weiss himself displays enough comfort in the lane he’s in to make it difficult to see that happening in any great capacity. It’s not a problem specifically, but it does mean that there’s a little bit of identity that can be missing here, especially in the writing which wears a lot of the imagery and lyrical execution of Midwest emo rather boldly. To call it bad would be profoundly unfair, given that Weiss is a really capable songwriter in how evocative her can be, but it’s not exactly swinging for the fences, be that in the poetry itself or the emotions it’s trying to convey. As a narrator, Weiss has the likable everyman quality to him, but Figure can lean a bit too heavily on that at times, where it doesn’t leave as much of an impact as it perhaps could. That’s compounded by Weiss’ voice, bringing a slightly lower and more mature timbre to the tradition pop-punk or emo affectation, but struggling to find its own niche within this sound. He gets closer when there’s a slight poppier bent to the instrumentals thanks to some electronic touches, or on the math-rock touches of We Prefer Indoors, but for as generally pleasant as it all can be, the spark doesn’t entirely connect. It’s still a solid listen and well worth digging into for something a bit more chilled and insular while still having a literate quality, but it’s also not exactly essential on that same token. Even for as overall decent as it is, it’s a pretty succinct example of why Weiss hasn’t made that leap to a wider audience at the same time. • LN
For fans of: Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties, Koji, Prawn
‘Figure’ by Into It. Over It. is out now on Big Scary Monsters.
A Quiet Place To Die
Chances are there’s going to be a lot of people going into Alpha Wolf’s new album ready to absolutely love it. They already picked up a lot a good will on their 2019 EP Fault, the first release to feature vocalist Lochie Keogh and drummer Mitch Fogarty following the ejection of ex-frontman Aidan Ellaz, capping off a period that nearly brought about the end of the band altogether. And while that EP was definitely good as a suitably dense and destructive slice of nu-metalcore, it did leave the impression that this incarnation of the band could still find their feet more assuredly. On A Quiet Place To Die, then, Alpha Wolf definitely feel more certain of their assimilation into modern deathcore, though there’s definitely a bit of flair here that stops them merely sinking into the background. Precisely none of that comes from the lyrics, all of which are bolted down into the usual genre leitmotifs – there’s a lot of dead love and emotion that works for what it is, but never dazzles – but looking past that shows just how competent and fully-formed Alpha Wolf have become in their sound. The production especially keeps things wonderfully heavy, and gives John Arnold’s bass the volume and verve it needs to play a key role and bring the sense of groove forward. Particularly in a track like Acid Romance, the nu-metal flavouring really begins to reap the benefits, as the low end is bolstered by down-tuned guitars and a perennial sense of dread for a deathcore cocktail that’s not particularly original, but has enough of a kick to hold the attention.
That can effectively be used to describe A Quiet Place To Die as a whole; Alpha Wolf are still well within their genre boundaries, but that’s not seen as a limitation. Indeed, even on the more atmospheric Bleed 4 You, a track that, with Lizi Blanco’s ethereal backing vocals as such a prominent feature, is edging into obligatory territory for one of these albums, the heft hasn’t been turned down, instead amplified by what’s around it rather than using it as a replacement. It’s a small point of note, but it’s one that’s worth bringing up, if only to show how Alpha Wolf are still very much within their genre’s wheelhouse and able to make material that stands out and makes the most of what it has. On top of that, Keogh’s snarl is already a perfect fit, especially when it holds true to the ethos that seems to colour the vast majority of this album – it’s not original, but it does what it’s intended to remarkably well. The aggression and volatility is here in spades, and is one of the better examples of it being done this year because of how well Alpha Wolf lean into it. It’s hard to see A Quiet Place To Die becoming a genre classic or shifting any greater paradigms – it’s still a bit too deeply in its ways for that – but for nu-metalcore that does everything the sound is supposed to with barely a hitch, you can’t really go wrong here. • LN
For fans of: Varials, Lotus Eater, Loathe
‘A Quiet Place To Die’ by Alpha Wolf is released on 25th September on Sharptone Records.
