The Future Bites
To classify Steven Wilson as solely a prog artist nowadays is missing the point by a colossal margin. It’s a mindset that might be grounded in nostalgia for some, remembering the vaunted days of Porcupine Tree that saw Wilson become such a key figure in modern progressive music, but holding onto those assertions especially after Hand. Cannot. Erase. and To The Bone really isn’t accurate anymore. He’s adopted the role of a pop polymath now, where his music has become overall more accessible but still rich and intricate enough for the shades of prog to stand out. The acclaim those aforementioned albums received speaks for itself, and Wilson continuing to push in this poppier direction in his own way without explicitly ‘selling out’ is what makes him such a fascinating artist to keep tabs on. At the same time though, it’s not too surprising that The Future Bites bears at least some resemblance to a modern Muse album, though that’s both for better and for worse. It’s unfortunately burdened by the clunk in the writing that’s pretty evident, and while it’s not quite to same dire extent that Muse can sometimes fall to, it’s the sort of social commentary that really isn’t saying much beyond its initial point. It’s most prominent towards the end, where the beleaguered screed against consumerism on Personal Shopper really draws attention to itself across Personal Shopper’s ten-minute runtime, or how the social media criticisms on Follower feel so utterly pedestrian. It feels below Wilson’s pay-grade in all honesty, the sort of thing that might want to be played as satire but has a coldness that getting Elton John himself to simply rattle off a list of products can’t rectify. Admittedly there’s a bit more tightness to Self and Eminent Sleaze in their looks at rampant narcissism than an online culture has cultivated, but again, it’s hardly the most engaging of topics when it’s been done so many times already.
Rather, the bigger – and more successful – element of The Future Bites comes in its sound, Wilson’s poppiest compositions to date that remove a lot the clumsiness from the sphere of influence of modern Muse, without sacrificing the opulence. The pop focus is a brought to a much sharper and more prominent fore, too; guitars are generally sidelined for pulsating synths and atmosphere, with a lot of care put towards how well these compositions are layered. A song like King Ghost might have a very stiff progression in its beat at its core, but the cooing background vocals and swathes of haunting synths give it the sense of scope it needs. It’s a similar effect achieved with the strings behind the Britpop jangle of 12 Things I Forgot, or the way that the snarling bass thunk of Eminent Sleaze builds into a more robust, fluid track in the integration of its keys and layered female vocals. Sonically, it’s exactly the big-budget that an artist in Wilson’s position is likely to indulge in, though there’s still creativity there as opposed to simply riding the nostalgia wave. It’s very rare that he’ll outright default to easy synthpop tropes or progressions, to where the vibe of a progressive rock album remains uninhibited throughout. He doesn’t exactly provide a standout vocal performance amongst all of that – it’s nothing terrible, but doesn’t leave much to say outside of a few moments – but as another piece that fits in place, it generally helps The Future Bites come together. It’s quite clearly got bigger intentions on the whole, something that can be seen in a rather blunt execution that doesn’t do it a lot of favours where it might need them most, but within modern prog like this, where the penchant for lacking some tact and intricacy can often be expected, The Future Bites isn’t anything worse than most. It’s worth it for the sound alone, but that also might mean it won’t stick around as long overall. • LN
For fans of: Muse, Nothing But Thieves, The Pineapple Thief
‘The Future Bites’ by Steven Wilson is out now on Caroline International.
