REVIEW ROUND-UP: Red Fang, easy life, Kele

Red Fang

Arrows

For a band regularly mentioned in the same breath as Mastodon and Baroness for burly, progressive but ultimately accessible hard rock and metal, Red Fang have always felt a bit more out of the loop than the others. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve made fewer notable concessions in order to hit such colossal sizes, but they’ve always struck as a ‘next steps’ band rather than one on the forefront. It’s led to them getting somewhat ignored within the general conversation, and that’s a shame when they’ve displayed the potential for some great things across the course of their past four albums. Sure, sludgy stoner-rock isn’t going to be for everyone, but for a band who, at times, aren’t that far removed from what Queens Of The Stone Age can be, you’d half expect Red Fang to be picking up at least a similar amount of kudos. And yet, when it comes to Arrows, that can all read as a rather unfortunate prelude to an album where it unfortunately feels like Red Fang have botched it. It’s hard to see exactly why too; they’re working with the same producer as their last couple of albums, and yet Arrows sounds significantly worse and less appealing on the whole. It’s hard to escape just how – to be charitable – inconsistent this all sounds, especially in the production, which sounds shockingly shoddy at points in a way that a band with this sort of groundswell shouldn’t. Sure, Red Fang have always fit the role of the de facto ‘punks’ within their genre, but that’s not a reason for the flat mixing and truly garbage vocal production on Unreal Estate and My Disaster, or for the strings on Fonzi Scheme to feel so unnecessary and slapped on. That’s not the album’s standard, thank God, but moments like that will happen enough to be noticeable and ultimately harmful, in how the lines between rawness and sloppiness are blurred to the point of virtual nonexistence. Still, where songs like the title track or Two High operate on a workable balance, the cracks do spread elsewhere; the guitar and bass presence will stand out as being muddy, and Days Collide really highlights the gated quality of some of this percussion. If the comparison points the Mastodon and Baroness still stand, Arrows is unquestionably close to the latter’s Gold & Grey, in how a pretty egregious production job can cripple something potentially promising.

Though where Baroness still had the great songs and hooks, that’s severely diminished this time with Red Fang, in what becomes another casualty of a sound that they simply can’t eke much quality out of. There’s some nice ambiguity and mystery to the lyrics which helps, but it’s not even like much about that stands out, besides the use of the word “worser” on Days Collide which raises grammatical hackles that have likely never even been acknowledged before. In terms of big choruses or standout moments though, you’ll be hard-pressed to find them on Arrows, which has taken a considerable dip compared to how bombastic and electrifying Red Fang’s previous material could be. The worst part is that this does feel like the product of a band trying; there’s no outward laziness when it comes to composition or basic style, but there’s so little about it that clicks together with any other element around it. Even in terms of carved-out grooves or a bellowing vocal passage, they could be fine with the right platform but are utterly hamstrung by an album package that’s almost uniformly shabby in how it’s presented. If that seems like putting too fine a point on this album’s production, it’s only done so to highlight just how much of a negative presence it is, and how Red Fang are left scrambling to work around it in whatever pockets of smooth ground they can find. It’s a shame when past trends had Arrows so far on an upswing initially, and watching it crash down despite that isn’t a satisfying or gratifying experience whatsoever. It’s more sad than anything, where Red Fang’s status as their scene’s perennially underrated standouts feels pulled from under them with one false move, and while this is unlikely to be a career killer by any stretch, there’s a good amount of wind pulled from their sails regardless. It certainly isn’t their best effort, that’s for sure; more likely than not, it’s probably their worst.

