REVIEW ROUND-UP: Dropkick Murphys, Evile, Tilian

Dropkick Murphys

Turn Up That Dial

There’s a reason that no one ever complains about a new Dropkick Murphys album, and that’s because they know exactly what they’re going to get. It’s nice to have a band where their inherent likability and sense of camaraderie is their main feature, and having it work with the familiarity and formula of their Celtic punk formula instead of against it has also been one of Dropkick Murphys’ top qualities. Regardless of how little actually changes from release to release, the ‘Murphys are yet to reach a point of true stagnation, and that’s evident of a band who’ve figured out how to leverage their longevity and style to squeeze the most out of it each time; the fact that 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory in 2017 was as fun as it was shows how much they’re still actually nailing that approach. It’s all about grading on a curve in a very liberal and undefined way, where any objective notions about how Turn Up That Dial is superior or inferior to anything else is subsumed by the fact that it’s still a really entertaining time. There’s still a mastery of tone that has barely budged, in how both boozy shout-alongs like L-EE-B-O-Y and Smash Shit Up sit next to an older, more curmudgeonly style of writing in Middle Finger and HBDMF without sounding dissonant or clashing. Mostly the wryness in the ‘Murphys’ lyrics will prevail, in how the communal atmosphere where everyone’s in on the same sentiment forms the basis for so much of their work, but there’s a thrill and rollick behind it all that still feels genuine. Even on cuts that will tackle more political bases like Chosen Few or the tribute to vocalist Al Barr’s late father on Wish You Were Here, there’s the same amount of genuine heart and gusto that keep them charging along, where even if the takes aren’t too nuanced, there’s a humanity behind them that’s impossible to fake. Granted, that tends to land better when skewed to the rowdier pub singalongs (it’s why the album can feel a bit front-loaded), but there’s never an instance where this feels performative or the character feels faked.

That can be further attributed to the comfort that the ‘Murphys have within their sound, where this is emphatically more of the same, but with that heart factored in to keep it rollicking along. By now they’ve got this sound down to a science, where the big, broad punk guitars will form a basis for the bagpipes and whistles to come in and practically pump out the smell of beer and whiskey themselves. More than that though, it’s just a really appealing sound, where there’s a real swing and swagger brought in on L-EE-B-O-Y and Chosen Few, and even finds itself toned down for a more traditionally ragged folk-punk style on Queen Of Suffolk County that’s just as infectious. It helps that the ‘Murphys’ sound is so huge and propulsive anyway, in how the gang vocals sound about a hundred voices deep and and they work their lack of real refinement to their advantage almost to a fault. The only real downside is that the advancement here is pretty miniscule, where the band stay firmly in their lane and barely even entertain the idea of branching out. It’s not exactly a damning fault, but the feeling of routine does begin to set in ever so slightly, where a lot of the instrumental tones and choices feel a bit familiar; hell, Smash Shit Up basically feels like a reread of I’m Shipping Up To Boston in its opening bars. At the same time though, that’s also a big part of the charm of the Dropkick Murphys, where you do know what you’re going to get and you end up enjoying it anyway. It’s always been the case and most likely always will be, and Turn Up That Dial is a good argument for why that tactic still has legs. It’s hard to see this being anyone’s favourite album, but as a means of keeping the ball rolling that’s still a whole lot of fun in pretty much every regard, it’s hard to be really disappointed by familiarity. It’s a Dropkick Murphys album, after all – this deep in, you know exactly what you’re in for.

7/10

For fans of: The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Street Dogs

‘Turn Up That Dial’ by Dropkick Murphys is released on 30th April on Born & Bred Records.