Nasty are one of those hardcore bands whose name seems to have been around forever, but you’d struggle to name a song by them, or indeed differentiate them from a lot of the other beatdown-focused acts the genre has to offer. They fit their role fine enough, but even just a face value glance would suggest that Menace isn’t going to change that. That style of hardcore is limited as it is, and the fact they’ve already released seven albums of the stuff sets a rather clear precedent of what to expect going forward. And lo, it was so, as Menace is basically the archetype of this type of metallic hardcore, where the heft is unwavering and the punishing, pounding weight is placed above everything else. In other words, Nasty have barely budged an inch with this one, and while there’s not necessarily fatigue (they can still pull it all off with a convincing ferociousness), at this point, their individual examples don’t stick in the brain beyond the initial clobbering. It’s doubtless that that’ll be enough for some though, and as unapologetic mosh fodder, Menace couldn’t be more fit for purpose; it’s all street-level and low-slung in its heaviness with expectedly head-caving guitar and bass tones, and while vocalist Matthi isn’t the clearest at enunciating, he can pull out the pitbull snarls to hit the necessary watermarks regardless. Ultimately, it comes as what’s expected of albums like this, and Nasty are more than suited to pulling it off at this point.
But that’s also kind of the issue, in that Menace operates in the same mindset as so much of metallic hardcore where distancing itself from the norm isn’t seen as a priority, when in reality that’s what’s holding it back. There’s next to no longevity here, and Nasty aren’t chasing that by advancing or innovating even remotely because there’s no need to. The only moment that really pops out as something different is the instrumental closer Ballad Of Bullets, for that reason alone; otherwise, Nasty are effectively going through the motions and pumping out their same approximation of metallic hardcore that they have been for more than a decade-and-a-half. Even in writing that’s supposed to surround the effects of the pandemic and how that can bring about the worst in those its affecting, it’s kind of a thin explanation to drape over the usual, broader forms of chaos and destruction. Then again, the fact that Menace is ultimately doing its job makes it difficult to cut down too closely, but its also rather set in its ways, and clocking in at less than half-an-hour would imply that Nasty are perfectly content with sticking to the basics and condensing their approach down as much as they can. In that case, the mosh fiends will inevitably have a field day with this one, but as a body of work looking to make an individual statement, Menace can leave a lot to be desired. • LN
For fans of: Hatebreed, Knuckledust, Terror
‘Menace’ by Nasty is released on 25th September on Century Media Records.
Something about Pillow Queens has ended up standing out so much more than with just another indie-punk band. There EP State Of The State could occasionally embody that mould, but it also had slower, more contemplative moments turning to wide open indie-rock as a main influence, as well as writing capable of a lot more heavy lifting than their contemporaries. Thus, it’s a really good move for Pillow Queens to nail that down as their style on this debut full-length, and In Waiting is subsequently the expansion of their boundaries that feels justly needed. It sounds a lot grander overall, now resting on glossy, almost shoegaze-esque production that can elevate big, windswept indie-rock songs to a much higher plane. It’s in the final leg of In Waiting where Pillow Queens truly reach their zenith, with Harvey’s delicate, clarion sway and the gutsy crescendos of Brothers and Donaghmede that are eyeing those arena stages already, but as a whole, In Waiting feels incredibly well-rounded in its sound. If there’s a nitpick to be had, it’s that the vocals can sometimes lean a bit too heavily on the reverb, and when both Pamela Connolly and Sarah Corcoran take on frontperson duties, there can be a bit of distinction between the two of them that’s lacking. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s easily the most noticeable thing to pick up on when it’s also looking to meet Pillow Queens’ aim of a bigger sound.
But again, it’s not exactly a calamitous distraction, and Pillow Queens do enough to make up for any shortcomings in how well they maintain the emotion that comes through in this album. Compared to their indie-punk peers, there’s more about these songs that feels lived-in and mature; even when circling back to recognisable sources like on HowDoILook, there’s a very weathered quality to these songs that matches some of the coldness and ragged presentation as the kernel of the mix. It helps that there’s a poetic quality to these lyrics like on Holy Snow or Handsome Wife that can be brilliantly evocative, and when filtered through instances of grief and isolation, it leads to a poignancy that has a fittingly Irish feel to it. It can mean that In Waiting isn’t an album that’s big on thrills or high-octane moments, and when Pillow Queens do trend more towards that direction, it can be a bit hit-or-miss (the bracing anthemia of Gay Girls contrasted with the muddy garage-rock of Liffey, as it were), but even despite that, this is the sort of step up that can do wonders if its built on and followed up properly. Pillow Queens always felt like a cut above, but In Waiting solidifies that, hopefully for good, the sort of evolutionary next step that still wobbles in spots, but shows a band really drilling into what could potentially make them great. Hopefully they strike upon it sooner rather than later. • LN
For fans of: Dream Wife, The Orielles, Bell X1
‘In Waiting’ by Pillow Queens is released on 25th September.
