REVIEW ROUND-UP: Foo Fighters, Scarlxrd, Teenage Wrist

Foo Fighters
Medicine At Midnight

One interesting observation that can be made about seeing the Foo Fighters live is that, when you’ve done it once, you never really need to do it again. As great as they may be, you’re not going to a Foo Fighters show to see them do new stuff, and they aren’t going to zhoosh up the formula much more than what they’ve already established. That same thought process can be applied to their new albums as well, where they might have a few good songs, but nothing worth subbing out the genuine hits and classics for. It’s the constant downside of being a band as big as the Foo Fighters are, where the only ones left to actually catch up to are themselves, and the extent to which that can hurt them can really be seen on an album like Concrete And Gold. That album felt intended to be an attempt for the Foo Fighters to buck back against their legacy and keep pushing forward, only to wind up supremely bloated and unmemorable after it all. If anything, it serves as the very open question in the prologue of Medicine At Midnight, where “What is the point of new Foo Fighters material?” looms heavy and low. If nothing else then, Medicine At Midnight at least feels like the work of a band with their bearings straight for where they are in their career – it’s the big stadium-rock celebration that people will come to the Foo Fighters for, where the only thing that matters is how strongly the hooks land. And on that basis, this is a clear step up from its predecessor where, even when the lyrics don’t matter (and for songs trying to get a bit more conscious like Waiting For A War and No Son Of Mine, it could be an issue), the mood and rollicking good nature can make up for a lot. But at the same time though, it’s back to the usual issue for new Foo Fighters albums, namely in what this adds overall to their current catalogue. There’s a pop-ready tightness that even verges on disco on Cloudspotter and the title track, and in terms of pure colour Making A Fire is a great opener, but otherwise, it’s back to the middle of the road rather regularly.

To be fair though, the Foo Fighters are good enough at what they do to where that isn’t automatically a criticism, and their balance between being a rock band and having a guaranteed mainstream foothold still holds steady without folding too far into either. Greg Kurstin once again returns to lend some production gleam that might take the edge off some of the guitars, but never to where they’re unidentifiable; meanwhile Rami Jaffee leaves some of his most prominent marks yet as the band’s full-time keyboardist, without running the risk of this sounding like anyone else. It’s all very much standard of a Foo Fighters album, right down to the classic rock fumbles in Shame Shame and Chasing Birds that just sort of trudge by. They could pull this off in their sleep at this point, but that’s also indicative of just how tightly the Foo Fighters have honed their particular approach, to where it does look easy on Medicine At Midnight without feeling effortless. Even on a misfire like Concrete And Gold, it’s hard to accuse them of being lazy, and on an openly leaner, more energetic album like this, it’s good to lean into that course correction. But once again, it circles back to Medicine At Midnight being just another Foo Fighters album because of that. It’s not a bad Foo Fighters album – Dave Grohl is still powerful and engaging as a frontman, and the band can still play – but the albatross of modern rock staples isn’t getting any lighter, nor do the band seem to be trying to better themselves in that regard. It’s the thankless task of being a band this big and continuing to release new music, something which the Foo Fighters lean into without leaving much of an impression on. Even so, it’s the usual crowdpleasing fare that this band’s brand has been built on for years; it’s not wavering just yet, and on this evidence, it probably never will.

6/10

For fans of: Queens Of The Stone Age, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Royal Blood

‘Medicine At Midnight’ by Foo Fighters is out now on Roswell Records / RCA Records.