Collapsed In Sunbeams
In times like these for music, the ascension of Arlo Parks feels almost ordinary. She’s yet another bedroom-pop wunderkind emerging from humble beginnings and catapulted by enormous waves of excitement, but looking past the superficial similarities implies something a bit different. Where such description frequently apply to the initial hitter who’ll fall back as soon as they’ve struck, or the strong starter whose incandescence bleeds out when that hyped project drops, but Parks seems to sidestep both. Even from her multiple singles, in their warm, homespun indie-pop / neo-soul fusion, there’s an inherent structure that feels built to withstand the shifting ground of industry fickleness, if only to allow Parks to carve a niche where her staying power can be more readily fostered. It makes sense, then, that Collapsed In Sunbeams feels as even-keeled as it does, where the highs aren’t quite as high, but the lows are never tremendously damaging. It feels apt given the keening, gentle nature of Parks’ voice, and the supple, rounded textures that comprise her sound make for the sort of album that’s incredibly easy to enjoy. It’s seldom conducive with great thrills (especially given how the meandering pace remains pretty constant), but the more developed slither of Too Good, the ringing strums of Black Dog and the borderline trip-hop tones that colour the dreamier textures at multiple points all feel really well-realised. Factor in the scratchier production that splits itself between bedroom-pop insularity and something even approaching old-school hip-hop, and for the sort of chilled listen that can still be engaging, Collapsed In Sunbeams definitely fits the bill. More than that, it’s a very composed sound that Parks has crafted for herself, in how fluidly her classic influences come about and are integrated with each other borderline seamlessly.
Even Parks herself is a notably fitting presence among it all, more so as a lyricist than a presence. She’s got a very poised voice, but also one that can easily drift into the cloud of instrumental layers behind her, where she doesn’t need to be a commanding presence and goes along with that, but would still be nice to see once in a while. That said, she more than makes up for it in just how pertinent her content can be, in merging her personalities of Gen Z indie-kid and self-proclaimed empath in a way that’s not jarring or cloying. It’s smart to frame a lot of these songs more as vignettes with Parks outside of the main role, to give the comfort offered on Hope and Black Dog a warmer, more approachable feel, or to let the narrative of Caroline simply play out as a snapshot from a passerby watching a relationship break away. Of course, there’s a lot more personality when Parks centres herself in the story, in some surprisingly distinct relationship scenarios of dealing with a distant, closed-off partner on Too Good, or the being in the position of competing with a friend for someone else’s affection on Eugene. Across the board, Parks shows herself to be best at setting a scene, and it can be a lot more poignant than albums like this tend to be, with songs like Green Eyes and For Violet that might focus on others once again, but have a weariness when it comes to exposure to homophobia and abuse, both firsthand and vicariously. It reinforces Parks’ staying power really effectively, in that she can go a bit deeper and more detailled than a lot of bedroom-pop singer-songwriters are willing to. That gives Collapsed In Sunbeams a sense of identity that’s imperative for Parks going forward; it mightn’t be honed yet, but it’s noticeable and intriguing, and that’ll prove the crux of why she ends up sticking around longer than most do. That’s a lot easier to extrapolate from this album than some, mostly because Parks puts in the work to make it so. • LN
For fans of: Frank Ocean, Joy Crookes, Biig Piig
‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ by Arlo Parks is out now on Transgressive Records.
This Time Next Year
Kid Kapichi’s nudge towards greater rock prominence hasn’t gone unnoticed, but it’s not been quite as furious as others in their position have been subjected to. It would probably be too difficult to facilitate something like that, in all honesty; this sort of hard-edged post-punk doesn’t take being watered down well, instead yielding some minor alterations above anything else. Mostly it’s been a case of streamlining the overall process, where a lot of the post-punk framework has been pruned back to fit a more traditionally alt-rock rubric, though doing so without losing too much of that initial personality. It’s ultimately why comparing This Time Next Year to most post-punk can make it seem kind of basic, but in the ranks of a greater rock context, especially in the mainstream-adjacent space, it works a lot better. Admittedly it can be difficult to view this album as simply a more palatable version of post-punk’s grittier social commentary, but that’s a hang-up that can be more or less brushed off when divorced from what’s around it. Besides, it hasn’t been streamlined to a point of meaningless; the jabs may aim wider but remain pointed in criticisms of workaday lifestyles that serve no benefit other than keeping the overworked cogs in the dour machine running. It’s not just broad populism for the sake of it either, given how visceral and powerful the likes of Violence and Thugs are in analysing the demonisation of working classes who might try to change an outdated status quo, or how the allure of fame as an escape can end up just as hollow on Glitterati and Dotted Line. The outright funny lines of a lot of post-punk are fewer overall, but Kid Kapichi prove to be a lot better at forming evocative or ear-catching imagery instead, especially when they can lean into the snider allowances of their genre in the likes of First World Goblins and Fomo Sapiens.
