AC/DC – Power Up
It takes a special kind of classic rock zealot to actively get excited by the prospect of new AC/DC music. They’re certainly an important band in the history of the genre, with multiple staple songs under their belt, but they’re also the sort of band where that’s all anyone really needs to get by. It’s been a while since they’ve released a full album that can actually grip from front to back, but the bigger and more pertinent issue is in how the prospect of evolution has barely even crossed their mind over a career spanning nearly five decades. Yes, the jokes have been made countless times about how every AC/DC song sounds the same, but they wouldn’t be repeated so much if there wasn’t some merit there, and when Shot In The Dark was released as the lead single for this new album, in which the band wheel out their one riff for the umpteenth time and do everything they usually do with it, the overriding feeling going into Power Up is abject boredom even before it’s begun. Because, at the end of the day, all that Power Up really is, is AC/DC prolonging a career that’s lasted way longer than it should based on the amount of ideas gone into it, not to mention where the lack of those ideas and a band drastically showing their age begins to come ahead. Kick You When You’re Down and Money Shot have a real stiffness and thinness to them, eschewing a lot of the swagger that’s been able to carry AC/DC an exorbitantly great distance, and replacing it with the dad-rock staleness of Status Quo. It’s barely even worth pointing out than an AC/DC album in 2020 feels stale – again, they’re very limited in terms of instrumental breadth – but Power Up just seems to lack a fundamental drive to it. Ironically, it’s probably at its best when the approximations of that singular riff are most prominent, like on Shot In The Dark or Witch’s Spell; neither are overflowing with vim, but there’s at least a bit more strut and swing to them that feels fully formed.
But again, that general lack of vigour feels like a result of AC/DC coasting for as long as they have, and Power Up serves at the moment where that all comes to a head. They’re working with only the building blocks of their sound primarily, in what amounts to a copy-pasted instrumental style, and Brian Johnson’s rasping, shrieking vocals which haven’t exactly stood the test of time that well. He might sound like a completely different, significantly older singer when he drops down to his lower register like on Demon Fire, but it sounds like something he can work with, rather than cranking his range up to a level that really isn’t all that flattering anymore. Then again, ‘unflattering’ is pretty much where modern AC/DC finds itself resting in, given how geriatric their rockstar approach feels in essence, and how running through the same lyrical circles about rockin’ out just aren’t interesting. At least there isn’t a single song with any variation of the word ‘rock’ in the title, so call that character development if you want, but it’s the only instance on Power Up where AC/DC even come close to that. And for anyone who’s stuck it out this long, that won’t be an issue; there’s clearly been a higher tolerance than most developed for the same classic rock formula repeated beat for beat, time after time, but it does get to a point where it’s worth considering how AC/DC have gotten away with it for this long, especially when time has only peeled back the layers of their rockstar artifice to reveal that there isn’t much there to start with. There’s appeal to Power Up if you’re that way inclined, but for something that achieves literally the exact same goal and far, far more proficiently, may we recommend a little album from 1980 called Back In Black? • LN
For fans of: AC/DC, probably Airbourne as well
‘Power Up’ by AC/DC is out now on Columbia Records.
McFly – Young Dumb Thrills
It’s no surprise that McFly’s return feels startlingly similar to Busted’s from last year. Within scrubbed-up, family-friendly pop-‘rock’ of the early- to mid-2000s, the two were more or less interchangeable, so much so that jamming the two bands together as McBusted in the midst of their individual hiatuses made way too much sense, and proved an extremely lucrative nostalgia juicer for all involved. Because, just like with Busted, no one would really want McFly back if it wasn’t for nostalgia; Above The Noise was a pretty limp note to bow out on, and considering that Young Dumb Thrills has been conveniently timed to drop a decade later almost to the exact day, there’s clearly label machinations at work to ensure that this enterprise is guaranteed to work. Hell, with the increased fondness for pop-rock in the mainstream again and a well-placed collaboration with Mark Hoppus, it’s almost like the stars have aligned in the perfect way for McFly to make this comeback as profitable as possible. And lo and behold, the results are almost identical to Busted’s Half Way Home, right down to the paradigm of ignoring the cues of a poppier, synthetic predecessor to wedge itself back into an earlier, flimsier pop-rock mould. Except Young Dumb Thrills might actually be a worse example, as the all-ages safeness that McFly have always leaned into has been exacerbated this time to represent a lack of ideas altogether. Not wanting to write the same sort of songs as they once did is perfectly valid, given that they’re all older and more settled now, but replacing them with wet, mawkish love songs like Like I Can and Wild And Young (the former having the exact same lyrical twist as Sam Smith’s song of the same name, for the record), or generic self-empowerment schlock like Sink Or Sing feels like the work of a band trying to ensure the stability of their comeback by not even risking alienating a single listener. For as blatantly plastic as McFly were in their heyday, there was at least a spark of life there; here, hoping that they can still bring that to the table is literally the conceit of the title track, before Growing Up tries to double down on that with “There’s not much we can do about growing old / But plenty we can do about growing up”. It’s the sort of naked lack of creativity that crippled Busted’s last album, but where they could stick with blatant immaturity, McFly just lump together whatever can keep a balance between mild maturity and an even milder throwback.