Scarlxrd
Dxxm II

An artist like Scarlxrd is not meant to have a career as long or densely packed as he’s had. This is his thirteenth album since 2016, and even just in the handful that we’ve covered, he’s only gotten more and more predictable and derivative of himself. The whole trap-metal thing might be good for an initial shock, but it’s not something that carries over across a long period of time, and refusing to switch things up by any considerable amount is only going to be detrimental to him above anyone else. And so, it begs the question of why this newest album is framed as a sequel to 2018’s Dxxm, when really any of Scarlxrd’s subsequent releases could’ve fit the bill in terms of tone and content. He isn’t an artist with much versatility, and although the vision of this album seems to be opened slightly, another block of noise clocking at the best part of an hour just ends up really tiresome when he’s leaned on this exact prospect numerous times before. The sharper quake of Utxpia = Mass Genxcide and the industrial grind of Red Light are among a handful of moments that give glances towards diversifying, but they’re also stranded in a sea of monotonous slabs of bass and the odd industrial-metal guitar rev that’s buoyed Scarlxrd’s career for years without evolving. True, Dxxm II is better produced than a lot of Scarlxrd’s hard-rap peers thanks to its collages of samples, but any sense of modulation or distinction is swallowed up just as quickly as it comes. This album is 21 tracks long, something which the unrelenting sameness of it all can make difficult to sit through, let alone remember. And yes, that’s also been a problem with Scarlxrd’s other albums, but when he’s put out so much music and a factor as basic as making individual tracks stand out still hasn’t been rectified, that needs to be taken into account.

It’s not like anyone actually comes to a Scarlxrd album for more than the rush, but even so, there’s a limit to how much that can be tolerated before it descends into screaming the same lines into the void over and over again. Lyrical flavour has never been a big factor of Scarlxrd’s music, but it gets increasingly boring to hear him go off on the same stock topics, where flexing and nihilism are the defining characteristics that are pretty much stripped of identifiable quality at this point. If nothing else, at least Scarlxrd himself is a force to be reckoned with on these tracks, being able to switch between yammering flows and genuinely impressive, caustic screams fairly easily. But again, it’s a lack of modulation that turns this album into such a slog; when that rage is the most prevalent feature without anything deeper to temper it, it becomes really boring to get through when it’s stretched across almost an hour. And yet again, when this has been a prevalent issue that’s held Scarlxrd back across multiple albums, to just leave it as it is isn’t good enough. There’s barely any point in singling out specific tracks here, given that so few of them stand out on a deeper level beyond flagrant edginess, and it winds up being so dull to get through. It’s not without merit, most of which is tied to that incredibly surface-level appeal, but what Dxxm II highlights the most is how similar Scarlxrd’s albums are to Michael Bay’s Transformers films – they’re all loud, overly long and roughly the same while being saddled with borderline incomprehensibility, and when they’re over, there’s absolutely no impetus to return to them again.

4/10

For fans of: Ghostemane, BVDLVD, Corpse Husband

‘DXXM II’ by Scarlxrd is out now on LXRD RECORDS.


Teenage Wrist
Earth Is A Black Hole

You’d be forgiven for not exactly remembering Teenage Wrist from 2018. They slotted into the shoegaze-y grunge wave with their debut Chrome Neon Jesus, an album that did well for them but doesn’t exactly find much airtime nowadays. Honestly, with some of the changes around this follow-up, it could easily be presumed that was as good as this band would get; not only have they currently slimmed down to a two-piece with guitarist Marshall Gallagher taking on a full-blown frontman role, but rumblings of a sonic reinvention involving elements of pop and electronica have left a sour taste enough times to yield more than a bit of apprehension. But results do speak for themselves, and while calling Earth Is A Black Hole a top-tier shake-up with barely a weak moment to its name might seem unorthodox, it’s ultimately true. The magnitude of the surprise is certainly a factor, but above all, Teenage Wrist just have a spectacular talent for blending and accentuating the positive aspects of this wider sonic palette. There’s definitely more of a pop-punk and emo flavour to songs like Yellowbelly and Wasting Time, but the grungier tones and dreamy shoegaze production haven’t gone anywhere. If anything, they’re the best complementary foil that Teenage Wrist currently have, not only lending significant amounts of body to the more direct cuts, but leaning into sharper production styles when they’re given the floor on Silverspoon and the title track. As a genuine nexus between ‘90s worship and the embrace of modernity, Earth Is A Black Hole is quite possibly the strongest example to come out in years, a factor of Teenage Wrist actually knowing how to compose a sound where the two halves can work together. Even when they go borderline emo-rap with the synthetic beat and watery guitars that kick off High Again, it still feels as though it’s leading to something, rather than being just a modern touchstone wedged in to tick off a box.