Evile

Hell Unleashed

Evile stand among the same space as Sylosis within British metal, where it’s not unfair – or indeed incorrect – to say that they weren’t given their fair dues during their heyday. Even if that recognition has been retroactively given to Ol Drake for his guitar prowess, for one reason or another, Evile just didn’t see the successes that they probably should have, and among multiple lineup changes and their last album Skull being a whole eight years removed from this new one, it’s been a hanging factor for a while now. But really, among thrash, it’s up for no debate that Evile are good at what they do, and even with new guitarist Adam Smith in the fold and Drake taking up lead vocals for the first time, Hell Unleashed is reliably congruent with where the band left off. Besides the new vocal style being a bit more ragged and guttural than what previously came from Matt Drake, Evile effectively hold fast on where they were, in the knack for quick, gnashing tempos that, on Incarcerated especially, can drop down into pounding grooves, and production that’ll accentuate huge heft and presence that will rarely let up. None of it is too divergent from the traditional Evile formula, for better or worse when the palpable advancements are in relatively short supply. Granted, those most interested in thrash probably won’t have many qualms with Evile’s classical take on the style not changing too much, but Hell Unleashed will rarely have a moment of excellence to keep that high going; even for the curiosity factor of actor Brian Posehn guesting on Gore, he only provides backing vocals. There’s a willingness to cut Evile some slack though, when they’re still making significant moves within capturing what their genre is about. When they can get away a pretty standard lyrical set and put all of their energy into speed and power, Hell Unleashed is an example of an album fit for purpose to an almost flawless degree.

Besides, it’s not like there’s absolutely nothing of interest here. The aforementioned classicism of it all comes to mind the most, as Evile still manage to avoid any modern trappings in favour of letting knowledge and connection to the genre speak for itself. Obviously Drake and Smith’s guitar fireworks will stand out as the steamrolling force that keeps this album moving so ferociously, but the overall MVP is probably drummer Ben Carter, not only in the speed of his playing that keeps the album’s rhythm exceedingly tight and razored, but in the fills and details that bring his performance to the fore on a track like Zombie Apocalypse. Rounding out is Joel Graham on bass, who isn’t a standout presence, but has the weight in the mix to be meaningful regardless, and contribute to a production balance that’s about as equitable to each performer as it comes. Just for a purely sonic perspective, Hell Unleashed feels like a modern thrash template in just how well it captures the sound, and how far it’s willing to go to ensure it sounds precise and sharp without scrubbing away the dirt necessary for it to work. It’s another quality that Evile share with Sylosis actually, where even if they aren’t redefining themselves from album to album, there’s an unshakable reliability that makes it worth coming back time and time again. If that sounds like faint praise, it’s an unfortunate side effect of thrash as a genre and how it doesn’t typically allow for too much experimentation, but when it comes to making the best with what they’ve got, Evile are taking everything at their disposal and running for miles. If nothing else, if you’re just looking for a proper, red-blooded metal with the teeth left in, there’s approximately zero chance of being disappointed with this.

7/10

For fans of: Metallica, Havok, Bonded By Blood

‘Hell Unleashed’ by Evile is released on 30th April on Napalm Records.


Tilian

Factory Reset

When Tilian released The Skeptic in 2018, it felt like the sort of strange deviation amid a rather regular solo career that he really wanted listeners to notice. Prior to that, he’d opted for the slicker, cleaner alt-pop and R&B that tends to go part and parcel with the ‘post-hardcore singer goes soloist’ career path, but that was broken apart for what felt like an attempt to let his work with Dance Gavin Dance bleed in most readily. To be clear, that’s not a good thing when Dance Gavin Dance regularly come across as one of the most unfocused and unflatteringly discordant bands the scene has to offer, and a mild dilution within alt-pop isn’t enough to negate that. And just like their own albums, those problems have carried over unhampered to Factory Reset, where what could be a pretty run-of-the-mill album ends up bloated to no end through how much unnecessary weight has been funnelled into it. At least it’s not exactly the same overbearing, brain-dissolvingly bright fare, in that it’s been realistically toned down, but in the way that songs like Dose and All I Crave Is Peace try to cram in stop-start guitar dynamics among an already blocky mix, it ends up feeling clunky and airless, with each element already smashed to the front and struggling to breathe. It’s almost exactly the same problem that Dance Gavin Dance have, only repurposed, where the composition is less erratic overall but the primary focus on volume is no less jarring. What’s more, there are examples of how just a minor bit of modulation makes for exponentially better results on this very album; the slight Latin flair to Imagination and straightforwardness to the rubbery pop tick of Act Out are supremely more manageable, simply through not trying to do everything at once.

