REVIEW ROUND-UP: You Me At Six, Lande Hekt, Shame

You Me At Six
SUCKAPUNCH

At this point in their career, it’s worth looking at how You Me At Six actually got here, because there’s an interesting conversation surrounding them specifically. They might’ve taken the mantle of Britrock’s biggest stars, and have held onto it for a good while now, but when considering the relationship between the movement of that scene over the years and how You Me At Six’s sound has changed with it, it earmarks a band whose entire identity feels defined by what’s around them rather than what they can produce. They’re a band who’ve been wildly inconsistent in terms of tone and how they’ve gone around carving out various bodies of work from no-frills alt-rock, and though they’ve developed a tremendous profile off the back of that, to them as a band, it’s only been revealing itself as more and more detrimental. And to be clear, their intentions to capture the zeitgeist of alt-rock on a moment-to-moment basis haven’t changed, but it’s only revealed itself as much more weary lately, as a band with an already limited crop of ideas will scramble to fashion something together and continue to feel more drained of drive as they do so. Thus, it’s no real surprise that SUCKAPUNCH turns out the way it does, as an attempt to replicate the angrier, more galvanised energy of Sinners Never Sleep, but saddled with the same dreariness that tends to scupper You Me At Six’s modern efforts. On the whole, it isn’t hard to see how something like this just doesn’t work, where the radio-rock focus that’s been especially prevalent with You Me At Six recently doesn’t mesh with attempts to carve out some exposed edges, and it can be a really jarring listening experience. There’s already been a lot made of how the EDM-esque structure of What’s It Like makes for a lumbering mess of a song that bottoms out whenever it wants to sound huge, but then there’s the scratchy approximation of punk on MAKEMEFEELALIVE that a particularly unattractive production job hinders almost entirely, or the lumpen meanders of tracks like WYDRN and Adrenaline that unfortunately characterise too much of the album. On a purely aesthetic basis, this might be You Me At Six’s least sonically appealing effort to date, where the fixation of sounding raw sidelines the tunefulness that’s always been their greatest asset. It’s such an overwhelmingly maximalist sound too, where loud moments almost always sound shredded and blown-out (and the drums almost always sound either massively compressed or as though they’re being played on sheet metal), and Josh Franceschi’s attempts at vocal aggression like on Nice To Me really feel oversold. For an album that clearly wants to sound heavy, SUCKAPUNCH feels reliant on those superficial elements rather than anything with real punch; the revving guitar on Voicenotes sounds like it might explode but never does, and the dour tone of the entire album ends up as oppressively dull rather than gritty or edgy.

To be fair, it’s not like You Me At Six can’t land on something that at least vaguely resembles what they want here. The pounding pace of Beautiful Way and the title track have some directness to them that’s pretty good, and when the band play to their pre-established strengths on the more wistful ballad Glasgow, that’s unsurprisingly where the album feels the most comfortable. It’s also the moment of sober reflection that feels the most mature within SUCKAPUNCH, reflecting on a broken relationship that might rebuild itself, but ultimately shouldn’t when both partners want different things. It’s not spectacularly deep, but in comparison with the rest of the album, it’s a lot more measured, and when the concept of maturity is brought onto the table, it highlights how little about SUCKAPUNCH as a whole actually gets there. It’s an album that wants to rage and take on a world on fire, but swinging indiscriminately is rarely the way to do that, and that’s what this album feels like it’s doing more often than not. There’s a tenacity to that, especially in the case of the title track which actually lends to muscle to the ‘getting knocked and getting back up again’ trope, but the broad rallying cries of MAKEMEFEELALIVE and WYDRN and shots at critics on What’s It Like that are both tired and tiresome aren’t all that compelling overall. They feel like the work of a band swinging for the fences in the belief that they’re doing something grand and powerful, only to end up contributing to the noise they’re looking to break through. Hell, it’s not even that possible to imagine these songs lasting in a You Me At Six live set, not when the hooks and choruses are so notably weaker than what’s preceded them. But again, the lineage of You Me At Six has reached a point where something like this could be predicted, an album looking to curry favour with the rock crowd once again without alienating the wider market they’ve cultivated at this point, only SUCKAPUNCH is even a few rungs lower than what that prediction offered. It’s not an engaging listen, nor does even establish the foundations that You Me At Six clearly want it to. It’s the clearest example to date of a You Me At Six album simply not working, where their own limitations as a band really come to head and actively disrupt their path.

