Life In Your Glass World
The halcyon days of Citizen’s generation of emo have long since passed, and nowadays it barely even leaves a trace. That wave really was formative for so much of the genre throughout the 2010s with beloved bands and albums viewed as modern classics, but in the way that Turnover have made an irreversible shift to indie-pop and Balance And Composure have been gone for a couple of years now, there isn’t much left. It’s basically Citizen themselves who’ve acted as one of the few remaining pillars lately, despite never being one of the scene’s biggest bands, but they’ve stuck to what they help set up well enough to remain stable among the collapse and turbulence. At least, that was pre-Life In Your Glass World, which looks to be Citizen’s biggest conscientious attempt at uprooting themselves and moving to more direct, dare say poppier climes to see where that might get them. For all the skepicism that might cause though, Life In Your Glass World is ultimately a lateral move more than anything else, where the beating heart of Citizen remains unchanged beneath an execution that’s slightly sharper. The tone is set right from the off with the pounding, sweltering pace of Death Dance Approximate and I Want To Kill You, where the penchant for a more immediate production style trending towards pop-rock is laid down. It’s more peripherally emo at this stage – and even that might be generous with a song like Fight Beat – but the grit and gumption remains firm, particularly in Mat Kerekes’ strident voice that brings out a more barbed quality to Pedestal or a strain and tension to Black And Red or Glass World. It’s a pretty spot-on balance between emo and alt-pop, where a more rounded guitar tone is supplemented by thicker bass and drum presence that’ll hold the propulsiveness firm throughout. The one caveat is that the pop hooks aren’t always to the same standard; the tone and mood will have the most resonance overall, and there are moments like the impregnable vocal effects on Blue Sunday that prevent the album from being as catchy as it probably could.
Even so, the advancement and overhaul are both impressive, especially when it comes to tightening up what Citizen have basically always done. This doesn’t feel cynically motivated like other such shifts have in the past, but rather, a band looking at what’s best for them moving forward and applying it to the same creative streak they’ve always had. In the lineage of Citizen albums, and after the slightly sharper As You Please, Life In Your Glass World refines that once more in an equally tasteful fashion. In turn, it makes for a brighter album where that feels necessary to its theming, in shaking off the negativity of life and finding room to simply breathe and make peace once again. The band have described this as album as ‘an exorcism of pent-up negativity’, and that definitely feels accurate in how the clearer sound meshes and blends with the natural richness that’s come to define Citizen’s output. It’s an older take on that sound and works a lot better for it, where experience and the levity of shedding mounds of pre-existing baggage feel more palpable when they do hit. It also does a lot to foster the moments where the stress and frustration remains like in the coiled, barked delivery of Death Dance Approximate; the end result is exceptionally solid across the board in every direction it heads in, with Citizen being just as fully-formed as ever, even if they don’t truly dazzle at any point. Again, it’s a lateral move, where the band’s strengths and the affectations that come along with them have made the easy transposition over, and that’s something that not everyone can pull off. It probably won’t get the attention it really should, mostly because Citizen are typically seen as a band landlocked to their particular anachronistic scene, but that judgement isn’t really fair to an album that aims a fair amount higher and rather resoundingly succeeds. • LN
For fans of: Turnover, Trophy Eyes, Real Friends
‘Life In Your Glass World’ by Citizen is released on 26th March on Run For Cover Records.