4/10

For fans of: Mastodon, Clutch, The Sword

‘Arrows’ by Red Fang is released on 4th June on Relapse Records.


easy life

life’s a beach

On the surface, it seems simple enough to class easy life among the usual recurring waves of indie buzz-hounds, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate. They’re certainly in possession of all the right accolades and sources of praise, but sonically they’re a fair bit more noteworthy than what the average act in their place might dole out. It’s almost akin to early Bastille, not only in an indie-pop sound that’s liberal in its appreciation for soul and hip-hop, but in foresight to hone in on what could potentially be a big crossover sound for them. It’s almost like this debut album has been timed to perfection in that regard, when so much of the spin around easy life has highlighted their summery vibes and taken pride of place in doing so. Though, even just a bit of deeper exploration would reveal how much of a crutch for easy life that is, in how the blend of that with dejected, artifice-soaked indie ‘cool’ can feel so flimsy and thrown-together, especially when that’s intended to factor in a sense of depth. It’s the bedroom-pop problem but just in a different context, where the allure of sounding baked and at one with the zeitgeist has Murray Matravers flitting between a non-presence and a completely unlikable one. You get the impression that his awful singing voice is by design, regrettably, which gives both ends of the spectrum – the swaying, lovestruck side represented by have a great day, and the paranoia and anxiety of nightmares – the same weightlessness and ineffectuality as each other. It’s definitely by design to, when the closer music to walk home to goes on a stream-of-consciousness rant imbued with latent condescension towards everyone and everything for seemingly no reason, which seemingly feels like the root of the ‘music by irony’ creative process. This isn’t designed to be good as much as feeds into easy life’s own sense of ego, a decision that just amplifies cut corners and insincerity that’s supremely difficult to endorse.

At least life’s a beach will bounce back in some of its musical decisions, though even that’s pretty tangential with production that’s afflicted by the same faux lack of depth, in how cheap and chintzy it can regularly sound. In terms of raw materials though, there’ll be interesting soul samples layered into ocean view and daydreams that are at least a new flavour within indie music, and the rubbery funk throb of skeletons and the gloss and sparkle of lifeboat that almost feels inspired by trap serve as some genuinely cool and effective detours. It’s just a shame they aren’t utlised more, where instead, life’s a beach will feel chronically underweight and lacking in any necessary groove or discernible melody to make itself stick. The ambition is novel, where the blending of laidback hip-hop with soul and pop actually pays off, but that’s far less often than it should. The whole thing winds up being toothless and deflated, unable to do much more than bellydrag along a canvas that’s already hollow and sagging behind it, and come out with barely a noteworthy idea to prop itself up on. At least in the case of generic indie bands in similar positions, they’ve at least got some propulsion and momentum behind them; easy life might have more musical range, but it’s so cheap and poorly utilised across the board, the sort of ‘creativity’ that’ll be praised on face value without even taking a second to consider what more could and should be done to make it work. It’s barely anything outside of what can only be chalked up to a handful of fluke hits, and even then, a band with this profile and groundswell should be capable of more.

4/10

For fans of: Alfie Templeman, Will Joseph Cook, Bastille

‘life’s a beach’ by easy life is out now on Island Records.


Kele

The Waves Pt. I

The career of Kele has been nothing if not patchy. That’s a statement that can be applied to Bloc Party alone, especially in recent years, but in his solo work, there’s always been a distinct feeling that Kele is unsure of where his muse lies. It’s still possible to remember the excitement brought about by The Boxer, his debut solo album that pivoted towards alternative dance and indietronica, and how that vastly subsumed anything that came sense, in indie-rock, politically-minded folk and everything in between. It kind of goes without saying that The Waves Pt. I holds a similar degree of apprehension then, not only as a prerequisite lockdown album, but thanks to a combination of late Bloc Party’s comatose impact and a pretension towards sounding ‘cinematic’ that feels needlessly pompous and self-indulgent. The fact that there’s no percussion at all makes it all feel so much emptier and more awkward, where the hanging guitar lines have no grounding to prevent them from meandering, and any cushions of additional production are wispy and inconsequential at best. It’s hardly a thrilling listen at any point, when there’s no sense of urgency or even a defined hand on pacing as a whole. It’s unquestionably supposed to be a slower, more solemn listen, but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of body, or even an intrigue factor that could make it even possibly stick. Hell, even a cover of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy is practically indistinguishable from the plodding, dragging miasma of the rest of the album.