They feel like a more distinct band than just another in the ongoing flood of post-punkers, placing greater stock in hooks that can tie the album together for a leaner package overall. Some of that flab unfortunately begins to poke back out towards the end, particularly in the piano dirge closer Hope’s A Never Ending Funeral, but the combination of straightforward melodic punch with a harder, grubbier outer shell works a lot more often than it doesn’t. Glitterati is the clear standout, drilling down just as deeply as it did when it first appeared on the Sugar Tax EP in 2019, but replicating a similarly bass-heavy, snapped-out formula yields some strong results all across This Time Next Year. There’s a meanness and snarl to the production that creates the jagged sensations of Working Man’s Town and Thugs, and repurposed for snappier indie cuts like Fomo Sapiens and What Would Your Mother Say (the former even sprinkling on some light synth jingles for good measure). It’s definitely more conventional in its structure, but again, that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in the vigour where it matters. It’s kind of similar to earlier Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes material, in where the building blocks of hardcore were reshaped into something palatable without removing the teeth. Kid Kapichi’s throughline within their genre is much tighter and easier to track, but the results still turn out roughly the same, with This Time Next Year filling both sides pretty much equally and with grounds to work in each. It’s not quite as incisive as the best post-punk for that reason, but it’s also not as faceless as the worst on the same token, and thus it’s a direction that feels worthwhile to approach when this amount of good comes from it. It’s a really good gateway album into post-punk most of all, and hitting that mark that Kid Kapichi have is something that should definitely be commended. • LN
For fans of: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, The Blinders, Idles
‘This Time Next Year’ by Kid Kapichi is released on 5th February.
Cult Of Luna
The Raging River
It’s rather telling how much the promotional material around The Raging River will focus on its release on Cult Of Luna’s new label and its Mark Lanegan collaboration above all else, particularly because they’re the only factors to be markedly different here. At this point, Cult Of Luna are an institution within doom-metal, to where they don’t really need to switch up their formula, but any instance of them doing so feels like a bonus nonetheless. That’s pretty much where The Raging River falls, as an EP that’s just as long as some albums in which Cult Of Luna can still handily deliver a glacially heavy beatdown as well as ever. If anything, it’s the vaunted Lanegan teamup Inside Of A Dream that’s the most explicitly out of place here; his haunted, haggard voice sounds great, but the lonely echoes of guitar and reverberating production make it appear more as a seam across the EP’s middle (not to mention it’s the shortest track here by a considerable margin). Otherwise, Cult Of Luna are doing what they do best, stretching out monolithic passages of metal hammering across great lengths while still sounding enormous and imposing. There’s a sharpness in the production here that does a lot to help, especially on a song like Wave After Wave where the subtleties in the sound can easily be picked up on and enhance the overall experience. Tonally, there’s almost the vibe of modern metal that runs through it, in how front-and-centre the roared vocals are and how the percussion is a lot more domineering, and it lends Cult Of Luna a directness that songs as long as these mightn’t otherwise have.
Of course, to ignore the fact that the atmosphere of power and enormity fostered by such long songs is where the most overriding appeal here comes from would ultimately be disingenuous. Cult Of Luna aren’t exactly breaking their bounds here for the most part, in performance, writing or sound, and so the simply fact that this just sounds really good is why it works so well. Even so, that’s enough for an EP like this in particular, where Cult Of Luna’s clear experience is brought to the for to ensure these tracks have the necessary heaviness and extended crunch and stomp to succeed. And on the whole, they certainly do succeed; they’re capable of making a genre as notoriously one-note as doom-metal still feel exciting and powerful, simply on the basis of knowing what to do with it to bring out its strengths as well as their own. It’s not exactly innovative – again, Cult Of Luna’s acumen is exactly that of a band fast approaching 25 years – but it’s still promising to see they haven’t dulled over time, even with what could’ve easily been a throwaway to christen their own label and nothing more. Even for the diehards and basically no one else, The Raging River hits the right notes to satisfy regardless. • LN
For fans of: Neurosis, The Ocean, ISIS
‘The Raging River’ by Cult Of Luna is released on 5th February on Red Creek Recordings.