On top of that, it sounds exactly how an album like this is expected to sound, with barely an exposed edge in sight and the wettest, wimpiest form of pop-rock to appeal to a wide a demographic as possible. The hint of Twenty One Pilots that’s gone into the title track is the closest Young Dumb Thrills comes to sounding truly modern or relevant, not less because the broadness that McFly adopt effectively skirts over any sort of trendiness they might want to capture, and lands on milquetoast slogs that are barely even memorable. The gaudy brass of Happiness and the generic ‘80s buzz of You’re Not Special clearly show how hard they’re working to cover all bases on the adult alternative pop spectrum, but even that can’t be maintained in how nondescript Mad About You or Sink Or Sing are. They’re completely bereft of identity, not the huge, radio-ready anthems they were clearly designed to be, and it shows how McFly’s mismanagement of their own broadness proves to be their most prominent shortcoming. There’s no individuality to these songs, or even anything that could discernibly identify them as McFly songs; even with Rat Boy on the title track, it’s easy to tell that McFly are trying to emulate him rather than elevate him as a standout presence. It all leaves Young Dumb Thrills feeling like a comeback made out of obligation, where years of being away from the band but remaining in the spotlight have compiled a checklist of what this album needed to be in order to keep that reality going. It’s what makes the ‘skit’ at the end of Not The End feel so cringeworthy, where all the laughter feels forced and any camaraderie is a result of a marketing ploy. Because, in all honestly, Young Dumb Thrills feels like a mandated product rather than a real album, where McFly are doing what they should be doing rather than what they want to, and leaving a hollow, impossibly bland shell of an album to show for it. • LN
For fans of: Busted, One Direction, The Vamps
‘Young Dumb Thrills’ by McFly is out now on BMG.
Refused – The Malignant Fire
It’s weird to think that Refused are just part of the musical landscape now. When Freedom came out in 2015, it mightn’t have clicked with everyone but it still felt like an event all the same, a seminal, highly influential punk band coming out with their first lot of new music in 17 years and still showing themselves to be evolving and reshaping their approach. Compare that to last year’s War Music, a good but far less ambitious album, and it becomes apparent Refused may be looking to downplay their own lofty standing as long as they’re sticking around, which mightn’t be such a great idea if that amounts to deliberately missing the high bar of quality that they’ve set for themselves. Indeed, there’s something about The Malignant Fire that doesn’t quite hit in the same way that Refused releases normally do, and not just because this is only an EP. It’s more because it’s markedly less inventive than a lot of this band’s work, even on War Music; hell, the opening track Malfire is lifted directly from that album. Born On The Outs at least acts as a source of intrigue, in what’s effectively a cover of Swedish House Mafia’s Greyhound with new lyrics overlaid onto it, but otherwise, the cut-and-dry punk of The Malignant Fire isn’t as gripping on its own. It doesn’t help that there’s not as much external firepower either, especially in guitars that can feel disappointingly flat at points, and that on the whole can lead to a release that’s less adrenalised and vital than normal. When the final track Jackals Can’t Be Bothered To Dream returns to that format with a slightly thrashier, more bracing punk style, it’s unquestionably the best song here, given that it channels the more primal, fiery spirit of Refused in a way that the rest of this EP doesn’t quite reach.