4/10

For fans of: The Hunna, Royal Blood, The Amazons

‘SUCKAPUNCH’ by You Me At Six is out now on AWAL Recordings.


Lande Hekt
Going To Hell

It’s interesting to see how muted the overall anticipation for Lande Hekt’s debut full-length is, but it’s also explainable. As solid as they’ve become, Muncie Girls haven’t really had a big moment in the spotlight yet that would get those wheels turning behind them, and for as far as Hekt’s solo material has been in the past, it just hasn’t impressed in the same way as others embarking on the same path. Her Gigantic Disappointment EP last year simply felt like more Muncie Girls music, without any sort of spin that could notably differentiate Hekt’s approach when stepping out on her own. Pleasingly then, that’s something that Going To Hell strives to address rather concisely, and actually becomes an album that does more with Hekt’s status as a solo album. It feels more personal and insular for one, operating on a template that’s not entirely dissimilar from Muncie Girls’ overall, but has the specificity to apply more directly to Hekt alone, addressing her coming out as gay on Whiskey and the subsequent bigotry endured on the title track. It’s got a very recognisable indie-rock singer-songwriter feel in the writing, as Hekt places a lot of focus on her own sense of distance and loneliness on 80 Days Of Rain and Winter Coat, and self-criticism and doubt on Undone and Candle that has emotionality and weight. It definitely helps that Winter Coat will undoubtedly have more resonance in its lockdown-released context, but even away from that, Hekt is a very evocative writer on her own merits, and it feeds into the resigned wistfulness of the album really well. There’s a lot of individual lyrics and themes on Going To Hell that stick so much more than on its predecessor, and that’s down to how well it’s been retooled and refocused to show Hekt’s individuality as an artist.

Musically though, that’s less of a factor, but there’s still evidence of moving away from Muncie Girls extrapolation into something with more of a solo artist slant. The drier, more brittle indie-rock production is familiar but feels well-utilised alongside Hekt’s voice and its slightly huskier, warmer tone. Admittedly the vocal mixing isn’t always the best, when the opening three tracks Whiskey, 80 Days Of Rain and Hannover are very heavy on the reverb that can sometimes feel really washed out, but when Going To Hell stabilises, it’s really likable and approachable in a way that these albums often tend to be. There’s a lovely intimacy in how Winter Coat is stripped right back and how well the vocals on Candle are laid to just float by, but the jangle on Undone and Stranded and the bright alt-pop bubbles that soak December feel just as well-constructed and balanced. For an album that’s not big on huge, overpowering hooks or choruses, there’s a charm in the way that Going To Hell moves forward and makes the most of the ideas it has. It’s got the indie side-project feel, where there’s still a lot of care and attention gone into it, especially in the writing, and though there’s nothing really exemplary or boundary-breaking about what Hekt is doing, the steps that she’s taken still feel like she’s moving forward and progressing as an artist. Her solo work feels more like an accompaniment to her band rather than an alternative, and that’s an exceptionally positive note to hit for an artist who’s clearly still progressing.

7/10

For fans of: The Replacements, Laura Jane Grace, Muncie Girls

‘Going To Hell’ by Lande Hekt is released on 22nd January on Get Better Records.