It’s across the board too, as Teenage Wrist squeeze every drop of potential from their newly galvanised selves for an alt-rock album that’s incredibly classic in execution. It very much is indebted to the ‘90s in the approach of all killer, no filler hook-craft, as massive chorus after massive chorus pour out with the gusto and gumption of a band clearly looking to be the biggest in the world. It’s not high art, but for what Teenage Wrist are aiming to do, they’re pretty much flawless at it here, and that highlights just how well Gallagher is suited to being a frontman for this incarnation in particular. He’s not a tremendously vivid singer, but he really goes for power and emotion within the emo headspace, with a delivery that really elevates the like Yellowbelly and gives High Again and the title track their respective commands of tension. Even in some pretty simple writing, Teenage Wrist just know how to work with what they have, in the acknowledgment that a world continually falling into disrepair will weigh anyone down, but the moments of light and happiness that can be found within it should be cherished for as long as possible. Factor in the glittery surge of New Emotion, the sun-kissed comfort of Yellowbelly or the powering determination of Wasting Time, and it makes for an album that’s so easy to become swept up in and even easier to totally adore. By no means was this expected from Teenage Wrist, but that makes it all the sweeter, the alt-rock opus that feels fresh while still being rooted to classic sounds, and barely losing its luster for even a second. This is the sort of album that will thrive with replays in the summer months, maybe even locking in some year ends spots in the process – it’s certainly likely.

9/10

For fans of: Basement, Citizen, Microwave

‘Earth Is A Black Hole’ by Teenage Wrist is released on 12th February on Epitaph Records.


Drones
Our Hell Is Right Here

Drones have often felt as though they’ve been simmering below the surface when it comes UK rock prominence, probably because they’ve never truly displayed the spike of potential to really put them over the top. They’ve always fell between uniformly solid and overall good, with a Rise Against style of punk mixed with UK post-hardcore à la Funeral For A Friend, but that’s yet to form the definitive moment for them to break them out. It isn’t something they’re advancing all that much with either, as Our Hell Is Right Here feels like Drones once again reasserting that they can do without much else. They’ve got the foundation to get there should they want to, with the broad punk rollicks that punch up the guitars and bass for a heavier, chunkier sound, but outside of the gnashing gallop of the title track or the acoustic left turn of Listen, not a lot that Drones do immediately sticks in the brain. Lois McDougall’s vocals have more power than precision on top of that, and though it can make for a thrilling punk ride in the moment, it’s a fair bit less so in the long term. It’s partly because, for as close as they get at multiple times, Drones don’t really have the explosive hooks here of the band’s they’re drawing from, and the fact that, across thirteen tracks, things can run together, Our Hell Is Right Here suffers from the bloat that can really knock a punk album hard.

That’s not to say that it’s an album devoid of enjoyment, because that’s emphatically not true. The number of times that Drones get as close to sticking the landing as they do informs that, and their strength as lyricists does a lot to help them maintain their speed and power. That comes from a combination of McDougall as a vocalist and an incisive, vital lyrical style, focusing on past experiences and vices that have chopped away at her mental health, and trying to claw back the strength to rise above them. It even helps recentre some of the wider-reaching punk moments, like the visceral state-of-things address to open the album on Please Vacate The Planet, and the broadside towards corruption and the abuse of power on the title track that see Petrol Girls’ Ren Aldridge completely in her element. It makes for a rawness across the album that the clearer, measured production job might otherwise shift aside, but once again, it’s the foundation of Drones’ output and the balance within it that sees them keeping afloat. That degree of stability might strike as a limitation to some – after all, this isn’t an album that moves the needle particularly far when it comes to where Drones are heading – but it’s a necessary reinforcement that they’re more than capable of reaching that greatness. It’d be nice if they got there sooner rather than later, but the promise is still there regardless.

6/10

For fans of: Rise Against, Anti-Flag, Funeral For A Friend

‘Our Hell Is Right Here’ by Drones is released on 12th February on Lockjaw Records.