That shouldn’t be construed as any sort of sellout move though, because that’s most definitely not what this is. At its core, The Malignant Fire continues Refused’s progression within hungry, conscious punk, with a great knack for hitting a broad space while still managing to hone on in more visceral details. Granted, the songs here do feel a bit more explicitly wide-reaching than others in their canon (probably a consequence of it being something of a coda to an overall broader album), but in takedowns of Nazism on Born On The Outs and carnivorous capitalistic practices on Faceless Corporate Violence, there’s an intent there that hasn’t been watered down. That’s helped solidify by Dennis Lyxzén as a vocalist, who’s a bit more conservative this time when it comes to his truly wrenching shrieks, but has the wiry, nervy energy throughout that makes this an overall propulsive listen, regardless of its shortcomings. Those shortcomings are certainly noticeable, but more often than not, The Malignant Fire does feel like a natural next step for where Refused were on their last album, and that’s hard to complain too much about. It’s not hard to see what a Refused fan will get out of this, but at the same time, it’s one of the band’s more inessential releases, and when they’ve got a legitimately game-changing album under their belts, it can be a bit harder to justify something like this keeping keeping its focus so narrow. It’s still worth a listen, but it also benefits greatly from much lower expectations. • LN
For fans of: The Bronx, Strike Anywhere, Gallows
‘The Malignant Fire’ by Refused is released on 20th November on Search And Destroy Records.
King 810 – AK Concerto No. 47, 11th Movement In G Minor
Even as a fan, it’s become really hard to defend King 810. They used to be a band that were far more layered and thought-provoking than they were given due credit for, though they seem to have broken all of that down to fit the perceived attribute of violent thugs that so many have placed upon them. That’s certainly how it felt on last year’s Suicide King, an album that wasn’t necessarily bad but felt like a considerable step down from what they once were, and with a title as on-the-nose as this follow-up has, it doesn’t give the impression of an about-face to deeper material happening any time soon. It’s honestly reached the point where you need to question how much depth was there in the first place, now that they’ve reduced their themes down to such a degree that it feels as though any and all nuanced has been scrubbed in favour of hammering in the same violent tendencies and tableaux over and over again. There’s at least a bit more insight into the systematic causes for said violence on Da Vinci Hands Pinocchio Nose, but it’s not something that’s explored much further. Instead, there’s a lot of posturing from David Gunn that’s gotten increasingly tired when he feels like he’s repeating himself from album to album, and that just leads to moments of intended introspection like Love Under Will feeling really forced and unbelievable in their melodrama. As much as his crying, curdled delivery was a point of contention of previous albums, he’s taken to playing up a character so much that none of the grimness feels real anymore, especially when he’s putting on even broader and, frankly, goofier accents like on Dukes.
It’s an example of a band falling to limitations that they aren’t remotely equipped to deal with, though a lot of the time – and more so on this album than any other – King 810 don’t even appear to be trying to deal with it. There are far fewer moments of stark sonic contrast from low, insidious quiet, which in turn places the onus on their nu-metal side which has always been their most flawed. They know how to sound imposing if nothing else, with the punishing guitar tones that don’t have much manoeuverability but are fashioned into vicious grooves on Hellhounds and Suicide Machines, but beyond that, there’s a lumpiness and a lumber to their overall heft that can make this album feel like a slog, even more so than previous releases that have been much longer than this. The mixing can be a bit hit-or-miss too; emphasising the weight and grime is a tolerable creative decision when everything is so close together, but there’s a similar element of performativeness that comes from drums sometimes deliberately mixed to sound like gunfire that can be a bit much for the supposed ‘reality’ this band are trying to imbue. It’s not a bad sound overall, but it’s the overly weighed-down version of nu-metal that never feels all that interesting, and when King 810 are currently having problems with that themselves on a fundamental level, it’s hard to see what’s worth revisiting about this album over their others that do this exact thing much better. It’s just a weaker version of a shtick that most weren’t onboard with to start, to the extent in which King 810 are clearly revelling the opportunity to play the villains at the expense actual musical quality. It’s more tired than actually awful, and that’s solely down to the one idea King 810 have placed their entire existence on becoming increasingly fatigued, an eventuality that was never not going to happen if they lasted as long as they have. • LN
For fans of: Emmure, Mushroomhead, Upon A Burning Body
‘AK Concerto No. 47, 11th Movement In G Minor’ by King 810 is out now on KING Nation.