But the issues do stem to Tilian himself, and Factory Reset might be the project of his where it’s easiest to isolate where exactly the problem with him lies. Simply put, his vocal style and timbre makes singing come across like hard work in a way that it doesn’t need to, and in a way that other artists in his same lane have wisely managed to avoid. He’s got the slightly craggier tone in his voice already that can have trouble sounding pleasant within such polished production, but the wrenched-out high notes and efforts to flex a range that feel distinctly uncomfortable only exacerbate how stilted his flow really is. If anything it’s more of an issue here; he’s given the means of standing out among this particular lot of clutter, which amplifies those shortcomings and puts the focus on him directly. It’s all louder and more explicitly in-your-face than it needs to be, which will similarly seep down to the writing in just how unwieldy and overweight some fairly basic lyricism is reshaped to be. It’s not much of an enjoyable listen at all, as Tilian saps away so much of the workability from his formula in order to express a creative freedom in such a bafflingly misguided way. Watered-down Dance Gavin Dance isn’t much of a concession made when the issues that hold that band back are still glaring, and as far as living up to its title goes, a proper factory reset is desperately needed about now.

4/10

For fans of: Dance Gavin Dance, Jonny Craig, I The Mighty

‘Factory Reset’ by Tilian is out now on Rise Records.


Kaleo

Surface Sounds

This is one of the last casualties to emerge from the swathe of COVID-related delays from 2020 (it was originally due to come out in June last year, for the record), but you do need to wonder how much that really matters. Kaleo’s solitary breakthrough really begins and ends at the run that Way Down We Go had between 2015 and 2017, as an indie curio that’ll pick up traction for its creators without leading to much more in the mainstream space. A new album this far removed will only expound that point, and Kaleo’s own, slightly disjointed blend of indie, blues-rock and Icelandic folk isn’t facilitating the same momentum on its own. Still, in the realms of ‘commerical’ rock, Surface Sounds is actually rather good, and not really all that indicative of what such a loaded label might suggest. For one, Kaleo have a knack for sounding rougher and scuzzier when it suits them, as the guitars will seethe and roar across Break My Baby and Skinny, and JJ Julius Son will pull out a rawer vocal performance that’s much more frayed around the edges, even in his lower simmering register. Admittedly the sequencing doesn’t give this album the best footing, where the back half is a lot more subdued and acoustic, and alongside the stiff, chain gang percussion of Run Brother Fast and Break My Baby, there’s an instrumental looseness revealed that can skirt past stylistic roughness headlong into unflattering dropped stitches. Even so, this still sounds really good, with the very dense, booming production job that can skate between heaviness on Skinny, sizzling playfulness on Hey Gringo, and a more opulent, triumphant soar on I Walk On Water. For as much as Kaleo don’t click together all that often, they do consistently well in each of their individual areas, and the mean average of Surface Sounds feels more than the sum of its parts overall.

It does help that Kaleo have a sense of dynamics when sequestered among some of modern music’s most flavourless, edgeless prospects (and unfairly, at that), but in general, Surface Sounds is simply a really approachable, likable album among all of its pivots. It feels very heaving and purposeful in the journey it takes, largely as an aside towards the pressured, predatory music industry that Kaleo find themselves in, where JJ Julius Son slides from contempt and righteousness to an also surprising degree (Free The Slave can be much darker than bands like this are liable to go), to eventually moments of clarity where being with the ones he loves is ultimately more meaningful. It’s not an exact throughline, mostly thanks to the existence of Hey Gringo right in the middle that, for as fun as it is, is unquestionably a diversion, but as a showcase of malleability, it’s a good one to have. Again, it handily vaults over their de facto contemporaries, and finds Kaleo in a rare spot of creative and expressive fertility that, among the cold, sterile crop of indie bands whose music exists to advertise cars to, something as comparative rich, resonant and diverse as this is extremely welcome. Even for what can be deemed faults or musical decisions that aren’t exactly complementary, at least it’s evident of character that hasn’t been sandblasted away by a marketing machine. It just good to see something like this turning out as well as it does, aiming higher than brief disposability and having a solid amount to show for it.

7/10

For fans of: The Glorious Sons, Dorothy, Barns Courtney

‘Surface Sounds’ by Kaleo is out now on Elektra Records.