It almost feels Elasticity stands as proof that System Of A Down won’t be putting out any substantive new releases any time soon. The fact that these five tracks started life as full-blown SOAD songs before none of the band could agree on what to do with them isn’t shocking in the slightest, nor is the fact that Serj Tankian has resorted to filling in the holes of his band’s notoriously spotty schedule. Granted, Tankian’s solo output is never bound by the elasticated alt-metal of his main band; he can cast his net out a lot wider even outside of alternative music, and that tends to mean that the peaks and troughs of his work can be even more defined, and the quality is even less predictable. That’s why Elasticity is so odd in principle, as a collection of tracks that could fit seamlessly on a modern SOAD album, were it to happen, and performed in a pretty by-the-book manner for what they are. Even as a typically whiplashed change of pace from Tankian’s last two solo outings – those being a classical and jazz fusion album respectively – it’s probably the closest he’s come to outright emulating his band’s work on his own, and the merit in that can be seen. There’s a more contemporary element to it in the pulsing electronics, but there’s a pleasant familiarity to the way Your Mom and Rumi will bend and flow across different stripes of alt-metal in a way that’s somewhat theatrically managed, or how the title track and Electric Yerevan pick up very similar guitar tones that slice much more cleanly through a tidied-up mix. There’s more polish to this than SOAD albums will often have, but that’s more a notable feature than either a benefit or a drawback. It’s mostly lateral, if anything, especially when it puts Tankian at the front of the mix where his enigmatic, cackling performance comes most into view. To nitpick, there’s definitely a hint of rust in his delivery – most likely a factor of age – but again, there’s familiarity in the way he’ll blurt out syllables on the title track or fall into his fluttering lower register on How Many Times? that’s an easy sell regardless. It’s an unquestionably focused release because of all that, both on the basis of SOAD-adjacent material and certainly for Tankian himself, and the brevity of the EP overall keeps it held together even more firmly.
It’s a good approach to take in all honesty, where the approach of classic System Of A Down hasn’t been given an airing in a fair amount of time, and jumping on it now with the aptitude that Tankian still has feels like a worthwhile creative choice to make. Of course, there’s a comparative smoothness to Elasticity’s version that one might expect when placed along side how barbed and madcap a song like Sugar is, though it’s not sanitised like it could very well be. Yes, repeatedly using the R-slur on the chorus of Your Mom is pretty tasteless and dated – not to mention at odds with the progressive political angle than informs this material – but How Many Times? and Rumi show how this material can work, offering the same viewpoint through an older lens where Tankian bemoans the lack of progress that’s really been made, and how his children will likely be caught in the middle of the same fruitless conflicts and divides. It’s Electric Yerevan that offers the sharpest strike though, in the exploitation of Armenia and its people that continues even today, and the violent action of police taken against peaceful protests from people who simply don’t want to suffer. That’s the sort of area where Tankian is at his best as an artist, where the vision and scope of his work is so drilled-down and concentrated, and it makes for a truly potent closing track on an EP that, all around, has more strength than might’ve initially been expected. This easily could’ve been a slapdash repurposing of ideas on the cutting room floor, but it’s the best approximation of System Of A Down music that we’re likely to get for a long time, and having that same DNA only elevates them even further. That’s not to say that Elasticity is great or an out-and-out replacement, but the circumstances would dictate that it’s much better to have it than nothing at all.
For fans of: System Of A Down, Stone Sour, Scars On Broadway
‘Elasticity’ by Serj Tankian is out now on Alchemy Recordings / BMG.
Give One Take One
Going into their third full-length, the conclusion can be drawn that ‘68 are a difficult band to talk about. That’s at least somewhat refreshing within the format of a two-piece riff-rock outfit, generally driven by Josh Scogin bringing over the creative drive that defined his roles in The Chariot and Norma Jean, but it’s also noteworthy when it comes to how unconventionally difficult their music can be. It’s louder and more abrasive than the norm, sure, but there’s a lot of room for fractures and instability left in that breaks any sort of structure wide open. In this setting, the artist that Scogin appears most reminiscent of is Jack White, taking these off-kilter ideas that wouldn’t normally fit in garage-rock and trying to wedge them into those slighter confines anyway. With that in mind, it almost feels down to luck that ‘68 have lasted as long as they have under such a ragged, barely-held-together framework, but there’s also an intrinsic thrill in the fact that they have. It’s not like Give One Take One is widening their reach, but drawing attention to the charged mania of their output once again shines the necessary spotlight on what ‘68 do right. Primarily, it’s down to their wall of sound approach that’s more noticeably visceral; as trite as it is to say that a duo sounds bigger than the sum of their parts, that’s actually key to where ‘68 thrive, in how they’ll embody the sweltering energy of noise-rock and hardcore in a way that similarly structured acts seem terrified to acknowledge. They’ll still pile on the fat riffs and grooves throughout Bad Bite and What You Starve, but even they’ll have more crackling energy and might to them, even outside of more outwardly vicious and incendiary cuts like Nickels And Diamonds and Lovers In Death. A lot of credit needs to go to Nikko Yamada as well, who dishes out the layered, frenetic whirlwinds of drum patterns that will often singlehandedly give these songs significantly more destructive capability. It’s where ‘68 will not so much carve their own space out within the scene as rip the land asunder to find somewhere that suits them; Give One Take One has the rawness that this scene will tout but rarely deliver, cranked up and supremely bolstered by just how wild and unkempt its punk spirit is.