Bearings – Hello, It’s You
It’s hard to know what to make of Bearings. At best, their music has been decent if rather unremarkable emo-tinged pop-punk, but the general lack of a media push behind them seems to say the most, especially in a genre as marketable as theirs. They’re a band who pretty much embody the middle ground of pop-punk, and on Hello, It’s You, it would appear they’re very much aware of that given how conspicuous the sonic shift is. This is their stab at the glossier, new romantic wave of pop-punk that bands like Seaway and Broadside have done well with this year, but in a way that sounds like Bearings are riding the wave rather than actively contributing to it. They’ve got the capability for hooks on the likes of Better Yesterday and Sway, but the glittery production can feel really overdone when it’s not given its own spin. That’s the problem with most of this album; for all the intentions towards this style of pop-punk, it’s something that Bearings hit on with an audible thud, which makes sense given the more organic territory their sound originated in. As such, Hello, It’s You has a flimsiness that comes from being a very direct copy of this sound, and more than anything, it results in an album that just feels overproduced and lacking in the richness that makes this particular sonic branch shine, especially on Dreams where it somehow curdles into an ugly emo-rap impression. There’s certainly a degree of jubilance and levity that makes this easy to listen to, but it feels very hollow in comparison to what others have delivered, and its staying power feels a lot more limited because of it.
It doesn’t help that, as a band, Bearings still aren’t bringing much of unique spark to the pop-punk conversation either. They aren’t bad, by any means; Doug Cousins is a competent, if slightly anonymous vocalist, and there’s at least a solid amount of aptitude when it comes to generally lightweight material that’s big on melody to see it get by. But when that’s the bulk of what Bearings have at their disposal, it’s hard to see that as anything other to a contributing factor to the aforementioned flimsiness this album suffers from. It’s certainly not an album that’s shooting for the stars, in some pretty basic and unadventurous relationship songs throughout, but even on that particular grading curve, there’s a distinct lack of spark coming from Bearings that means it just refuses to click at a stronger level. It’s all perfectly listenable but nothing more, invoking the sensation of empty pop-punk calories that were in such abundance throughout the 2000s or the earlier part of the 2010s. No doubt that will appeal to some, and there’s definitely a catchiness in spots that means that’s explainable, but Bearings still find themselves really lacking when it comes to tapping into what makes modern pop-punk work. Instead of capturing the genre zeitgeist at this very moment, it would be better for them to work out what they want to sound like themselves, and build something from that, because on Hello, It’s You, that’s not the impression they’re giving off at all. • LN
For fans of: Seaway, Broadside, Oh Weatherly
‘Hello, It’s You’ by Bearings is released on 20th November on Pure Noise Records.
Dark Tranquillity – Moment
As undoubtedly influential as the Gothenburg scene has been within modern metal, it’s been doing a pretty stellar job at dispelling some of its own myth-making. Sure, At The Gates have been holding it together since their comeback, but In Flames have only just come out of a severe downswing that still doesn’t look to be pulling upwards, and Dark Tranquillity haven’t fared much better with a good number of years of being simply ignorable. They’ve just struggled to hit any sort of stride in recent years, and Moment doesn’t look to be improving on that, as a release that’s functionally fine but barely ever truly exciting. It’s the expected shortcoming of the In Flames approach to melodeath, that being siphoning out any semblance of the ‘death’ side and leaving a pretty flaccid and flabby set of remains. While some of the gothic knell backing a song like A Drawn Out Exit is a nice touch to flesh out some atmosphere, more often than not it can also contribute to the severe plod of this album’s pacing; any sort of real punch of vitality just doesn’t show up a lot of the time. Mikael Stanne as a vocalist doesn’t help either, having some poise in his cleans that can generally balance out a more drawn-out delivery, but in his screams – or, more accurately, cleans with a slightly gnarlier overlay in the style – the performance sounds so perfunctory and beneficial of nothing. There’s no firepower behind it, which becomes the overall sticking point of this entire album in a hurry.