Black Country, New Road
For the first time
Let’s not mince words – Black Country, New Road’s For the first time is a lot. Like, a whole lot. Like, a whole lot even for those who’ve become submerged in post-punk’s recent waves that continue to rush out. In fact, calling it strictly post-punk wouldn’t even be accurate, not when the sprawling looseness of the compositions and Isaac Wood’s prose writing style share more with avant-garde poetry or jazz. It’s inaccessible to a fault, though that’s never to the band’s detriment, as Black Country, New Road prove consistently great at leaning into the inherent instability and fractious state that they create for themselves. As disjointed as Wood’s lyrics are, piling on references and embittered snark that goes down for miles has such a tension to it, especially paired with his quivering voice that’s barely able to keep itself together. Then, as songs like Science Fair and Sunglasses contort through a lens of social commentary that doesn’t shy attention away from its own reflexive toxicity, even it’s only subtext, For the first time’s dread is uncomfortably magnetic. Compared to most post-punk, the opportunities to fall outside of the mainstream space don’t feel cut short here, allowing Black Country, New Road to weave together their own dense opuses that take far more time and effort to dissect. Again, that’s far from a bad thing, and even just from a surface level examination of how these track narrative deliberately fall apart and try to rebuild themselves again, it’s one of the most fascinating examples of experimental rock delivered so far this year.
Of course, a lot of that credit does deserve to go to how Black Country, New Road use the assets of being a bigger unit that they give themselves. There’s a broader scope of sound anyway as a seven-piece band, but specifically making use of Lewis Evans’ saxophone and Georgia Ellery’s violin opens up possibilities for specific moods that mightn’t otherwise be available. The sweltering, jazzy swing of Instrumental is a given, but there’s also a wistfulness brought to indie-rock cuts like Athens, France and Track X, or a calamitous dread when Science Fair tips into scabby noise-rock. Of the six tracks here, only one falls below five minutes with most easily crossing six, and yet Black Country, New Road have the creativity to make the most of their sprawling runtimes. The freeform structure does a lot of heavy lifting in how passages will careen shapeshifting from movement to movement, but it simultaneously feels deliberate given how little space is wasted. Hooks or choruses might as well be from a different planet entirely, but the way that the band – and Wood as a frontman especially – can reel a listener in is borderline insidious, where everything mightn’t click straight away but it certainly leaves an impression on a cumulative basis. It’s a release that practically demands greater exploration, if only to get what it’s trying to do or where it’s coming from, but the promise of intrigue unfurls more and more each time. At the end, what’s left is a weird, understated but profoundly gripping album that’s completely unlike anything else in its current scene and is all the better for it. Black Country, New Road’s crossover potential is severely diminished compared to their peers, but they’re clearly capable of so much more that proves to be far more compelling. A difficult listen, for sure, but one that couldn’t be more worth diving into. • LN
For fans of: black midi, LICE, The Murder Capital
‘For the first time’ by Black Country, New Road is released on 5th February on Ninja Tune Records.
Formed in 2007, Aurora is Annisokay’s fifth studio album. With changes in line-up, and the continuous evolution of their sound, this new album marks the next chapter in their journey. As is to be expected with Annisokay, Aurora is packed with anthemic choruses, catchy riffs and lots of energy. The quartet have developed their art of combining heavy guitars and harsh vocals, with soaring melodies and dynamic electronics. The opening track, Like A Parasite, delivers the powerful contradiction of a metal focus in the verses with Rudi’s aggressive vocals, swapping to electronics and Christoph’s clean vocals in the chorus. The Tragedy delves further into trap inspired electronics with seductive melodies in the verse. This track gradually introduces the heavier instrumentation. This sees the track develop and increase in drama as it progresses. The orchestral strings layered in add another layer to the range of textures.