At least the sound is okay, for as little of it there actually is. There’s a crispness and mellowness to the production that matches Kele’s softer, more willowy tones, and as a means of conveying lonely, nocturnal walks where inner thoughts are allowed to ruminate uninhibited, especially on a song like They Didn’t See It Coming, the execution works for what it is. But again, it all comes down to how empty the album feels that causes it to fall down, and how The Waves Pt. I rarely comes up strong on its own ambitions. There really isn’t a standout lyrical moment here, meaning that a similar skeleton of an idea is left to prop up music that’s just as empty and weightless. There’s not a moment of this album that feels designed to be remembered, and that just feeds in to how utterly misguided it feels as an entire project. Despite not being terrible in concept or even intent, neither of those factors gel particularly well with an underdeveloped musical ear, and what’s left is an album that’s shockingly low on content to even discuss in a meaningful way, reminiscent of Mike Shinoda’s projects from last year that were effectively beat packs marketed as full releases. Even if Kele’s subsequent work after The Boxer has been mixed, it can at least feel like a foundation to build upon, as opposed to a dull, dry listen that’s presumably setting up a sequel and being almost unreservedly optimistic by doing so.

4/10

For fans of: Metronomy, Delphic, The XX

‘The Waves Pt. I’ by Kele is out now on Kola.


Hot Mulligan

I Won’t Reach Out To You

Now isn’t the first time where it’s felt like Hot Mulligan aren’t being given the chance to become huge. Realistically it could’ve come all the way back in 2018 with Pilot, but their fusion of wordy pop-punk, emo and math-rock has often managed to keep an excellent balance between being accessible, and a bit more intricate for the crowd that way inclined. This new EP might tone down that frenetic, weedling side a bit more, but that only exacerbates how strong this band’s melodic chops actually are when they’re given the stage to themselves. It works on a number of layers too; Featuring Mark Hoppus has the midwestern emo shades wrapped around a propulsive pop-punk hook (as well as some extra synth zest on Pop Shuvit (Hall Of Meat, Duh)), while Please Don’t Cry, You Have Swag operates on a slow burn principle that has some great buildup as a closer. Of the five songs here, none of them are outright bad or feel out of place, as Hot Mulligan will successfully condense and align a faithful recreation of their sound across just twelve minutes without it feeling overly truncated. It’s definitely easier to get a grasp on overall than exercising their tendency to fly off into math-rock spirals, but it’s more a lateral move overall. It feels as though EP wants to splinter off into something more accessible without losing sight of what Hot Mulligan have built, and for a side venture, it realistically achieves everything it sets out to.

At the same time though, there isn’t as much to dissect here as with a ‘standard’ Hot Mulligan release. That probably goes without saying, but there’s definitely a bit of character lost from smoothening out some of the frayed edges that might have been present in the past. Honestly though, that’s more an observation than a criticism, when Nathan Sanville’s voice is much more controlled and less likely to shoot off into half-screams at random intervals. Beyond that, the core of I Won’t Reach Out To You is largely the same; the song titles are still as ridiculously nonsensical as ever, and in terms of writing and delivery that fields the 2000s emo semantic sphere through a more interpretative lyrical style, they’re able to keep it as catchy and appealing as ever. From where Hot Mulligan stand now, this is probably their most straightforwardly equable and economic release to date, and that’s a good look on them, to be fair. They’ve done better, sure, but this could very well have some of their easiest-to-grasp songs to date, and that’s not nothing for a band who are advancing at a steady pace already. Plus, it’s not like it’s a huge time sink, and the results make it well worth a try all the same.

7/10

For fans of: Free Throw, Origami Angel, Oso Oso

‘I Won’t Reach Out To You’ by Hot Mulligan is out now on Wax Bodega.