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
The progressive metal collective originating from Berlin continue to impress with their dynamic sound. Having released a number of critically acclaimed albums over the years, the new album Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic does not disappoint. The vast range of their sound is incredible, it’s clear they know how to take elements of various genres, use different techniques for playing their instruments and combine it all together in their own stylistic manner. From the heavily distorted guitars to dramatic synths and soaring vocals, the collective produces such an array of powerful soundscapes. Jurassic-Cretaceous brings intensity with the heavily distorted instrumentation and harsh vocal sections, interspersed with smooth clean vocals and all manner of delicious riffs and melodies. The brass sections deliver a distinctive texture and introduce blues elements. At almost fifteen minutes long, this track journeys through so many creative ideas and progressions. It definitely deserves a number of listens in order to be fully appreciated.
Oligocene opens with an ethereal soundscape which has an emotive build up. The percussion gives the music movement and momentum whilst the soaring synths fill out the higher tones and give an almost timeless feel. The rise of piano melodies and chords gently fills out the sound further without overpowering the existing part. Bringing in soaring guitar leads cuts through the sound to take more prominence, but still without disrupting the overall flow of the track. The central melody has a catchy nature to it which keeps the dreamy nature of the rest of the instrumentation somewhat grounded. Segueing into Miocene-Pliocene and a darker mood, these two tracks create a powerful contrast. Much of the instrumentation remains uplifting, it’s the use of harsh vocals, the chosen chord sequence and guitar tones which give an underlying feeling of unease and something darker. The new album is fantastically dramatic and dynamic, as is to be expected by The Ocean. To say that this review barely scratches the surface would be rather an understatement. The album is astonishing musically and deserves to have time spent on it, delving into the intricacies and details of each track. • HR
For fans of: Leprous, Cult Of Luna, Vola
‘Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic’ by The Ocean is released on 25th September on Metal Blade Records.
Four Stroke Baron
There’s really no logical explanation that can be conjured up for why Four Stroke Baron have chosen to release something like Monoqueen. Even the biggest, most daring of bands would probably struggle to justify a release consisting of six covers and five originals neatly designated in those categories and Frankensteined together, let alone a relatively obscure prog-pop band who might’ve garnered some buzz from their last album, but are still unquestionably underground. Monoqueen itself really doesn’t change those preconceptions either; this feels misguided from front to back, the sort of project that’s borne from impulse rather than any greater thought process, and for a band with a sound like Four Stroke Baron’s, the appeal is even less apparent. They undertake the wall-of-sound approach when it comes to composition, where everything is brought right to the front of an exceedingly loud mix and subsequently ends up fighting for space at the end of it all. Thus, there’s very little source material to be gleaned in these covers, as they morph into masses of technically sound but utterly impregnable alt-metal tumbling, attempted to be held together by Kirk Witt’s singing that’s already deep within the mix and positively glugs down the vocal manipulation. There are genuinely moments where he’s impossible to understand, such is the thickness of the noise piled on top of him, where it’s really only the rendition of Post Malone’s Broken Whiskey Glass that’s somewhat coherent throughout. But then there’s the matter of these covers effectively fitting no purpose and sounding borderline indistinguishable anyway; there’s the faintest hint of synth flourishes on CHVRCHES’ Lungs and Tones On Tail’s Burning Skies sounds even more like two wildly different songs stapled together than the original, but otherwise, it’s hard to know what to say about a selection of covers that barely resemble anything different amongst themselves.
And indeed, the exact same complaints can be made about the originals here as well. There’s arguably a bit more compositional acumen gone into these, but they still suffer from plenty of the same issues; the mix is still cavernous and overstuffed with very little motion or dynamism, and while some of the usual alt-metal themes can be picked up on through tracks like Vacant Planet, Witt is still left to content with the monolithic production job just to get his voice out there. Again, Four Stroke Baron seem to be prioritising technicality over a streamlined, workable sound, and it can leave Monoqueen feeling like a real chore to get through. It’s not like Four Stroke Baron’s other material deviates too much in terms of this overall sound, but it’s the sequencing and layout of Monoqueen that makes it so much more unwieldy, and highlights how deeply the shortcomings in this sound actually run when it comes to making it enjoyable. This can ostensibly be considered a covers project, and yet there’s no sense of fun or looseness that comes with it that the best covers albums have. These feel like renditions performed out of some kind of obligation, and when the original material is there next to them as a comparison, that becomes the case even more. As such, it’s hard to see what Monoqueen actually brings in order to move Four Stroke Baron forward; it’s hardly the best showcase of their talents, and if it was intended to be a lighter, more eccentric look at how varied their musical taste can be, in that respect, it falls flat on its face. • LN
For fans of: Ghost, TesseracT, Toothgrinder
‘Monoqueen’ by Four Stroke Baron is released on 25th September on Prosthetic Records.