The lyrical themes explored throughout the tracks on this album are all so relevant at the present. Bonfire Of The Millennials expresses the feelings which so many are experiencing. The chorus hook “you always taught me that I should think about the future, as you threw it on the fire” really hits home. Their hit single STFU also resonates with so many frustrate with the rise in fake news, especially during the difficulties of the past year. Annisokay’s music captures the mood of these real-life frustrations rather aptly. It just shows how music can be a powerful medium of expression. I Saw What You Did brings heavy aggressive harsh vocals and instrumentation. The chorus is anthemic, but still maintains a heavier sound. The breakdown delves even deeper into heavier territory. Annisokay have produced an incredibly dynamic album that delivers their staples of anthemic choruses and catchy riffs, whilst exploring different soundscapes and textures. Their capable of packing punches with the heavy side to their sound and creating atmospheric melodies that transport you to another realm. • HR
For fans of: I Prevail, Sleeping With Sirens, Bring Me The Horizon
‘Aurora’ by Annisokay is out now on Arising Empire.
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets
SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound
With a name like that, it mightn’t come as too much of a surprise that Psychedelic Porn Crumpets hail from the same Australian psychedelic rock scenes as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, and in turn actually have quite a few similarities beyond that. Both bands have a clearly varied musical palette, especially delving into the realms of classic rock worship, and while their proficiency makes itself known, it doesn’t necessarily manifest in the most appealing way. But whereas King Gizzard have the elasticity and prolificness to imply that at least something might stick, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets feel rather boxed in on their new album SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound. On paper, there’s definitely something to like about the threads of retro-rock that they weave, in the soaring yowls of guitar that’ll reshape songs like Tripolasaur and Mango Terrarium, but it’s honestly a battle for space amongst a mix that’s so consistently loud and without modulation. It can be overbearingly maximalist when that’s the only mode that Psychedelic Porn Crumpets really display, and it’s tripled down on when factoring the blazing intensity and colour they insist on affixing all the way through, and the blown-out production style that can really grate, especially on Jack McEwan’s vocals early on.
It’s all a very dense sound that might chisel out a strong melody every now and then, but typically comes across as a wall of sound trying to be full force, all the time. It’s more overwhelming than outright bad, especially given that a lot of the same sonic textures and shades carry over from track to track, and can really be a slog to try and get through when it hits a certain point. This is the band’s longest to date and it really feels that way, especially when the energy and uplifting mood attempts to filter down into the sort of summery, festival-ready lyrical arc that isn’t threadbare but doesn’t have much structure on an album like this. Granted, McEwan’s occasionally garbled performance takes some of the focus away from that anyway, but it also highlights some of the fundamental issues that Psychedelic Porn Crumpets pick up here. As far as this sort of huge classic rock throwback goes, they’ve got the flash and spectacle in spades, but at the expense of construction and dynamics that are the most necessary; SHYGA!… is certainly big, but it isn’t grounded or in service to much more besides that. Sure, there’ll be a certain audience who’ll find it easy to just get lost in the dazzle, though that would be to discount a sustainability and potential to meaningfully evolve that such an approach seldom offers. • LN
For fans of: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, POND, Post Animal
‘SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound’ by Psychedelic Porn Crumpets is released on 5th February on Marathon Artists.
To Kill Achilles
Something To Remember Me By
Within the first couple of tracks on To Kill Achilles’ Something To Remember Me By, there’s the suspicion that they might be hitting their particular wave rather late. This sort of wrenching, stream-of-consciousness hardcore à la Counterparts or Polar would’ve killed in the mid-2010s, but now, when it’s currently on the wane, the cracks begin to show in earnest, exacerbated by the fact that To Kill Achilles are clearly following the scene rubric effectively to the letter. That is to say, Mark Tindal has the scraping intensity of a man who’s just stamped on his own heart and larynx, but for the story of a man looking back at the experiences that have led him to take his own life, the impact comes more in that delivery than anything else. Moments of honesty do punctuate, in the narrator’s growing dependency on alcohol and forcing their way through life after the loss of a parent on There’s No Right Way To Say This and Beautiful Mourning, and the suicide note of a title track is an impactful closer, but there’s also the impression that a lot of To Kill Achilles’ emotionality outside of that is rooted in how blunt and broad a lot of this material can inherently be. Apart from the ham-fisted philosophy of We Only Exist When We Exist Together, there isn’t much that elevates above the intensity to give To Kill Achilles definitive staying power, even with the extent that Tindal is clearly throwing himself into it. Especially when the mood rarely evolves, it’s a listen characterised by how full-force it can be all the time, and to be honest, that can become really tiring when it’s drawn out to this extent.