This album in particular operates more to reinforce that fact rather than unearth it though. After all, that’s been ‘68’s calling card since the beginning, never straying away from but simultaneously never needing to. As is the case with an album holding so firmly to the formula then, Scogin’s voice still isn’t great here, in his loose, slurred-over diction that’s presumably trying to fit into the rockstar swagger that ultimately behooves his approach, but it’s where the thrown-together nature of ‘68 is its least appealing. That feeds into his writing to extent too, in the piles of non sequiturs that’ll twist idioms or create scenes to effectively scaffold Scogin’s delivery, but it’s not like there’s nothing there either. It might be a bit fragmented (though even that seems fitting for this album), but there’s definitely a more emotional chord struck here, where Scogin will acknowledge how exposed he is to backlash as a musician and how inequitable to him as a person the whole practice is, but he’ll stick with it out of the love of making music. It’s all told with a snideness and reflexive tone that’s very much to be expected (just look at the opening track The Knife, The Knife, The Knife), but that matches the rawness that is ‘68’s M.O. They’re the sort of rock duo that actually meet the expectations that so many will thrust onto rock duos, and in a strange way, that’s maybe why they’re so difficult to talk about. They’re in a scene that’s promoted in a way to be built exclusively for them, but for the third full-length in a row now, they’ve gone about ripping it up and showing just how misleading that notion actually is. And that’s definitely a good thing, when Give One Take One sets a standard for what rock music like this can be, and how exciting that can feel. • LN
For fans of: Every Time I Die, God Damn, The Chariot
‘Give One Take One’ by ’68 is released on 26th March on Cooking Vinyl Records.
Black Spiders have been gone for quite a long time, but has anyone really noticed? That does seem really harsh to say, but even at their highest profile, they were a band who filled a spot more than anything else. It didn’t help that sonic delineations would put them among throwback-rock and hard rock bands where, at that point in the 2010s, the staleness had begun to take an unmistakable hold, with Black Spiders themselves only marginally ahead of the pack. At best, they had a sense of humour that inevitably made KISS Tried To Kill Me their most recognisable song, but that alone isn’t enough to propel such a belated comeback as this, eight years after their last album. It’s even more true when it’s barely a factor whatsoever on this album, which only exposes how poorly Black Spiders’ sound has really aged in the interim. The pub-rock side of things that Black Spiders inhabit never particularly does, but more so than previously, they seem really short on the inspiration that could, if nothing else, buoy them up a bit more previously. They’ll try and get more playful or lighthearted on Fly In The Soup or Free Ride only for it to wind up in the corny holding pattern that a lot of these bands find themselves in, and particularly on Back In The Convent, there’s a sleaziness in tone that doesn’t hold up today at all, akin to a lot of the classic rock that’ll use “little girl” as a descriptor for a woman. Most of the time, it isn’t that bad – more underwritten on Give ‘Em What They Want or just generic rock ‘n’ roll platitudes on Good Times – though it can be kind of a drag to sit through when the album runs for nearly an hour with only a precious handful of lyrical hooks worth latching onto.