My Kid Brother
My Kid Brother
For a brand new band on a label like Fearless, it’s a wonder that My Kid Brother haven’t been wheeled out as the next prospective torchbearers for their scene. It’s a practice that’s been carried out time and time again regardless of how well its recipients have taken to it, and on principle and place in the food chain alone, My Kid Brother seem like quite a natural fit. Going off this self-titled EP, it’s more a case of when rather than if, as well, given that My Kid Brother have split the difference between marketable alt-pop and off-the-shelf mainstream indie to an almost uncanny degree. That in itself is practically weaponised for crossover potential, even down to the way the band can circumvent some of the more blaring annoyances that both sounds have. For one, while the guitars are still smothered in compression (and trying to be bluesy on Smile (Losing My Mind) is not an effective way to go with it), they aren’t the anchoring point of the sound, and when they do come in to try and feign some kind of grit, it’s a lot more tolerable. It’s more common to find My Kid Brother leaning on the stiffer grooves of Twenty One Pilots on tracks like Daydream and Pastels, only a bit brighter and fuller in sound, with Christian Neonakis’ vocals being more strident overall. It makes for a rather enjoyable sound, as My Kid Brother pick and choose the elements that work for them and mould them into a stable and – critically – less shrieking context.
Of course, diving into two scenes as hounded by intrinsic shortcomings is bound to leave some exit wounds, and for as generally superior as My Kid Brother’s approximation is, there’s a pretty healthy amount of relativism at play. For one, the lyrics really are nothing to write home about, only ever being memorable when they’re hanging on to the tired tropes of their respective scenes, with bookends of rejecting normal and embracing individuality on Daydream and criticising fake and shallow fame on Native Tongue setting a pretty clear tone for everything within them. On top of that, the generally slick production can lack some punch at times, and while it’s not so bad as to tip into thudding, Imagine Dragons-esque ponderousness, the feeling that this should be a lot tighter than it is doesn’t go away. You can really tell that this is a pretty new band with the amount they’re trying to do at once, and while some ambition is admirable, it’s incredibly difficult to balance that with a base sound that seems to shun any sort of originality at every turn. It’s a bit of an awkward listen to really get onboard with, but given the sounds they’re co-opting, it’s largely tempting to place My Kid Brother into more positive territory overall. They’re clearly a band whose ideas are as huge as the platform they’ll likely be thrust upon, and from what’s on show here, it does feel like they’ll try and cultivate them into something more, instead of just sloughing them off for easy mainstream money. That in itself is a good thing, and if My Kid Brother can suitably build upon that, it could be worth having them stick around. • LN
For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, Super Whatevr, Set It Off
‘My Kid Brother’ by My Kid Brother is released on 25th September on Fearless Records.
The current post-punk renaissance continues with Heavy Salad, though they’re a band for whom that genre distinction applies to a lot more liberally. Their primary inspiration feels rooted in psychedelic textures and a lot of classic pop, which, when compared to the traditional set of styles brought on by post-punk, don’t make way for much crossover, if any at all. It’s hardly a boundary on Cult Casual though, where Heavy Salad find plenty of fertile ground in slotting their individual elements together and coming up with a lot to like from it. It’s definitely brighter and more open to embracing colour, for one, stemming from the crew of dedicated backing vocalists that lend a doo-wop whimsy to Death and Slow Ride, as well as sharpened guitar tones that almost lean into pop-rock on songs like Battery Acid and Inner Versions. The post-punk growl hasn’t gone anywhere though; the fat, stalking riff of Reverse Snake feels directly in line with where the more conventional strains of the genre are currently heading, and the grubby finish noticeable on a track like This Isn’t A Song About Lizards feels enough of a grounding factor on its own, especially for an album looking to take the process of life and ageing, and work backwards to find the meaning in all of it.
In that sense then, it’s easy to place Heavy Salad on the same level as a band like Pottery, where the connections to post-punk’s cut-and-dry epicentre are attempted to be obscured by a brighter, rubbery exterior, but there’s still enough peaking through to hold it all together. Where Heavy Salad have the upper hand, though, is that they feel much more in tune with how to get the best hooks and melodies out of something like this. Even for the songs on Cult Casual that run a bit longer than normal, the pop-centric focus is undeniable, and there’s something about these songs that really sticks because of it. It’s as simple as a bit of fine-tuning that elevates Heavy Salad by at least a couple of rungs, because there’s a good amount that follows the rubric here when boiled down. Lee Mann has the sonorous vocal presence and there’s an unstable, rustling darkness within the production that generally has a lot of power (with the exception of The Wish which can unfortunately be a bit tinny in places), but with a tightened approach and a lighter splash of paint, Cult Casual really enjoys the place in which it finds itself. It’s yet another post-punk debut where the promise is overflowing, though Heavy Salad seem to have a better grasp than most of where to allocate their abilities to make the most of what they have. • LN
For fans of: Pottery, The Wants, Talk Show
‘Cult Casual’ by Heavy Salad is released on 25th September on Dipped In Gold Records.