Deacon Blue
Riding On The Tide Of Love

Outside of huge household names, there’s a reason that new music from ‘legacy’ acts tends to go ignored, that being it usually feels like an exercise in spinning wheels that rarely leads to anything interesting. For Deacon Blue, that’s almost a perfect fit, seeing as their modern recognisability has boiled down to Real Gone Kid and Dignity without much else, but Riding On The Tide Of Love being a lockdown-recorded companion to last year’s City Of Love at least feels conceptually more distinct. That thought is quickly consigned to merely being ‘on paper’ though, not least when by far the best song here Not Gonna Be That Girl is clearly trying to replicate the successes of Dignity almost shamelessly. Then again, it’s one of the few moments on this album that can suitably hope to achieve something like that, given how rushed and abortive so much of it feels. That’s the case on even the most surface level at only eight songs long, but in the loose, messy mixing of the title track or the formless structures of Look Up and It’s Still Early that can barely assemble themselves into a hook or decent melody, there’s a feeling of low effort and stakes that makes pretty much the entire album feel inconsequential. They’re drawing from the style of radio-ready folk-pop with no drive or gusto, really only coming together when they go back to their sophist-pop roots on Not Gonna Be That Girl.

At this stage though, that’s really all indicative of the band that Deacon Blue are. There’s no expectation for them to do great things, and that really plays out here, where the lyrics are better written than most of their vintage but ultimately feel weightless, and the performances from anyone aren’t much to write home about. To their credit, both Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh still have good voices (even if there’s a cragginess to the former in places that doesn’t suit what he’s going for), but they mostly aren’t used to their fullest in songs that rarely swell or stick. There’s a flatness to this album that doesn’t suit the rollicking reputation that Deacon Blue’s music has, instead choosing to wallow in tones that feel explicitly older and more weathered, and not in an appealing way. A song like She Loved The Snow seeks to rectify that in its synthetic backbeat, but it mainly just draws attention to itself in a really negative light, like a band trying to feign some kind of relevance and trendiness in the most superficial way possible. Above all, the whole album just comes across like a half-hearted overextension, where ideas from their previous album have been somewhat extrapolated beyond their bounds for a collection of extras that can’t hide how throwaway it is. It’s hard to see this even satisfying Deacon Blue diehards, with its threadbare nature that isn’t satisfying to listen to, and an overall tone that can barely squeak past forgettably mediocre.

4/10

For fans of: U2, Big Country, Del Amitri

‘Riding On The Tide Of Love’ by Deacon Blue is out now on earMUSIC.


Kill The Ideal
Against The World

Right from the start, something about Kill The Ideal’s Against The World feels off. It’s not necessarily the sound itself – amongst a flood of throwback-rock chancers, it’s at least refreshing to have a band at least endeavouring to modernise that brand of ‘80s hard rock – but more a case of what they can do with it, namely very, very little. To call it dated is probably inaccurate, but it’s desperately out of style, reminiscent of the hard rock bands that cropped out in the first of the 2010s that attempted to coax the sound through the flimsiest ‘contemporary’ lens and failed almost every time. That’s the vibe that Against The World gives off; it feels really underdeveloped, banking its identity on volume and the occasional burble of cheap power-metal synth without benefiting what’s at the core. If anything, it’s not enough to mask a cheapness that appears as a band happening upon a sound they can’t make the most of. The polish is drizzled on at the expense of any groove or guitar definition, while Ash Wilson will try and crowbar in some dynamism in a vocal performance midway between Geddy Lee and a very thin Bruce Dickinson, but in a way that can sound like an impression or a parody of a metal vocalist. There’s rarely the swell or bravado that Kill The Ideal were clearly hoping for, instead replaced by astroturfed modern rock bereft of memorability; there’s a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song here, and even it comes off as the same musical wallpaper as everything else here.