At least it’s better sonically, but that’s more or less a given when, like with a lot of throwback bands in this vein, and especially British ones, the most effort has gone into the sound. Some wonky vocal mixing at times aside, Black Spiders remain pretty reliable when it comes to this side of things, with an unobstructed classic rock mix that feels very pure in its intentions and the pools it’s drawing from. The slower, more doom-inflected moments like Wizard Shall Not Kill Wizard and Down To The River provide the most necessary spice, but when you’re openly searching out this sort of thing, it’s hard to be disappointed by what Black Spiders offer on the whole. The guitars have a nice amount of meat across the board, as does the rhythm section, and production and composition generally fits together in the necessary way to objectively work with this sound. There’s nothing that goes above and beyond in terms of flavour or flair, but Black Spiders clearly know where their strengths lie and are playing to that accordingly. It’s less arthritic in pace than might usually be the case, which is also a plus, but none of that can really paper over some pretty wide holes in terms of where Black Spiders are in the current musical landscape. For a big return, this feels oddly pedestrian, and not the sort of thing to once again kickstart what was already a middling-at-best amount of momentum. Maybe it’s just the horrendous burnout on this sort of music over the past few years – the sort that simultaneously makes it easy to identify that Black Spiders, for their flaws, are nowhere near the worst of it – but this could’ve felt a lot bigger and bolder, rather than just a much-belated continuation of what was only alright to start with. • LN
For fans of: Massive Wagons, Heaven’s Basement, The Answer
‘Black Spiders’ by Black Spiders is released on 26th March on Dark Riders Records.
Songs From Isolation
Songs From Isolation feels like the ideal name for this project, not only to represent A.A. Williams’ quarantine album, but also to highlight where these songs draw from emotionally. This is exactly the sort of covers album that Williams was liable to make anyway, where her gothic folk sound is stripped back to its loneliest elements of piano, voice and the occasional rumble of guitar, but it’s the context that gives it a lot more weight and resonance. Chief among that is how these song choices feel deliberately framed to represent that isolation and solitude that’s been so prevalent for everyone over the last year – The Cure’s Lovesong and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms long for some form of closeness and human interaction; Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind and Radiohead’s Creep dive into self-examination that ultimately dredges up the worst feelings of criticism and self doubt; and Nine Inch Nails’ Every Day Is Exactly The Same pretty much does what it says on the tin. As well as showing off Williams’ exquisite taste, this feels like a body of work specifically curated for the mood and environment it lives in, and that’s not a common practice with covers albums. Perhaps it doesn’t foster much more in the way of longevity, but it’s far less like a throwaway or a detour compared to what it could be, and that does say a lot when considering the format it’s in.
Unfortunately that isn’t as prevalent in the composition itself, which isn’t bad at all, but has nowhere near the thematic weight the album offers. For what it is, it’s probably not reasonable to expect the same dynamics that comes with Williams’ usual work, but with the entire thing based almost squarely on piano can lack a bit of flavour as it goes. When that’s mixed with guitar on Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) and Into My Arms, there’s a bit more constructive meat on its bones that’s appreciated; hell, even on Creep with the creaking of the piano stool and faint whispers of background noise being more prominent, that ultimately amplifies a homegrown loneliness that so much more powerful (especially when compared to probably the loosest constructed song on the album). But even so, it’s hard to deny that Songs From Isolation achieves exactly what it sets out to do, and is album to cultivate that mood wonderfully throughout. As lacking in distinction as it can sometimes be across nine songs and 40 minutes, the piano playing does sound lovely in how solemn and wearied it is, and Williams herself has a beautiful voice that perfectly captures a sense of being alone and the liability to succumb to whatever that loneliness has lying in wait. And ultimately, with that in mind, it makes it more and more clear that Songs From Isolation is supposed to stand as its own thing rather than fit into Williams’ canon of work. It’s a side venture after all, where that creative inspiration can be funnelled into something smaller and with lower stakes, and ultimately hit a high mark through it on uncommonly strong thematic merit alone. As a one-off, this is definitely good stuff, and a fitting extra branch to Williams’ creative persona if nothing else. • LN
For fans of: Nick Cave, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey
‘Songs From Isolation’ by A.A. Williams is out now on Bella Union.