In concept alone, there’s a great band inside Winter Gardens. A mix of post-punk and shoegaze already seems like a pretty tight fit, and tied together with elements of film scores, the natural scenery of the South Downs and the slightest hint of punk, that’s the sort of indie concoction that could very well hit the ground running in a big way. As for how those pieces are all assembled on Tapestry though, the end result is more akin to a brisk jog on the whole. There’s a lot that’s worth liking here, but Winter Gardens definitely fall victim to the traps of a debut EP, in how their elements come together but aren’t quite the sum of their parts yet. There’s the impression that Winter Gardens are showing everything they’ve got across these four songs, and as a result, the cohesion can be a bit thin, especially when they dial into heavier punk moments like on Zigzanny. Looking past that, Ananda Howard’s vocals become drowned out to a degree that’s probably deeper than intended on the title track, and while a pretty beautiful piece of fizzling dream-pop, the inclusion of Laminar Flow Pt. 1 as an instrumental track feels like the band overreaching on a short debut that’s already pretty diffuse as it is.
As for how well that comes across though, the potential in Winter Gardens extends way beyond what they achieve here. In terms of individual moments, Tapestry is certainly liable to drift into excellence; the aforementioned delicacy of Laminar Flow Pt. 1 is already a good example of how far outside the indie machine their creativity runs, and on the title track and especially Wonders Bleak, the band show a great knack for builds and crescendos that makes the most of how airy and expansive their sound can be. It’s produced in a way that amplifies the cold natural landscape that colours a lot of these compositions, and Howard’s writing, while bracing and driven, displays an ambiguity that seems a perfect fit for this sound. It’s a style that’s most definitely not suited for EPs, and that’s generally where the slight hesitation towards Tapestry comes from. It’s good, no doubt, but it’s also too confined to really burst out and let Winter Gardens soar like they very much need to. A full album of this with a bit more refinement could be something truly special; right now, it’s still a bit in the distance. • LN
For fans of: Beach House, Lush, Slowdive
‘Tapestry’ by Winter Gardens is released on 25th September on Austerity Records.
If Wilmette had released this EP about half a decade ago, it probably would have done a lot more for them than it will today. Back then, they would have easily slotted among the range of grittier, more coarse pop-punk bands, especially with the distinct post-hardcore slant they’ve got going for them in the peppered screamed vocals. Right now though, the positioning of those heavier elements are the only real innovative factor that Wilmette have going for them, and even then, it can be seen as a pretty minor extrapolation of the sound that Knuckle Puck or Trash Boat were peddling at the time. Sure, the screamed vocals from Peyton Day do have some cutting presence to them, particularly in what can occasionally slide towards the Movements school of emo and post-hardcore, but it’s hard to say that they blend particularly well with the pop-punk sound, and when it’s as unwavering as it is, they feel like an element designed as a clearer selling point rather than a natural creative move.
As such, it become difficult to really isolate all that much about Wilmette that they truly own for themselves. For this brand of pop-punk it certainly sounds fine – Aaron Hailey has a pretty standard voice, but against a slightly meatier, more organic sound and production from Seth Henderson that predictably follows suit, it does work – but they’re lacking the real hook in that could take them further. It’s why the scream vocals end up feeling as perfunctory as they do; remove them, and nothing about the end product changes all that much, for better or for worse. Beyond that, there’s definitely catchiness to Adderall and Rancho Cucamonga that’s appreciated, though even then, they don’t rise to the best of what the genre has to offer, and there’s a certain lack of finesse to the writing across the board that places Wilmette’s inexperience pretty prominently on their sleeve. As a result, it makes for an EP that isn’t terrible by any metric, but adds very little to a genre that’s become notorious for just that in recent years, and even in the fallow period that pop-punk is having now, it’s hard to get away with that. It might be worth a listen for anyone craving something new, but otherwise, Wilmette need the time to grow before they’re worth giving a second look to. • LN
For fans of: Knuckle Puck, Trash Boat, Real Friends
‘Wilmette’ by Wilmette is released on 25th September on Mutant League Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)