Shame
Drunk Tank Pink

There’s definitely a case that can be made for a band like Shame losing their luster after a little while. The assault of post-punk is yet to let up, and even for a band like this who solidified themselves as critical darlings on their first album, it can all get a bit much when it’s coming so fast. It’s not precisely Shame’s fault, but they can also strike as a band that’s more proficient in what they do compared to their peers who’ll pull and extrapolate their genre from various angles. It therefore says a lot when the primary port of call around Drunk Tank Pink has been the serendipity around its release, originally conceived to encapsulate the ennui of post-tour living and boredom, now unleashed into a world where lockdown after lockdown has made that an even more relatable reality. Charlie Steen has a broad, roughshod vocal delivery with the willing inelegance that’s a feature of plenty of post-punk, and while his lyrics on their face can sometimes be a bit flat (the opener Alphabet springs to mind), there’s a certain thrill from watching him delve into the minutiae and mundanities of his everyday life just to see where he winds up. Born In Luton find its feet pretty quickly, but there’s more intrigue in the abstraction, in how a frosted-over sense of self-discovery permeates through Snow Day, or especially how the closer Station Wagon will just spiral off into its headspace. It’s not an album bursting with the stiff, motorik choruses that the current wave of post-punk has perpetuated, but that’s evident of how comfortable Drunk Tank Pink is with going down its own winding path, and that’s a respectable quality to have.

That said, when Shame are more in touch with where their genre is currently heading, it’s the simple fact of tapping into more propulsive, groove-driven sounds that makes them come off stronger. As an album, it can feel a bit patchy, where its weighed down by starker, less pliable noise-rock flourishes that – at least in the relatively mainstream space that Shame occupy – can be a bit too rigid for them. It’s ultimately no wonder that the rubbery new wave spikes of Nigel Hitter and Water In The Well, or the more straightforward punk of Great Dog connect more; they’re ultimately more kinetic and punchy, and feel as though Shame are tapping into a brand of post-punk that their more off-kilter sensibilities can thrive in. Unfortunately that’s not something they do all the time here, and as a result, Drunk Tank Pink sometimes falls into a ponderousness and listlessness that doesn’t do it any favours. It’s played and produced well enough to stop it from outright stalling out as some post-punk is wont to do, but compared to the bands who’ve ingrained themselves in this sharper new wave, Shame’s pick-and-choose approach can feel too lopsided to work that well. Beyond the lyrical rabbit holes, it’s not one that has a lot of explicit replay value past isolated moments, and that’s a shame when there’s definitely some nice ideas that could crystallise a lot more effectively with just a bit work to them. As it stands though, Drunk Tank Pink kinds of loses its way among a sea of more direct and engaging post-punk, and while it’s easy to see where Shame’s status among the critics comes from, it’s not quite as easy to get onboard otherwise.

6/10

For fans of: Fontaines D.C., The Murder Capital, Girl Band

‘Drunk Tank Pink’ by Shame is out now on Dead Oceans.


Beach Bunny
Blame Game

It’s not too surprising that Beach Bunny are already releasing some new music. Not only was last year’s Honeymoon pretty short for a full-length, but it’s re-focus into poppier climes and the band’s bigger profile thanks to TikTok imply a necessity for the drip-feeding approach to sate their base. After all, Beach Bunny are a very easy-to-consume act, and the platforms they’ve made their name on aren’t the ones that’ll keep them around for long without something new when that consumption is done. If that all sounds like it’s looking to throw shade on Blame Game as a loose, thrown-out EP, it’s really not, especially when Beach Bunny continue to make good use of their pop-rock footing without losing sight of their overall vision. A dejected Lili Trifilio ruminates on past relationship experiences that have ultimately chipped away at her, being mistreated or held as an afterthought on Good Girls (Don’t Get Used) and Nice Guys while ultimately still wanting the possibility of a connection on Love Sick, regardless of how it might hurt her. Then on the title track, the picture is expanded, where victim-blaming and misogyny gives a societal pass for that behaviour, and where Trifilio can only despair as it keeps happening time and time again. Admittedly it’s a bit clunky to have that as the EP’s final moment when the rest is so tightly focused in, but it’s well-written and pertinent all the same, with the cleverness and precision that allows it to click so swiftly, and an emotionality that’s grounded in reality without ever being oversold.