Act II: Gold
Act II: Gold is the second part of a trilogy of EPs from the progressive metal giants, Exist Immortal. From the off the sound is incredibly impactful. Drama is created through the instrumental layering, the rise and fall of dynamics and powerful, soaring vocals. Vocalist Meyrick states: “The EP trilogy came about because we wanted to do something that explores the stages of pushing through internal struggles. Act I: Rebirth is about coming to terms with missed opportunities and letting the past go. Act II: Gold is about assessing what needs to be done in moments of clarity while coming through difficult times. It’s a more positive offering than Act One and continues the musical development. We hope people will get some sense of inspiration, or get some kind of renewed positivity from this.”
The four tracks on the EP are all of an incredibly high standard. Each track brings something different to the release. Exist Immortal’s sound is well balanced between the intricate lead melodies, heavy undertones and electronics. Soaring choruses are clearly part of their forte – Gold has a powerful chorus that combines a catchy motif with progressive elements in the rhythm. The bridge of the track introduces a contrast through the scaling back of the instrumental parts. This makes the return to the final chorus all the more energetic. The Cure places the distorted guitars in a more prominent role. The pre-chorus is a fantastically darker section which flows seamlessly into another powerful chorus. Djent inspired rhythm sections in this track show off another side to their music; these ground the higher tones and softer textures in the other instrumental parts. The quintet has developed an effective means of balancing each aspect of their sound – allowing each instrument to be heard without an overwhelming effect. The bass tones don’t become muddied, nor do the higher tones get too airy. The new EP is a fantastic addition to their discography. • HR
For fans of: Godeater, Annisokay, Black Orchid Empire
‘Act II: Gold’ by Exist Immortal is out now on Seek And Strike Records.
The vibe that Sanguisugabogg give off is that they aren’t to be taken very seriously. Even outside of the unwieldy name, they almost come across like a parody of death metal band, fixated on violence and gore to an almost excessive degree with an execution style that doesn’t entirely seem straight-faced all the way down. Of course, some element of provocation or depravation is nothing new in death metal – one of the genre’s biggest draws is literally called Cannibal Corpse, after all – but there is a limit between embracing their own absurd filth and having it topple down on them, and Tortured Whole doesn’t toe that line very well. It’s worth noting that, within that assessment, the actually writing here never really comes under that scrutiny. It certainly feels hyperbolic in just how deep it’s willing to drill into the butchery of its subject matter, regularly in song titles alone with the likes of Menstrual Envy, Dick Filet and Urinary Ichor, but it’s not like that isn’t par for the course with death metal in this vein. If anything, it’s nice to see Sanguisugabogg offering a bit more creativity than just another load of murder fantasies; they often might end that way, but at least in a song like Menstrual Envy, about a man doing way too many drugs and cutting off his own penis, there’s a bit more character to it. And honestly, to really pick apart the writing of an album like this is royally missing the point, especially when the bar for success is as straightforward as having the cheap, exploitative, splatterpaint gore hit at practically a nonstop rate.