Blackberry Smoke

You Hear Georgia

To be completely honest, there was every belief that Blackberry Smoke would just fizzle out on their own. Even as the band once as a flagship act within southern-rock and country-rock (sounds which are already neglected in the wider rock world), the sea change to favour darker, more embittered sounds like those from Koe Wetzel and Austin Meade hasn’t been kind to their more traditionalist sound, something that their own crop of diminishing returns hasn’t helped. So for their seventh album to have them sounding on autopilot is no surprise, but even its own lowered expectations don’t save You Hear Georgia from being a notably predictable slog. It’s mainly a case of Blackberry Smoke feeling extremely stuck in their ways, where the southern-rock guitars might have some muscle and swagger on the title track or All Rise Again, but the progressions themselves are really pedestrian and uninteresting. Blackberry Smoke could definitely afford to do more, but instead deviations in the saccharine acoustic ballad Old Enough To Know and the arthritic hard rock of All Over The Road barely feel like a tangent has been taken. At least on Lonesome For A Livin’ there’s an older leaning into more straight-up country, as well as fantastic guest turn from Jamey Johnson in what’s the far-and-away highlight of the album. It feels like an instance of Blackberry Smoke doubling down on the leverage they’ve now got as a slightly older act and using that to their advantage, rather than trying to rehash ideas that are pretty underwhelming and uneventful across the board.

Just in general, You Hear Georgia is the sort of album that’s not designed to further any specific game plan, as much as keep the machine plodding along regardless of pace. Especially in country-leaning genres, it’s easy to spot albums like this, but at least from real veterans, they’ll be some chances taken in the writing or storytelling. Blackberry Smoke, meanwhile, feel perennially stuck in the liminal space between rock and country, where both sides feel ultimately compromised to spread their individual appeal. It’s not precisely awful as far as paeans of women and southern livin’ go, but the played-out details aren’t hard to spot even at its best. Again, attention turns to Lonesome For A Livin’ for solace, in what’s a genuinely heartfelt and well-written song, but it also takes its position as album centerpiece to mean that everything around it can afford to sag more. That’s especially prevalent in the back half in the dime-store moralities of Old Enough To Know, or Old Scarecrow that’ll try to tack together the ‘nobody’s perfect’ and ‘let’s all get along’ narratives with limited success. If all of this wasn’t the recent standard for Blackberry Smoke, it’d be more objectionable, but as it stands, You Hear Georgia is just another go-around with what’s gotten them this far, and with what presumably will keep doing so based on longevity alone. It’s for the diehards and no one else at this point, a caveat usually affixed to these sorts of albums but also bearing its fair share of criticism in its own right. At least there’s nothing tremendously different on that front either, even if the overall plainness and predictability might make it more interesting if there was.

5/10

For fans of: The Black Crowes, The Cadillac Three, Gov’t Mule

‘You Hear Georgia’ by Blackberry Smoke is out now on 3 Legged Records / Thirty Tigers.


Boss Keloid

Family The Smiling Thrush

Boss Keloid are an interesting band for a lot of reasons, but what probably stands out the most is how they’ve turned a prog sound as winding and unkempt as theirs into a source of real, widespread intrigue. Maybe that’s overselling it slightly, but it’s fair to say that they’re the band who’ve picked up the most traction within their scene, and the fact that they’re now five albums deep feels like a testament to the pull this band have. What’s more, they’re still evolving and reshaping themselves even now; 2018’s Melted On The Inch was a great album, but so is Family The Smiling Thrush for almost completely different reasons. Sonically it drifts away from the fields of Mastodon and Baroness into something more indebted to classic prog, albeit using that as a base for genre fusions that’ll also encompass sludge, grunge and anything else that can be fashioned into a heavy, creeping floe. Where the bigger leap is made, however, is in how unashamedly joyous it all sounds, as the classic rock guitar wails will regularly slide into view and songs like Gentle Clovis and Hats The Mandrill wind up towering to an even greater extent because of it. There’s also a mastery of tension within Boss Keloid’s formula that ensures the slow pace never grows stale, and the grinding, seething power inside the instrumentation and production feels perfectly balanced to make the most of it. In terms of prog that’s liable to stretch itself out to greater lengths (albeit not as strenuously as some), Family The Smiling Thrush has some of the best execution around, in a sound that’s regularly fantastic and a grasp on momentum that’s perfectly tailored for what they’re doing.