Granted, Beach Bunny aren’t really breaking ground here, or even expanding their own scope all that much. As a very brief EP, it’s more about getting a handful of new songs out that notably build on what they’ve already got, and by those standards, there isn’t much to complain about with Blame Game. It might peak early with the glimmering pop-rock excellence of Good Girls (Don’t Get Used), but the flexible indie-pop skips of Love Sick and the grittier indie-grunge of Nice Guys and the title track encapsulate the rest of Beach Bunny’s oeuvre well. Perhaps it would be nice to see them land on a sound that encompasses all of these elements in one, if only for consistency’s sake, but right now, they’re doing good work, crafting the sort of indie music that’s almost insidiously catchy while still having something to say. Trifilio’s glassy, Gen Z vocal delivery might be a turn-off for some, but it works in context if nothing else, and compared to others in her field, there’s definitely more personality in her efforts, in how she can get a bit more vulnerable and hurt like on Good Girls (Don’t Get Used). It’s an example of how this sort of thing can work, and when many acts just struggle to find that spark for themselves, Beach Bunny are pressing ahead at a good pace while having their own core solidified. On a pretty brief EP that doesn’t offer a huge amount to say, they’re crossing the bar at a rather constant rate, without a bad song here and with the command of melody to move a lot further ahead. Good stuff from a band who’ve well and truly set that as their standard.

7/10

For fans of: Diet Cig, Wallows, mxmtoon

‘Blame Game’ by Beach Bunny is out now on Mom+Pop Records.


The Sonder Bombs
Clothbound

The Sonder Bombs are by no means an enormous band, but like a lot of other acts in the same indie-pop-rock mould, it’s always interesting to see how the excitement and passion of the scene around them gives the complete opposite impression. It’s definitely an earned response, seeing how Modern Female Rockstar was an excellent little album that never did get the love it deserved, and the vocal push behind The Sonder Bombs on this second album has a similar homegrown buzz that only feels magnified by how concentrated it is. Again though, it is worth it, particularly when Clothbound feels like the work of a much bigger band in how brimming with personality and gusto it is. It’s a lot clearer and more refined than others in its field, with a twinkling production style that can veer towards twee without fully immersing itself in it. Those moments like the tart, buzzy synths on Vegas, BABYYY!!! and the more prominent ukulele on What Are Friends For are wisely kept rather tightly handled, and so they don’t feel counterintuitive to the greater rollick that The Sonder Bombs pick up. Perhaps the rounded edges of Clothbound aren’t totally suitable for what resembles a full-on breakdown on k., but there’s otherwise such a rich sense of melody in abundance here. The clarity on songs like Papillon and Swing On Sight is regularly excellent, and the fact that The Sonder Bombs are still able to buoy it with real organic presence and a scrappiness below the surface belies the best kind of pop-rock, where neither melody or depth is marginalised in favour of the other. It’s the sort of the thing this type of indie-pop tends to have a really strong hand in, but The Sonder Bombs’ overall bigger sound – particularly when they lean into a real, beautiful lushness on Scattered and The One About You – feels a lot more refined and in keeping with an act who are already surpassing their own limits.

And it really can’t be ignored how much of a key factor in this is Willow Hawks’ vocals. Again, she has a clarity that rings out phenomenally well across the album, but with a slightly more subdued timbre reminiscent of Hayley Williams’ lower register and an unflinching sense of vulnerability and honesty, Clothbound really finds strength in just how open and honest it is. There’s a plain-spokenness to the writing that really elevates it, and Hawks being such an expressive vocalist can really capture the exasperation at seeing a relationship turn sour on The Brink and Swing On Sight, or the fractured hurt at receiving the news of a family member’s death on Scattered. Where Clothbound really reveals a hidden strength, though, is in how it can capture of sense of comfort without dipping into complacency; Vegas, BABYYY!!! does that wonderfully, but it’s Crying Is Cool that serves as the clearest standout, with Hawks consoling a friend and striving to find a place of happiness and contentment for them both along the way. It’s emblematic of the smaller, human moments that play a far greater role in The Sonder Bombs’ music, where small or insular feelings can capture just as much, if not more resonance that grand drama, and to see the band so consistently flourish by embracing that makes for another great album under their belts. It honestly is the best kind of pop-rock, brimming with charm and great choruses as well as palpable feeling, and The Sonder Bombs capture that with an approachability and accessibility that only elevates them further. It’s no wonder they’re one of the bands from their particular scene breaking out of those boundaries, given that Clothbound heralds the sort of breakout that’s always wonderful to see more of.