At the same time though, there’s a certain admiration for how deeply Kill The Ideal have thrown themselves into their work; there’s clearly the ambition to be a big band, as a song like Let’s Get Excited sets up, and Ten and Meds try to expand with more emotionally driven subject matter. The problem, though, is the same lack of development bleeds down into that ambition, leaving a very hollow set of songs with pretensions towards depth and populism that are greater than they can manage. There’s nothing particularly investing about these songs, regardless of how Kill The Ideal want to spin them, to where even the fundamental hooks of Immigrant Song, truncated as it may be, can’t click. Flash is undeniably being placed above substance, but when even that’s so shoddy below the gloss to fix everything in place, it’s hard to know what the appeal even is here. It’s not particularly anthemic or arresting in its size, and a blurred-out instrumental palette just leaves zero impression nowadays, especially when it’s as blatant as this. Perhaps that’s why Normandie’s Philip Strand is borderline indistinguishable on Save The World, as to not be too much of a reminder that, while his band do have some of the same issues, they’re usually capable of working through them a lot more effectively than this.

3/10

For fans of: New Device, Heaven’s Basement, The Treatment

‘Against The World’ by Kill The Ideal is out now.


Arcaeon
Cascadence

If anything about Arcaeon sounds familiar, it’s probably because a very dense but soaring progressive metalcore band inspired by video games is how Periphery have presented themselves for years. Yes, the similarities are very noticeable, but that doesn’t necessarily hurt Cascadence, mostly because Arcaeon generally do a good of emulating that set of ideas. You can still tell this is a band whose approach isn’t quite as well-carved yet – the need for some cleaner synth blending is easier to pick up on – but it’s impressive how much Arcaeon achieve for a relatively new band on their debut album. In terms of composition, rough edges are pretty minimal, and there’s a surprising amount of production value that allows these songs to really sparkle. It sounds like a big, high-end album in how crisp and colourful the electronics are, and how the guitars still have crunch and power among it all. Again, the Periphery comparisons are easy to make, tied up by Stuart Sarre’s clean, soaring voice that has pretty much the exact same touch of scene crossover appeal as Spencer Sotelo, but Arcaeon able to capture the adventurousness and borderline accessibility that make Periphery such a worthwhile prospect. What’s more, the tightness of Cascadence is notable, where songs are still allowed to reshape themselves and open up (see the two-part Zenith), but it’s never an overextension, or as though the band are straying into territory they can’t suitably manage.

Perhaps if there was a necessary criticism to be made, it’s that Arcaeon aren’t on the same level when it comes to crafting a hook, and the album’s big sci-fi concept really isn’t anything to get all that excited about on its own. But even then, the flickers of a band who could potentially build on what they have to reach those higher rungs are still present here. Again, Sarre’s vocals are more than capable of finding a rock-solid chorus or vocal line to latch onto, in the vein of Ezekiel’s Wheel or Heretic, and the emphasis on a changing colour spectrum throughout the narrative at least hints at a throughline that Arcaeon are trying to make their own. Ultimately, it’s a far more competent first step than many in their position will take; it shows a band who have a solid idea of where they’re going that could reasonably shaped into something of their own, and the musical acumen and talent already to achieve it. This is actually a rather pleasant surprise given where a lot of tech-metal has gone in the past few years, as Arcaeon never downplay the benefit that colour and vibrancy can bring to this sort of music, and embrace the synaptic electricity and verve of it all. It’s worth a listen from a band quickly becoming ones to watch in this scene, and who already seem capable of more exciting fare than most.

7/10

For fans of: Periphery, Protest The Hero, The Arusha Accord

‘Cascadence’ by Arcaeon is released on 12th February.


LÜT
Mersmak

LÜT’s big moment of prominence came when they livestreamed themselves shovelling snow last year as a means of promoting their new album, but honestly, they’re the sort of band for whom the music speaks for itself. They’re in roughly the same camp as fellow Norwegians Blood Command, in the vein of super-excitable, kick-in-the-teeth punk with a bit of a hardcore edge, but not so much as to gate off a truly ironclad accessible streak. It’s a sound that’s always been great and Mersmak is no exception, even with the language barrier that could potentially be a mitigating factor in any other circumstance. In this case, the fact that it’s primarily sung in Norwegian adds to a lot of the breakneck feel; a whole translation isn’t really needed when, from the title and various song names, a general theme of fast, visceral excess can be parsed out that LÜT embody excellently. The shrieking vocals of Markus Danjord are suitably adrenalised, with the rest of the band keeping pace impressively well, both in the flattening bursts of gang vocals and in some of the most joyous punk instrumentals released so far this year. It’s rather telling that the only point where LÜT start to waver is in the slower, grungier closer INDIÄ, given that they’re unquestionably at their best when fully embracing their rowdier, more bracing side.