That particular criticism might appear to be defeating the object of what hardcore like this is aiming to do, but it’s a result of To Kill Achilles’ overall competence as musicians struggling to manifest as much more. They aren’t a band that feel that distinct yet; they’ve got moments of bleak atmosphere like on Black Marble that flow alongside cinematic melodic hardcore complete with an unmistakable coat of gloss. If nothing else though, they’ve really hit a stride when it comes to that sound, given how big-budget this all feels and how inclusive it is of some welcome shifts into While She Sleeps-esque metalcore on fourpercent or sharper post-hardcore flourishes on Oh God, I’ve Never Felt This Low. But again, the problem is how little modulation this album has on the whole, tweaking its sound occasionally but ending up with a lot of the same moods and beats hit regardless. It makes it feel as though To Kill Achilles’ bluster has them going round in circles rather than surging forward as it should, and for an album that isn’t exorbitantly long, it’s not as thrilling to get through as it should be. At least it’s produced well and sounds high-quality because of it, and even outside of Tindal’s vocals, there’s clear passion in the instrumentation that comes through and is in-keeping with the scene as a whole. Sticking with that and chiselling a more distinct, defiant statement from what they have ultimately feels like the way for To Kill Achilles to go, given that on its own, Something To Remember Me By does have good moments that feel marred by some general bloat. It’ll be less of an issue for some, and for those who’ve been craving more of this sort of thing, it’ll undoubtedly suffice as it is, but right now, it’s not entirely there. • LN
For fans of: Counterparts, Polar, Being As An Ocean
‘Something To Remember Me By’ by To Kill Achilles is released on 5th February on Arising Empire.
Heave Blood & Die
There’s a lot about Heave Blood & Die that calls to mind Refused – both stand as staunchly, vitally political in their works, with a genre-bending creativity and fearlessness to show it. Where Refused are sharper in their execution though, Heave Blood & Die’s favouring of an unsettling slow burn has served to define them, drawing from post-punk and post-metal with hints of shoegaze for a more formidable sound in terms of size. That’s what Post People holds onto anyway, as the sort of implacable listen that mightn’t always click but feels impressively bold in everything it tries regardless. Elements like the horns that pierce through Metropolitan Jam and Continental Drift exacerbate the manic, fiery sensibility that try to foster; conversely, there’s a haunted, Deftones-esque simmer to Kawanishi Aeroplane and a heaving thud to Everything Is Now that brings forward the band’s more oblique, experimental streak. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t always come together as well as the band might like, displaying a lot of prominent ideas without the payoff to wholly solidify them. As impressive as the vision of Post People is, where a lot of Heave Blood & Die’s abrasion is tempered by a strong clarity in the production, it’s just not always the most engaging of listens. It’s where the peripheral comparisons to Refused might hurt them the most, where there clearly isn’t as much refinement going on to really go above and beyond.
Then again, that lack of tightness might be part of the point, especially given how a lot of Heave Blood & Die’s work focuses on wide vistas of human progression and evolution, where the notion of ‘post people’ is one that sees humanity ascend past violence and capitalism that continues to stifle growth as a species. Along with Karl Løftingsmo Pedersen’s abstract vocal and writing style, and the very dense, layered composition method of the album, it’s the sort of projection that’s deliberately open in the directions it takes and the ideas it incorporates. It makes for an interesting listen, all things considered, as various elements of the album will spiral and swell in notably unpredictable ways. For as difficult to get along with as it is, it’s not a boring album, and that’s definitely to Heave Blood & Die’s credit. For the right people, this will be something that’ll be immensely worth returning to, to break down the layers and inflections that comprise it and really make it a fascinating listen. Otherwise, it’s worth a go, if only to see just how deeply this band goes, but that deeper resonance is by no means guaranteed. • LN
For fans of: Solstafir, The Good The Bad & The Zugly, Jesu
‘Post People’ by Heave Blood & Die is released on 5th February on Fysisk Format.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)