8/10

For fans of: Snarls, Jetty Bones, Future Teens

‘Clothbound’ by The Sonder Bombs is released on 29th January on Big Scary Monsters.


Kiwi Jr.
Cooler Returns

The January release date last year didn’t do it many favours, but going back to Kiwi Jr.’s debut Football Money now, it’s still generally likable. It’s the sort of indie-rock that’s sharp and quick-witted in its very tight execution, with a propensity for occasionally getting tangled up in its writing that’s more charming than outright damaging. It was a decent little album, and honestly one that it’s not too surprising to see Kiwi Jr. following up after just a year, given how efficient in sound they regularly come across. But with that in mind, the fact that Cooler Returns is a longer album with negligible-at-best evolution in the formula to its name is where the shortcomings and – for lack of a better term – shallowness of the band’s sound can be shown. Theirs is a style that doesn’t have a lot of dimensionality, and while the inclusions of more pianos and harmonica feel worthwhile (especially in the case of the latter that craft a distinctly Dylan-esque mood), Cooler Returns is generally more of the same, which can begin to run its course pretty quickly. This sort of spry, compact indie-rock doesn’t have the greatest capacity for expansion as it is, highlighted by how so much of this album can bleed together, particularly when Jeremy Gaudet’s voice seems to pick up the same lilting cadence quite often. At least Kiwi Jr. have retained the same instincts for tightness and punchiness, and songs like Undecided Voters and Omaha do have a nice bounce that’s easy to get caught up in.

It’s more of an energetic listen than an outwardly engaging one, seeing how a lot of Kiwi Jr.’s impulses put a heavy focus on that side of themselves. They’re still a smart band lyrically with a keenness about imagery and word choice that’s definitely interesting to comb through, but between how unnecessarily dense and bogged-down by that an album this snappy is, and how they make a lot of specific references to Canadian locations that a general audience probably won’t catch, it yields a similar issue that Football Money had overall. It’s a lot easier to just hold onto the mood of it all, where the sharp, 2000s-leaning guitars and bass and tight drum work (that, admittedly, can feel a bit over-compressed at times) form a lot of the propulsiveness. It’s a good feel for Kiwi Jr. to tap as deeply into that particular era of indie music, and with the Sub Pop production style now behind them, Cooler Returns has an appeal that’s rooted in nostalgia without throwing that as a Hail Mary. It’s solid stuff overall, but also finds Kiwi Jr. in a bit of a holding pattern, where they’ve doubled down on the best of themselves in a way that’s not as gripping. For anyone deeply invested in their debut, the fact that Cooler Returns is a bit more of the same won’t disappoint, but it’s the sort of relative sophomore slump betrays Kiwi Jr.’s need to innovate before they really begin to dip.

6/10

For fans of: The Strokes, Alvvays, The New Pornographers

‘Cooler Returns’ by Kiwi Jr. is released on 22nd January on Sub Pop Records.