Tetrarch

Unstable

Tetrarch have basically outlived the nu-metal revival that spawned their debut in 2017, but that isn’t a sign to kick back just yet. If anything, it puts more pressure on them to deliver, as one of the bands who sloughed off the status of ephemeral newcomers to become ingrained in the scene going forward. It’s similar to what happened with Cane Hill a few years prior, but where they only got better and more experimental as they went on (and in the latter case, highly so, at that), Tetrarch are holding steady on the basis of ‘good, not great’. As a statement of intent, Unstable doesn’t necessarily feel like a more evolved album than its predecessor; if anything, Tetrarch’s examination of the impact of mental health after abuse and trauma can be disappointingly shallow at times. That background stays as lightly-sketched subtext most of the time, for one, which isn’t the best fit for a band whose makeup has more than one dollop of Korn emulation. They’re better at that aspect in the delivery, with Josh Fore’s voice having a simmering mania and insidiousness that even lends some tougher bite to the metalcore choruses, but the writing itself will often tip over into scene edginess more than anything that embodies real anguish. It’s not like song titles such as I’m Not Right, You Never Listen and Sick Of You don’t carry some form of expectation of that, but leaning so far into it and playing it so straight can make any verisimilitude feel awfully shaky, and when Pushed Down takes to an ‘anthem for the outcasts’ template, Tetrarch’s fire and hope of striking on something raw and powerful feels all but diminished.

At least, it would be if Tetrarch didn’t cultivate almost the perfect singular environment where that sort of thing can work on Unstable. The fact that they’ll bolster pretty much every song with a walloping slobberknocker chorus will already bump up those estimations by a rung or two, but Tetrarch also have the sound to pull something halfway compelling out of it all. Reclaiming the tropes might be taking it a bit too far, but this is the exact sort of low-hanging, pummeling nu-metal that at least gives it legs. It’s not even an issue when the band will basically hit the same musical and compositional beats from track to track, as the avalanche tone from Fore and Diamond Rowe’s guitars and Ryan Lerner’s bass have such a supreme level of intent built into them that keeps rolling throughout. Musically Unstable has more in common with the Slipknot and Korn schools of nu-metal than anything still ostensibly in the metalcore realm, and that weight and groove coupled with a surprising amount of loose, feral energy feels pretty well-executed, even if only on the surface. As much as Trust Me feels like an attempt to save its big swing for the fences until the end and try for a full-on Korn replication, it’s where the cracks begin to show the most, in that Tetrarch have more in the aesthetic than what goes underneath it. That does cut back the longevity of an album like this, and serves as a pretty stark signpost for where Tetrarch need to be taking themselves going forward, showcasing the same rawness all the way down instead just as face value.

6/10

For fans of: Korn, Cane Hill, Tallah

‘Unstable’ by Tetrarch is released on 30th April on Napalm Records.


Lilith Czar

Created From Filth And Dust

For those maybe unaware, Lilith Czar is the new artistic sobriquet of Juliet Simms, where the former identity was symbolically killed off last year, presumably in order to pursue a bigger, edgier trail than her previous pop-rock guise would’ve allowed. ‘Edgy’ is probably the operative word here too, given how much of Created From Filth And Dust comes nestled under a state of mind that sees itself as button-pushing and transgressive, but is realistically neither of those things. It’s so predictable in doing so as well, where usual touchstones will manifest in girlboss grandstanding on King, standing up as an outcast on Anarchy, and some Joker / Harley Quinn fanfiction for a toxic relationship song on Bad Love. It’s all tiringly common in these kinds of hard rock / alt-metal solo projects, and Lilith Czar isn’t looking to move any sort of bar or set a standard beyond the low one that’s already there. Not only is this blunt, blasé fare supremely dated, but it’s so uninspiring in the way it can’t muster up even a single idea of its own. At no point does the artistic reinvention as Lilith Czar feel justified, as there’s no personality on show that feels remotely unique or even identifiable. These are the base canvases of these themes that need effort put in to make themselves work, otherwise they just feel generic in the most egregious sense.