Instead, it’s more a case of Sanguisugabogg’s sound that brings them down, where the aforementioned cheapness is less well-regarded and can actively feel damaging to the album as a whole. It’s definitely to be expected in the musical equivalent of a snuff film, but at the same time, Tortured Whole feels like it goes above and beyond what it needs to in order to create its mood, and that circles back around to where the poor mixing isn’t charming or in service to any greater mood. It goes back to the notion of almost feeling like a parody of sorts, taking the historically shabby production of death metal albums like this and leaning into it to presumably try and balance out being ironic and authentic, but achieving neither. It just mostly sounds bad, pure and simple, where the drums will have a hollow, metallic ring that could be interesting in a smaller dose than the default sound, and the guitars and bass are buried in the mix with barely any body or volume to them. This isn’t a particularly long album but it feels drained of ferocity and vitality, and topped off with Devin Swank’s choppy growls with similarly little presence to them, it’s not a very substantive listen overall. There’s definitely an idea here (sans the weird, synthy interludes that don’t really contribute to anything), and the – for lack of a better word – purity of it will probably appeal to some, but it also highlights the reason why the biggest and best of modern death metal sounds more fleshed-out and grand. It’s simply a more appealing vehicle to convey this sort of thing, and even if that feels deliberately what Sanguisugabogg are trying to counter, their efforts, while appreciated, just fail to click. • LN
For fans of: Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Of Feather And Bone
‘Tortured Whole’ by Sanguisugabogg is released on 26th March on Century Media Records.
As Everything Unfolds
Within Each Lies The Other
If As Everything Unfolds would’ve released their debut just a few years ago, they’d likely be staring down far more hype than they currently are. They aren’t doing badly for themselves now, to be fair, given that their EP Closure in 2018 was pretty well-received, but Within Each Lies The Other gives off the strong impression that it’d have far more legs among the other super-polished post-hardcore works of the mid-2010s. It doesn’t help that they’re arriving in such close proximity to Dream State either, who simply feel like a bigger, more powerful variant of everything that As Everything Unfolds are doing. That is to say, Within Each Lies The Other has a solid foundation underneath it, in the grandiose scope that pulls on its cinematic flourishes to bolster that further without sounding totally watered-down, but it’s also a bit less tight as a result. As huge as songs like Stranger In The Mirror and Grayscale will be, it’s not hard to pick up on the relative lack of modulation between the songs here, and and the very deliberate anthemic pace can make this album feel like it’s going through the motions at times. There’s not a moment of real, defined excellence that can pinpoint something special within As Everything Unfolds; it’s all uniformly solid from front to back, which consequently is probably its biggest downfall.
That shouldn’t be taken to mean that this is a bad album; for such a relatively new band, As Everything Unfolds have a sound that’s remarkably complete and high-budget that complements the sort of music they’re making. Also, and most crucially, they’ve got a real trump card in Charlie Rolfe as a frontwoman, who might bear a similar tone and power level to Dream State’s CJ Gilpin (though that’s far from the worst comparison a singer could have), but tends to be a bit more aggressive and generous with her screams, which will give As Everything Unfolds a more raw, aggressive streak overall. It’s especially useful to have when the lyrics shape around similarly broad introspection and explorations of mental health, where that throatier, more visceral delivery will ultimately go a lot further to connect. It’s undoubtedly where As Everything Unfolds are at their best, in how they can construct these big, sweeping tableaux of emotion and give them a visceral gravity, the sort that can still sound powerful within a sound that’s all about maximising its own power and size. It’s the touches like that which give Within Each Lies The Other such a clear amount of potential, where, like Dream State, they can bring more to an incarnation of post-hardcore that might otherwise feel a bit dated, but have it thrive in the modern setting. It’s just a shame they aren’t there yet, with some of that directness and focus on how economical their melodies are which, for now, are holding them back. There’s at least enough here to suggest it’s more a case of when, rather than if they’ll get there, but it would make sense to address that as soon as possible, to maximise that impact when it does arrive. • LN
For fans of: Dream State, Hands Like Houses, Annisokay
‘Within Each Lies The Other’ by As Everything Unfolds is released on 26th March on Long Branch Records.