Holygood
Killing Giants

In a past life as Light You Up, Holygood were one of the more underrated Britrock propositions of the first half of the 2010s, with an emo-flavoured alt-rock sound mostly in line with scene standouts like Deaf Havana and Decade. Under the Holygood moniker though, they’ve made some sizable steps to advance down the shifting trends of modern rock, now with a sharper, more polished pop-rock sound and a release strategy that’s followed the ethos of ‘little but often’ in streams of standalone singles with reportedly plenty more to come. Even their new EP Killing Giants carries over some of the same cues, at only three tracks long with yet another shift into wildly varying alt-pop that, if anything, struggles to highlight what Holygood’s core focus as a band is anymore. Really, the only carryover comes in a strong sense of melody that prevails throughout, the sort of thing that’s really expected from a band like this but which Patrick Napier’s malleable vocal style is able to make stand out regardless. Even when he’s rapping on the title track, there’s a flexibility there that isn’t too far removed from the smoothness shown on a song like Bath Salts, and that sort of genuine creative intent is good to see. The lyrics to accompany it mightn’t be breaking the mould – the sort of big sentiments about prevailing and moving forward that songs like these tend to embody – but the core of strength to these songs is worth praising for just how solid it is.

But then there’s the sound, the area where Holygood find themselves to be nowhere near as consistent or concise as they should be. They’ve undoubtedly embraced the ‘genreless’ approach of alt-pop in how varied every moment is, but as is often the case, it makes for a patchwork collection of ideas rather than a fully-formed musical statement. The stuttered, panting drops amongs the jerky electronic canvas of Balt Salts feels like a cool idea that could easily be opened out or developed more, but they feel largely shoved aside for acoustic pensiveness of Moving Mountains and the colossal blocks of sound of the title track. It feels unfocused rather than liberated, as Holygood flit between sounds and even deliveries that’ll change entirely from moment to moment, and the end product just doesn’t feel that satisfying as a result. It doesn’t help that they similarly tend to fall into a lot of the regular alt-pop traps, where the production is implacably polished and overworked, and leads to something like the title track being so lumbering and unmodulated in its progressions. For a band that once impressed with how earthy and organic they were, it definitely feels like a regression, as if Holygood have plucked out the biggest ideas in modern pop-rock without considering if they’re actually the best. It’s a shame to say that, but in its non-committal approach to sound and approach, Killing Giants sees a band trying to slot into contemporaneity without considering what’s best for them. The interesting ideas that are here largely feel drowned out by a lack of focus or tightening, and while there’s clearly still a spark of creative momentum flickering within Holygood, it’s nowhere near as easy to isolate here. At times, they just feel like another one of these bands, and that’s really disappointing to say.

5/10

For fans of: PVRIS, Don Broco, Superlove

‘Killing Giants’ by Holygood is released on 22nd January.


The Sad Song Co.
Saudade

The advent of ‘quarantine music’ throughout the pandemic is inherently a good thing, if only to give artists the means of keeping themselves going while the wider industry at large has effectively stalled out. What’s less positive is that a lot of the releases under this banner seem to suffer from the same handful of problems, either being too insubstantial to survive outside of being a time-killing exercise, or in referencing the pandemic as to instantly date them on the other side. As such, though its origins predate the lockdown, Nigel Powell’s new album under his The Sad Song Co. moniker Saudade feels rather in-keeping with those general trends, albeit in a way that suggest it could last at least a bit longer. Powell is wise enough to keep the same emotional beats intact without lingering on the specific, anachronistic context, meaning there’s more of a universality to feelings of distance and loneliness on Away Until Christmas Morning and Lighthouse, or political disillusionment on Feeding. It’s generally kept pretty intimate, and though it can brush right to the edge of sentimentality – especially when Powell’s voice is as reedy and hyper-earnest as it is – it’s not to an excessive amount in the writing. Generally, Saudade is a pretty balanced album, leaning both into peacemeal bedroom-pop and literate indie-rock in tone and writing style, and while that doesn’t make for a particularly high-octane listen, the strengths and shortcomings of each side are suitably complemented for a solid final product.