Then again, effort isn’t really a factor here when Created From Filth And Dust is such a creatively moribund album in terms of its own ideas, or even coming up with a workable sound for itself. Once again, Lilith Czar takes the easy common route in big, bricked-out slabs of alt-metal, where there’s barely a moment of negative space to potentially let these songs breathe. Topped off with electronic gargles to feign some contemporaneity or vestige of industrial cool, it’s, again, just a rehash of a sound that already wasn’t good to begin with, but coasts by on aesthetic synergy above all else. It’s probably the main reason why this was chosen, as an lumbering, dense sound that’s as loud as it is unwieldy, to get forward points and messages utterly deboned of nuance and flair. It makes for a vastly unpleasant listen overall, either through a total lack of personality, a frontwoman whose voice sounds surprisingly shabby a lot of the time, or simply a terrible sound without the means of being even somewhat flexible. The occasional flicker of promise also tends to be a fluke; the built-in quality of Edge Of Seventeen can withstand an only middle cover, and the lockstep pop-rock of Burn With Me is the closest Lilith Czar comes to something energetic and workable throughout. On the whole though, this is nothing, up there with the artistic metamorphosis of Machine Gun Kelly in terms shameless, shallow pandering that doesn’t even attempt to hide how bereft of its own ideas it is. But at least MGK could write catchy hooks; Lilith Czar, meanwhile, barely exists outside of pure loudness, and even the most middling, mediocre of musicians would attest that that’s nowhere close to good enough.

3/10

For fans of: Diamante, Andy Black, Scarlet

‘Created From Filth And Dust’ by Lilith Czar is out now on Sumerian Records.


The Pale White

Infinite Pleasure

The Pale White’s name seems to have been floating around for quite a well now, to where it comes as a surprise that Infinite Pleasure is only their debut album. On the other hand though, it has been only the name rather than the reputation, where a lot of their offerings have just kind of assimilated into the indie-er alt-rock scene that’s previously engulfed acts like VANT or Darlia. The same is kind of true here as well, as The Pale White’s greatest affliction rapidly reveals itself as very little distinction that bleeds into a lack of staying power. It’s reminiscent of a lot of the work of The Amazons in that regard, as a functional indie band that’ll stray towards cliché and a duller palette more than they should. The Pale White are a cut above, for sure, but only insomuch that there’s a bit more technical flavour in the writing, where songs like Glue and Medicine will occasionally happen upon a more standout image or phrase. It doesn’t amount to a whole lot though, where it’ll be bathed in modern ennui that’s become all too rote too quickly. There’s never an outright clanger among them – this is a decently even album, for everything it’s worth – but it would probably be more interesting or memorable if there was.

That’s what everything on Infinite Pleasure circles back to at the end of the day, where The Pale White’s unending competence never tips over into something more. Hell, given how familiar to a degree of being staid this sound is, in the marginally chunkier, scruffier guitar tone and the glances towards garage-rock and post-punk that it’ll make, competent is about all it can be. And to an extent, that does feel like damning this album with faint praise, saying that it’s ultimately fine at its absolute upper limit, but there also isn’t much else to say. There’s Adam Hope’s thinner voice which pulls back a lot of the appeal that bit further, but that’s only one of a handful of qualities The Pale White display that actually feels worth discussing. It’s not like this exact stripe of album is a rarity, and Infinite Pleasure is lodged firmly in the middle of the road when it comes to how they tend to pan out.

5/10

For fans of: The Amazons, Yonaka, Sports Team

‘Infinite Pleasure’ by The Pale White is out now on AWAL Recordings.


Baby Strange

Land Of Nothing

Releasing a single now that, in the band’s own words, is described as “made for a dancefloor” might be a bit moot, but it’s hard to deny that Baby Strange at least have vision behind them. As proponents of their own indie club night, that’s definitely influenced the direction of Land Of Nothing, where the bass-driven thrum of post-punk is made all the more condensed and wiry, and the kinetic, pulsating mood seldom lets up across all five tracks. Put simply, it’s a pretty spot-on interpretation of the band’s own claims, as the pronounced basslines and rubbery struts of There’s Something There and Club Sabbath illustrate the most proficiently. They’re a bit further from that ideal on More! More! More! and I Want To Believe where the vibe is more of jittery, sweaty indie-rock, but that energy is still palpable in how it’ll surge forward regardless. There’s also the lower vocal tone of Johnny Madden which puts forth comparisons to a band like Franz Ferdinand on the table, and how that era of post-punk revivalism has been crossbred with a scruffier take on contemporary indie-rock for something a bit more scrappy overall. That’s definitely meant as a compliment though, especially as Baby Strange can run so far with a pretty scaled-back setup.