There’s an unassuming quality about Gold Baby that makes them so alluring. It’d be easy to place them among similarly dreamy, slightly grungy indie-rock bands, but Rabbits feels like it’s moving independently of the scene around it, with more room to breathe and explore Siân Alex’s thoughts and observations in greater detail. Of course it’s a personal listen, but the weaving, literary tone of the writing has more of a contemplative feel, where time taken to think outside of an overwhelming, perpetually moving world has a sort of cleansing, enriching quality to it. It’ll appear on a song like Captain Dorego, where there’s a clarity and innocence to the man fishing at sea or the parallels to Lennie’s character in Of Mice And Men, and where the search for comfort and isolation are given interwoven layers of detail on Bodie and 2041 respectively. There’s a lot of thematic ground covered over just four tracks, but Alex’s writing style knits it together so tightly that it always works, and always leaves an emotional impression. It’s more in line with folk than typical indie-rock honestly, but again, that’s entirely to Gold Baby’s benefit; it feeds into the more songwriterly presentation that the band field, where lyrics can be more intimate and intricate as the central focus of the EP.
That then means that there is somewhat of a hierarchy to Rabbits where the instrumentation stands less prominently overall, but it’s also given the tasteful execution to ensure that it’s not being blatantly overshadowed. There’s the dusty guitar and bass tone that’s characteristic of this stripe of indie-rock, but has a slightly more angular quality on 2041 to remain a strong presence, as does the floaty math-rock of Captain Dorego which feels like Gold Baby’s most complete musical idea here. Honesty, with Alex’s daintier, more crystalline guitar tone and the gentle percussion rolls from Scott Hislop, math-rock feels like a natural direction for the band to take, where a lot of their current skills are easily transferable. It would probably feel a bit more musically distinct than Rabbits does, which can be a bit placid and dry even despite its intentions, but it’s not like that isn’t what Gold Baby are actively striving for. In terms of their own creative drive, Rabbits feels like the exact end product they intended it to be, where the slower pace and sepia filter of the sound complement the more poetic lyrical style excellently, for a succinct, deeply well-crafted indie project. Even in quite a crowded field, Rabbits definitely feels like a cut above, with the potential paths for Gold Baby to go down next being so much more intriguing than for most. • LN
For fans of: The National, Car Seat Headrest, Fiona Apple
‘Rabbits’ by Gold Baby is released on 26th March.
In the realms of punk, it’s not hard to see where Play Dead fall. This is about as stripped-back and classically energised as this entire genre comes, taking all of its cues from the older, rowdy bands to whom making noise was more important than whether or not they could even play their own instruments properly. That’s the vibe that Play Dead give off, and the fact that its members are still just 16 years old only doubles down on the role such scrappy, youthful energy plays. Thus, Skint turns out as a rather no-nonsense debut EP, where the songs feel bashed-out and deliberately shabby, but the roughneck energy and youthful disenfranchisement informs something that really feels genuine. Granted, Play Dead aren’t exactly wordsmiths – between songs about being broke, high and unmotivated, their lyrical peak comes on a song about their bassist’s grandmother’s boyfriend punching a man off his bike on Shaun – but that’s where punk classicism tends to land, and Joe Blair’s unapologetically brash shouts pull it off more often than not.
At the same time though, it’s not like Play Dead are breaking free of their sound’s limits, or even doing much to address them. This is a very homegrown product in sound, where the tattered production and mixing have a cheapness to them (presumably deliberate), where Play Dead might emulate the tone of classic street-punk a bit too closely. It’s never as rudimentary as someone like Slaves can be, but there isn’t a great deal of depth on these songs; more often than not, they’ll blitz by for not even two minutes and stop before they even have a chance to consider petering out. That in itself is a decent way to be, all things considered, in emphasising both the band’s rabble-rousing nature and their to-the-point method of songcraft, but in songs that aren’t technically dazzling and are reliant on blunt lyrical force above depth, it can be noticeably slight in all regards. For this sort of music though, that can be a greater asset than Play Dead stretching beyond their means, where a command of brevity gets more done for them overall. It’s also not a tremendously varied showcase of the band’s abilities, but it also gives off the impression that this is Play Dead’s entire oeuvre condensed into about ten minutes. If that’s the case, they’ve got sure, stable footing right out of the gate that will no doubt serve them well going forward. • LN
For fans of: Sham 69, UK Subs, Slaves
‘Skint’ by Play Dead is released on 26th March on Blitzcat Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)