It’s when factoring in the pool of sounds Saudade is pulling from that creates the biggest stumbling blocks, where that lack of thrills originates in the arrangements and occasionally shrunken instrumentals that rarely do music like this any favours. It goes without saying that Saudade is at its best when Powell opens his canvas out a bit, allowing songs like Hastings, Out Of Season and Deserted By Every God to build into bigger indie-rock pieces that, in mood, aren’t entirely unlike his former work as a member of The Sleeping Souls. He doesn’t necessarily have the voice for it, but there’s a much more competent rock musician in Powell, which can get a bit lost among compositions that don’t give him the greatest platform to explore that. There’s a tweeness to songs like These Tears Won’t Cry Themselves and Lighthouse that can not only exacerbate the tartness in Powell’s voice to an almost uncomfortable level, but can feel a bit too insular to achieve much, in the flickering drum machine and tiny, buzzing synth of the former and the very poised, almost hymnal piano of the latter. It’s got the stereotypical feel that’s become associated with lockdown music and indeed bedroom-pop in general, where the intimacy and homespun details are brought to the front with more prominence than they can really carry. At least the clarity of the production can work in both lighter intricacy and more expansive rock moments, though finding a balance between the two is probably Saudade’s biggest flaw. For all the nice ideas it has, its patchwork assembly doesn’t allow them to hit as often, and it all largely winds up being pleasant, but not quite effective as it could be. Should Powell put more of his focus on bigger alt-rock material, he could happen upon something quite strong; if nothing else, that’s the clearest indication of a comfortable musical lane that Saudade produces.

6/10

For fans of: Frightened Rabbit, Beabadoobee, Frank Turner

‘Saudade’ by The Sad Song Co. is released on 22nd January.


Tamar Aphek
All Bets Are Off

It’s interesting that Tamar Aphek’s interest in rock music came about thanks to bands like The Jesus Lizard and Shellac, the sort of notoriously inaccessible acts that tend to come much further down the music rabbit hole, rather than act as the jumping-on point. It implies an experimental streak that’s far more pure and uninhibited in where it’s willing to go, while also being liable to stack up a mile-high barrier to entry at basically every turn. In other words, it’s the sort of thing you need to know you’ll be into from the jump, which means that All Bets Are Off suffers from the usual slate of issues that tend to run rampant across these sorts of albums. In the case of this album in particular album though, that’s exacerbated further by how loose and jazz-adjacent it feels, given that Aphek and her band go about blowing the concept of conventional structure and rhythm wide open. It might sound forward-thinking when put that way, and Yuval Garin has some mighty impressive skills as a drummer, but more often than not, All Bets Are Off feels as though it doesn’t know exactly what it’s doing. There’s an almost improvisational sense of freedom but it doesn’t really go anywhere or coalesce into much, particularly when the setup of these songs can feel so minimal. A song like Too Much Information is built around its sense of keeling instability, but it can’t muster much among that to keep itself afloat, and like a lot of the album, there’s an impressive technicality and knowledge of musical progressions that aren’t applied much beyond that.

It’s not even like the seed of a good idea can’t be identified either, as Aphek is clearly capable of solidifying and slimming down her ideas into some pretty solid garage-rock. Show Me Your Pretty Side is the clearest high point in its slithering bass and hollowed out percussion that’s the most cogent melody on the album, and the best canvas for Aphek’s huskier, more enigmatic vocals to do the most. As well as that, there’s the harsher crunch and bass stabs of Russian Winter and a slightly seedier rendition of As Time Goes By from Casablanca to bookend the album, encompassing the shakier darkness and offbeat sensibilities that acts like Le Butcherettes and Queen Kwong have done so well to capitalise on. Hell, it’s not even like All Bets Are Off is that much different in principle, with the starkly bleak production style and a lot of oblique, fractured lyrics looking to parse something out of the darkness. And sure, where this is now will likely have some appeal to the avant-garde crowd, but there’s something a lot more stable in here that doesn’t need to compromise its vision. As it stands, All Bets Are Off is generally less memorable because of how scattered its ideas are, making good use of the talent at its disposal while forgetting to carve out any real songs in the process. That might be missing the point, but that’s ultimately how this ends up.

5/10

For fans of: Le Butcherettes, Queen Kwong, Shellac

‘All Bets Are Off’ by Tamar Aphek is released on 29th January on Kill Rock Stars.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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