At least with a song like Identical To None, while not amazing by any stretch, there’s at least a glimpse of Dark Tranquillity arriving on a more forceful metal approach. It’s a bit faster and more stomping, and uses the size that’s the one thing this album gets consistently right to actually sound powerful and grand. It’s the most solid song on Moment, but is still an example of the creative decisions made that utterly cripple this album from doing more. That can generally be levelled at the production, which is never all that heavy, but also feels curiously washed-out in places, in a way that only exacerbates the lack of real drive that’s a chronic sticking point across the album. It also doesn’t help that so many potential melodies or lyrics to serve as memorable touchstones are drowned out within the watered-down melodeath morass, leaving only the technicality at this band’s core as a means of keeping itself afloat. That’s not enough to build a successful album on exclusively though, and with the amount of Moment that either blurs together or sloughs itself off before barely even finishing, that couldn’t be truer here. It’s another example of Dark Tranquillity’s modern incarnation being propped up legacy and longevity alone; while this isn’t a terrible album or anything, it’s utterly unmemorable inessential in every way, which for a band that’s so revered within their scene and genre, might arguably be worse. • LN
For fans of: In Flames, Scar Symmetry, Amorphis
‘Moment’ by Dark Tranquillity is released on 20th November on Century Media Records.
Intervals – Circadian
The progressive, instrumental rock project, Intervals, is the brainchild of proclaimed mastermind, Aaron Marshall. He is well known for defying convention by remaining an independent artist as his success has continued to grow. In these strange times, it’s great to see someone who is carving their own path with their career and sound. Upon listening through this album for the first time, 5-HTP immediately stood out as it draws together fantastically progressive elements but with catchy motifs. It’s a track that will be memorable with its distinctive rock riffs. The harmonies across the instruments, and structural arrangement bring something extra to the overall sound. 5-HTP would be a great way of introducing someone to the world of progressive rock without throwing them into the deep end. The blending of the guitars also stands out, in the respect that it doesn’t; the guitar tones all sound incredible individually and merge together so well. The track Vantablack brings in a heavier tone that sits a bit lower in the mix and gives the overall track a solid grounding. Above this, lead guitars saw with intricate melodies. The bass feels a little lost at times but does appear in the spotlight now and again. Nothing feels out of place, the whole piece flows.
Signal Hill brings a great energy to the album. The contrapuntal melodies across all of the instruments deliver a full sound; there’s a lot going on, but once again, it blends together. The breakdown introduces a great bit of heaviness. The guitar tone feels somewhat djent inspired, adding an extra texture into the mix. Variety in elements like this spice up the sound. And once again, the lead melodies have an incredibly catchy quality to them. The breakdown in String Theory is also particularly good! The unexpected appearance of a saxophone in D.O.S.E works fantastically. It gives the track a very different and experimental feel, in many ways, it would have been nice to see a wider range of instruments used in this album. Circadian has been a very enjoyable album to review. The tracks all have their own individuality whilst also segueing seamlessly into one another. It’s one of those albums that can be listened to and analysed intently, but also enjoyed as background music. • HR
For fans of: Animals As Leaders, Plini, Nick Johnson
‘Circadian’ by Intervals is out now.
Bad Nerves – Bad Nerves
As potentially easy as it could be to slot them among an ever-bloated cadre of garage-rock bands who have visions of grandeur but ultimately end up crushed beneath them, Bad Nerves actually have a bit more going for them. For one, their take on garage-punk actually works to facilitate that punk side of them, with the sort of breakneck pace that frequently won’t even crack two minutes, but still yields a satisfying whole all the same. Then there’s the neat balance with indie-rock melody that’s become something of a USP for them recently, with both sides coming together for a release that maintains the scrappiness that tends to define albums like this, but crucially, that’s not the only thing it has. Rather, Bad Nerves fall into a similar camp to Beach Slang or The Dirty Nil in terms of how visceral they can be, but with a notably British edge that’s pulling a considerable amount from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’s sardonicism and general sneering tone. It’s a worthwhile soundtrack to the drilled-in nihilism and ennui of Bad Nerves’ world, fuelled by notable austerity and class divide like on Palace, or simply the boredom of music losing its luster compared to how it once was on Baby Drummer and Radio Punk. There’s definitely something of a broadness and a universality to this, particularly in the latter sentiment and how viscerally that notion has been picked up by others band in this very lane, but when Bad Nerves barrel forward with it basically without giving a second look, it’s certainly effective.