That’ll ultimate by the crux of where Land Of Nothing works, and how its presence as a formative engine room is so welcome. In truth, Baby Strange aren’t really pushing the envelope, especially in the lyrical department that can easily be slotted into the rowdier section of modern indie, but it’s the brazenness with which it’s executed that does so much for them. There’s a solidly scratched guitar tone that has the motorik post-punk progressions down firmly, though it does get overshadowed by a notably tight rhythm section that’s the source of this EP’s power. That’s ultimately what Land Of Nothing will tout as its greatest feature, and that wouldn’t be wrong when so much of what Baby Strange do is reliant on that element succeeding. That’s not to say they’re putting too much stock on just one part of themselves; as an EP, this is well-rounded enough to feel like a full-fledged step forward, rather than just another promising gateway that may or may not be capitalised on in future. For Baby Strange, locking themselves into this route and squeezing as much mileage as possible from it is undoubtedly the way to go, and it’ll be where the greatest successes lie should they really strike on something excellent.

7/10

For fans of: Fontaines D.C., Franz Ferdinand, The Dunts

‘Land Of Nothing’ by Baby Strange is released on 30th April on Icons Creating Evil Art.


Knomad Spock

Winter Of Discontent

Knomad Spock falls into the cross section of indie-folk singer-songwriter and musical poet, and so there’s a pretty reasonable gauge on how much Winter Of Discontent will appeal. It’s a very quiet, solemn affair reliant on the gentleness of the acoustic guitar and the windswept empty room atmosphere behind it, and Spock’s own delicate vocals that hit between neo-folk and alt-R&B in timbre. Of course, that’s not all the album consists of, but it’s easy enough to boil it down to those fundamentals, and that’s kind of where Winter Of Discontent begins to lose some steam. It’s the sort of album that’ll likely be showered by critical acclaim from all the right outlets, and for reasons that aren’t entirely objectionable, but between personal taste and the saturation of this scene that’s felt more and more prominent over the last few years, Knomad Spock unfortunately isn’t sticking the landing as profoundly as he could. A lot of that can feel down to how the album’s interesting pivots just don’t take up that much space; there’s the shredded horns that’s slice through Egypt and the clattering deconstruction of its own instrumental on Poles, and the closer Maps that’s more akin to spoken-word hip-hop in the vein of George The Poet, but for as good as they are, they don’t elevate what’s around them a whole lot. It’s still very waifish and brittle despite the occasional burst of life, and the frailty doesn’t hold up too well across an entire album.

It should be noted that the bulk of the criticisms around Winter Of Discontent are disappointingly uniform to this branch of indie-folk as a whole rather than just Knomad Spock, but it’s not really a salve to what has the potential to be a lot more. There’s definitely a scope to his musical outlook that’s distinct and different, but it largely doesn’t materialise as much as it could. Especially in the writing, songs like Poles and Maps will put forward detailled, woven ideas about identity and social beliefs that are truly interesting, but compared to what’s a more standard love song on Gift, or Know that tips into coffee shop poetry pretension (complete with pattering bongos to back it up), you don’t get that same sense of enlightenment. He’s clearly knowledgeable on the subjects, in how he talks on politics and philosophy outside of his music, but not having it translate as directly can be a real shame, especially when Winter Of Discomfort would’ve undoubtedly benefited from something a bit more cutting. It leaves the album feeling a bit more light and weightless than it should, where it’s a pleasant listen that, again, will likely get some acclaim, but feels as though it intended to be more and didn’t pan out. Knomad Spock remains a fascinating artist to look around, but Winter Of Discontent doesn’t feel like the clearest representation of that.

5/10

For fans of: Bon Iver, Father John Misty, Grizzly Bear

‘Winter Of Discontent’ by Knomad Spock is released on 30th April on Hinterland Creative.


Last Hyena

How Soon Is Mars?