It’s the overall group of sounds they pull from that give Mersmak even more of a boost as well, aligned with sunnier US punk in its big major keys and distinctive indie bounce. It’s where the band’s shared love of Paramore feels indebted, as the title track and We Will Save Scandirock coax their tight indie-pop progressions blessed with an unwavering infectiousness through a punk lens that allows them to roar to life. It’s the same with hard rock on LÜTetro and down-the-middle, Foo Fighters-esque fare on Ingenting Å Angre På, as LÜT put their stamp across a variety of influences while tying them together to sound almost unequivocally joyous. The production helps a lot here, ensuring the guitars can scream out like concentrated dopamine rushes, while the tight drums and bass have ubiquitous presence to keep the album rocketing forward. It’s a very straight-laced sort of appeal that Mersmak has, where the potential to grip almost exclusively hinges on the rambunctiousness and gusto which LÜT display a masterclass in bringing. Again, the dip towards the end takes a bit of wind out of the sails, but not enough to distract from this being a riotous good time and one of punk’s shining lights for 2021. It would take a serious downer to not at least crack a smile at some point here; that’s how potent Mersmak’s effect is.

8/10

For fans of: Blood Command, The Dirty Nil, Turbonegro

‘Mersmak’ by LÜT is released on 12th February on Indie Recordings.


Indica Blues
We Are Doomed

In genres like doom or stoner-rock, it’s strange that themes of apocalypse or dynamic societal destruction aren’t addressed more often; after all, what better sound is there to serve as a backdrop than crushing, pummellingly slow masses of riffs deliberately designed to evoke the image of burning? Granted, it’s more a case of burning weed than the entire landscape ahead, but Indica Blues find the translation easy enough to make, even if the end result isn’t exactly pushing the boat out. For the catastrophe and annihilation that underscores We Are Doomed, it’s really just more of the same, as songs will wind across six-plus minute runtimes with the slow, oppressive intensity of the desert sun, and with very little out of the ordinary. It’s the problem that a good deal of stoner-rock has, where it starts to blur together regardless of quality, and outside of the earworm riff of Cosmic Nihilism and the liberal use of whammy bar across the across (always good), it can be a bit by-the-numbers. On the bright side, it’s not as laborious as some stoner-rock can be when it really tries to vainly stretch itself out, but it’s hardly a standout example of a genre that can be a bit repetitive at the best of times.

That’s really only a caveat when viewed in a certain light though; as an example of stoner-rock with all the trimmings to give it that recognisability, We Are Doomed will at least scratch an itch. Looking past Tom Pilsworth’s vocals initially being noticeably too low in the mix to do anything (though it’s thankfully rectified soon enough), there’s a strong compositional skill within this band, especially when it comes to producing their searing wall of sound. Saying it’s heavy goes without saying, but there’s also flexibility in how solos will burn their way through the mix, and how Andrew Haines-Villalta’s bass has a tangibly powerful presence within the mix. As with all stoner-rock, it’s the formidability of the atmosphere that’s most important, and you’ll rarely find a moment across We Are Doomed that doesn’t find Indica Blues comfortably in that position. It makes for an example of the solid genre albums that stoner-rock tends to produce, never exploring past its set means, but ensuring it can offer a lot with what it has at its disposal. As such, We Are Doomed is still pretty good, if a bit limited in terms of longevity when there is so much similar fare also out there. It’s good for what it offers, which is probably the most useful way to view it.

6/10

For fans of: Monster Magnet, Elder, Elephant Tree

‘We Are Doomed’ by Indica Blues is released on 12th February on APF Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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