As for the sound of this album, that too plays a major role in carrying it forward, given how jagged and bashed-out it feels to hit that garage-punk sweet spot with as much brusque force as it can muster. Perhaps that might be a bit too brusque given how Bobby Nerves’ vocals can occasionally fall victim to the scratchier mix and the cymbals from Samuel Thompson’s drums can sound more sloppy that lo-fi, but there’s generally a vigour that courses through this album that sees Bad Nerves hit some remarkable strides. It helps that they’ve seemingly got an infinitely-replenishing surplus of hooks on hand right the way through – Last Beat comes right out of nowhere towards the end and it’s one of the most infectious melodies here – and when that’s tied to a method of melodic construction that’s indebted to indie and power-pop just as much as punk, any tightness that the sound might lack is made up for in the hook-craft. Nerves’ voice has an almost acidic quality to it in its overall tone, lending some personality to distance him from being yet another unrefined shouter, but also serving as the ideal vehicle to funnel a catchiness through that’s indispensable here. It’s rare than a garage-rock album like this will be as infectious as Bad Nerves have made theirs, but it’s a testament to how well they’ve nailed the balance between fat-free craftsmanship and a simultaneously ragged bravado. That alone vaults them past most of the competition, and when the results hit as hard as they do, as often as they do, there’s a potential gem to be unearthed here with a bit more work. Right now, there’s a bit of an over-reliance on roughness to really get there, but the fact that everything beyond that is already present is definitely a positive sign. • LN
For fans of: The Dirty Nil, Beach Slang, PUP
‘Bad Nerves’ by Bad Nerves is released on 20th November on Killing Moon Records.
Shygirl – Alias
Shygirl feels like the sort of artist who’d never be able to thrive without the current pop ecosystem, but it’s unquestionably a positive thing that she can. The fact that pop has been allowed to get weirder and more personality-driven has led to some great music, and there’s something that so acutely taps into the scene’s unflinching modernity in Shygirl’s combination of hyperpop (with SOPHIE contributing to production on here, no less), 2000s club-rap and contemporary UK hip-hop. At the same time though, it highlights the problem the most modern of these sounds can have when it comes to crystallising a singular identity, and that really comes to head on Alias. As an EP, it’s more a showcase of Shygirl’s malleability given that no two of these songs really sound the same, and while she’s an impressive technician when it comes to riding the production she’s given, the seams remain pretty blatant throughout, and that only defines the peaks and troughs more. At its best, Alias will dish out something like the glassy, nocturnal Slime that’s punctuated with animal snarls, or the haunted flip of a 2010s club song on Siren, the sort of moments that carve out a workable alchemy between everything that Shygirl is looking towards. Placed next to the rather bland opener Twelve or the grinding, overworked Bawdy, they feel like a high watermark that doesn’t really have a constant precedent, and while the ideas are frequently interesting, it’s disheartening when it doesn’t all come together as well as it could.
Just in terms of Shygirl herself as an artist, there’s so much there that could really dazzle if just given some semblance of consistency to work with. She’s got an understated poise in her vocal delivery that balances exceptionally with intrinsic elements of dominance and cool, with the sort of pliability that has more in common with US hip-hop and trap artists than most of what’s coming from the UK. It’s an interesting meeting of approaches that, with an off-kilter, almost indie sensibility to it, is really looking to mark itself as a distinct personality, and that’s honestly something that Shygirl can carry remarkably well. With her swaggering, sexually charged writing that’s accessible without ever being too deep within the mainstream space, she’s the sort of artist that feels tailor-made for the TikTok generation without that sounding too much like a pejorative. It’s honestly not hard to see how a song like Slime would absolutely blow up over there, and that’s the sort of zeroed-in goal that, if Shygirl put all her efforts towards on a regular basis, could yield something truly great. She’s a tremendous talent, and keying into that from all angles is only going to see her flourish further, in the underground or even beyond. Right now though, the collage of ideas present on Alias has limitations that prevent her getting there, and the fact the best cuts here shine as brightly as they do is enough of a reason to double down on a more focused approach sooner rather than later. • LN
For fans of: SOPHIE, Bree Runway, Ashnikko
‘Alias’ by Shygirl is released on 20th November on Because Music.
pg.lost – Oscillate
There can be something particularly unsatisfying about talking about post-rock, particularly when it’s instrumental. In a genre that’s already based squarely on mood and the scope in which it’s forged in, having that as the core analytical element without much else to balance it doesn’t leave a lot to say more often than not. As for pg.lost, they’ve got enough of a long-term foothold within post-rock at this stage to offer a bit more than just the minimum, and even if their name doesn’t carry the same weight as Explosions In The Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Oscillate still feels like an example of post-rock that’s refined enough to get to that level. It almost feels like a counterpart to MONO’s Nowhere Now Here from last year in places, in which the nuance of tone is the anchoring point that makes it feel like more than just another collection of atmospheric pieces. As trite as it may sound, Oscillate does have an overtly cinematic quality to it, in how it slides between moments of crushing lows and euphoric highs with impressive modulation and seamlessness on E22 or Eraser, or in how there’s a surprising adoption of colourful synths and pop tones on Mindtrip and Shelter for a far livelier sound overall. It makes Oscillate sound bigger overall, less fixated with its own depressiveness and willing to step out into the light, and there’s something more engaging to it because of that.