It feels as though Last Hyena knew from the start that their appeal would be rather localised to certain demographics and just ran with it anyway. Instrumental prog can be a tough sell as it is, but as How Soon Is Mars? punctures its sweeping loftiness with fiddly, angular math-rock breaks, the catchment area feels shaved down to an even greater extent. And to be honest, it’s not like it always works in Last Hyena’s favour, in what can end up feeling like an unceremonious thud among a largely majestic rise. In a song like Doctorpus (which is also the only song with vocals, to reinforce how the titular character is, indeed, just an octopus), there’s such a condensed number of tempo and time shifts that don’t really amount to a whole lot; they can clutter the song more than anything. Elsewhere it mightn’t be as severe, as Last Hyena tend to lean more to the spacey openness that’s much easier to gel with, but they’re own boldness and ambition doesn’t tend to consistently land when the potential to feel so fractured never goes away. It’s a weird case whose shadow looms more heavily than the actual outcome, but it colours How Soon Is Mars? in a way that can make the purposely off-kilter presentation less attractive than was probably intended.

Even so, it’s hard to fault Last Hyena for their overall ambition and technicality. Their instrumental proficiency is clear to see, and on what’s a relatively brisk album, that’s a good feature to be in possession of. There’s a good grasp of tone that keeps this album in balance too, where the themes and motifs around space will swirl away in the background, where the trio’s command of atmosphere can solidly realise them. It’s why the wider passages that make up a track like Terra work the most, where the guitar dynamics are allowed to rise and fall at a natural rate, helmed by an equally fluid set of drums and bass and a lot of flowing nuance all around. In terms of the playing and the production that augments it, there are moments are moments of real beauty where Last Hyena can tap into their post-rock tendencies, and suitably and sustainably flesh them out within prog. It would be better if that was consistently the case, where How Soon Is Mars? would be a bit less scattered and show off that proficiency evenly throughout, but the quality still outweighs the disconnect fairly strongly. Branching out with that more will likely produce more gratifying results in the future, but there’s still enough here for the time being regardless.

6/10

For fans of: Alpha Male Tea Party, Delta Sleep, Three Trapped Tigers

‘How Soon Is Mars?’ by Last Hyena is released on 30th April on Stereobrain Records.


Action/Adventure

Pulling Focus

Action/Adventure’s current break came from – like so many others – TikTok, but they’re nowhere near as hyper-contemporary in sound as that might infer. Instead they’re more in line with the meatier side of 2010s pop-punk, in the vein of Four Year Strong or earlier State Champs where the combination of melody and power is arguably the strongest the genre has. It’s the EP format that assists Pulling Focus in getting there too, where the ideas will pop out more for the brightness and punch to be at their most forceful. There really is a great instrumental tone here, where the guitars are chunky and rolling amongst a similarly beefy rhythm section, augmenting the crushing bounce of a song like Poser but also lending a keening sense of momentum when the pace mightn’t be as obvious like on Tuck. The shades of Four Year Strong – or, perhaps a bit more pertinently and surprisingly, Me Vs. Hero – are blatant, but Action/Adventure just own what they have so well, to where there really isn’t an obvious low point here. This is as tight and precise as pop-punk of this stripe comes, without ever overindulging on gloss or trying to sand down its edges, and there’s so much more flavour left in because of that.

What’s more, there’s a distinct feeling that permeates across this EP that it’s more than just nostalgia. That definitely appears to be a factor – the lyrical fields and cadences are incredibly familiar, and the Fall Out Boy reference on Poser is extremely keyed in to what it’s going for – but Action/Adventure have an identity here that’s more than just riding on what came before. It might only be an intro, but talking about the discrimination faced in their scene as a band comprised entirely of BIPOC on Barricades sets a tone for what’s to come, where the perspective has the potential to be a lot more unique than what will typically be seen. Both Blake Evaristo and Brompton Jackson have such a resonance in their vocal tones to deliver that too, which is another source of the power that Pulling Focus has so readily at its disposal. That alone is the sort of selling point that plenty of upcoming pop-punk acts neglect, and when that’s fed into well-written, hook-heavy songs that actually have the means of sticking, this is a band worth digging into. They’re still yet to release a full-length, but they’re more than equipped for it on this evidence, and seeing their breakthrough get even bigger off the back of that is an exciting thought.

7/10

For fans of: Four Year Strong, Me Vs. Hero, State Champs

‘Pulling Focus’ by Action/Adventure is released on 30th April on Pure Noise Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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