It’s also an area where the vast modulations in sound feel well-realised, as well. There’s definitely a bit of top-heaviness in the production, especially when that greater sense of crunch comes to the fore, but Oscillate on the whole knows how to swoop and careen across various movements, and for an album that runs as relatively long as this one does, that’s a critical point to master. Arguably they’re yet to ‘master’ it – in the vein of so much instrumental post-rock, fading into the background is a reality that can happen more regularly that it probably should – but for what Oscillate is trying to latch onto, it does so with a boldness and gusto that definitely elevates pg.lost from being ‘just another one’ of these bands. It’s not quite great and is almost certainly for its own audience exclusively, but it’s hard to see how that won’t pan out in the long run, especially when, after over a decade-and-a-half of existence, pg.lost are still going as strong as this. For as middling as instrumental post-rock can regularly be, Oscillate manages to clear that bar swiftly and with notable grace. • LN
For fans of: Explosions In The Sky, MONO, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
‘Oscillate’ by pg.lost is released on 20th November on Pelagic Records.
Laura Fell – Safe From Me
The word that leaps out immediately after listening to Safe From Me is ‘genuine’. That can very easily come from it being baked into Laura Fell’s artistic DNA – after all, in a genre like indie-folk, there’s little opportunity to be artificial – but this album finds a more direct and straightforward path to reaching that goal. It certainly helps that Fell is really capable at making the most of that particular approach, particularly as a singer, with a hushed, humming delivery that, on songs like Bone Of Contention and Cold, can enclose itself in a low, breathy register that hits notes of real haunting quality. There’s the expected dearth of flash that comes from a performer like Fell, and that’s the ideal canvas to lay down experiences of uncertainty and worry, where she’s looking for answers that, as a trained psychotherapist, she’s expected to have. Thus, diving right into Glad about trying to scramble some sense of normalcy and hope from her parents’ divorce sets the scene well, placing her as an outsider trying to fix the stories of others while dealing with her own fracturing relationships. On Left Foot Right Foot, in which her vocals sink to an almost inaudible level behind her male counterpart’s, Fell comes across as exactly the sort of narrator that music like this thrives when given – open, raw, and deliberately swallowed up by her own story in a way that can be truly compelling when shaped in the right way.
It’s almost a setup to reason why Safe From Me as an album is such a muted and waifish listen, with each element carefully arranged to ensure that the right beat is hit each time. Fell apparently worked three jobs to recruit classically-trained musicians to flesh out the sound of this album, and that pedigree of collaborators shows in how poised and sophisticated so much of this album feels, in how the strings open up Bone Of Contention and the title track for an overall prettier sound, or how the flugelhorn at the end of Until Now flutters in and just sounds lovely on the whole. It doesn’t feel as expensive in terms of wide breadth in the way that so many other indie-folk albums can, but the neatness of all the arrangements really shows and shines through in a similar way. That being said, it doesn’t feel coincidental that Fell’s most exciting work here comes on Cold, which is build on a shambling, skeletal foundation that’s a fair bit darker and frostier than the rest of the album is allowed to get. It’s a breakaway from what can be an otherwise pretty safe-sounding album, all things considered, and while the sound and production is expertly done from pretty much every angle, it also gives the impression of being buffed and sanded back in a way that’s holding back something even better within. That’s the only real gripe to be had with Safe From Me though; otherwise, it’s the sort of debut that spotlights an immense talent with truckloads of ability and potential moving forward. There’s already an older, more experienced voice to Fell that’s set her up well, and moving further into what that can offer really feels like the best move for her to make. She’s certainly capable of loosening up and chasing after whatever it is that could offer. • LN
For fans of: Laura Marling, Tomberlin, Lucy Feliz
‘Safe From Me’ by Laura Fell is released on 20th November on Balloon Machine Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)