It all leads to the bigger, more empowered sound having as much leverage as possible, on top of a lyrical conceit around community and embracing the strength of the collective over the individual that never feels hokey or mawkish for all of its opportunities to do so. It makes for an immensely likable album to listen to from every perspective, and that’s really only bolstered by Boss Keloid themselves. Alex Hurst has the sort of brazen yet vigorously emotive voice that really captures the heart and soul that’s embossed within this album, backed by an instrumental performance (and especially a rhythm section) that wears a sense of fluidity and forward momentum so consistently well. A lack of obvious choruses might strike as a weakness, but that’s not to say there aren’t hooks aplenty, if only coming from how tremendous and triumphant the scale of this work can be. It all circles back to the fun factor with Boss Keloid that might get overlooked but is never marginalised within the actual work, where the band’s own sense of exuberance surrounding their efforts and the creative process in general is legitimately difficult not to be swept up in. At least the Mastodon comparisons still hold in that respect, but Boss Keloid are currently thriving as their own beast, one that’s just as hairy and bellowing but operating on a distinctly different wavelength and source of refinement. They’re more than just another baked riff machine; there’s a real wonder within them, and Family The Smiling Thrush earns it with flying colours.

8/10

For fans of: Elder, Pijn, Khemmis

‘Family The Smiling Thrush’ by Boss Keloid is released on 4th June on Ripple Music.


Latewaves

Hell To Pay

Having a production credit from Vinnie Caruana on their debut full-length certainly gives Latewaves a healthy boost right out of the gate, but it’s not long into Hell To Pay before they reveal themselves to be perfectly capable of hitting those heights on their own. Theirs is a blend of alt-punk and emo that’s seamless to a fault, and makes up for a lack of true innovation but doubling down on what makes both sides so fantastic. Drilling into the writing brings up some recognisable scenarios in depression, heartbreak and loneliness, but it’s the details that Mike Pellegrino brings, both in the subtleties of his delivery and in how the writing feels sharp and taut enough to avoid standard trappings or pitfalls (for the most part, anyway). There’s the frustration in Stroke Of Luck (How Long) that feels looser with room to breathe on I’m Alright, only to wind back up in a natural kneejerk reaction on Guaranteed Burnouts and Almost Famous. At no point is it earth-shaking stuff, but Latewaves bring the meat to the discussions and themes that great bands will never forgo, and with a song like Send Me To The Moon acting as a more heartfelt moment of comfort, their grasp of fluidity and nuance also has a lot going for it.

And, of course, it’s all made to sound great, with the huge, windswept melodies that are organic to a fault and hooks that could’ve been crafted by some of this scene’s top players. If Enough Is Enough or I’m Alright came from The Menzingers or, indeed, I Am The Avalanche themselves, they’d more than likely be enormously successful, such is the level of honing that Latewaves have already undergone that’s paid off in spades. Caruana’s production definitely helps in fostering the warmer guitar and bass tone, but just on the basis of compositional strength, the energy on Stroke Of Luck (How Long) and Too Much and the swelling emotion of the title track have a familiarity that’s never detrimental or jarring. If anything, seeing Latewaves pulling from recognisable sources within their scene makes the experience feel that much more robust and lived-in, and Pellegrino has enough of a unique tone in his voice anyway ward off any sort of stagnation. It makes for an album where there’s barely a weak link among it, truth be told, and where a couple more great anthems in their catalogue could easily see Latewaves vault up their scene’s ladder in record time. Hell To Pay really is indicative of that greatness so early on, and seeing that be nurtured to keep Latewaves moving forward makes it so worth keeping an eye on.

8/10

For fans of: I Am The Avalanche, The Wonder Years, Bayside

‘Hell To Pay’ by Latewaves is released on 4th June on Know Hope Records.


Worm Shepherd

In The Wake Ov Sòl

For the next stop in Unique Leader’s complete monopoly of blackened deathcore, we get to Worm Shepherd who, from all of that previous context, sound exactly as one would expect them to. At least, on paper they do, with a bleak, desolate and heavy-as-sin backdrop for borderline incomprehensible growls and animal shrieks, but In The Wake Ov Sòl also makes use of greater size and opulence to stand out a fair bit more. Songs like Accursed, Aether and especially Cavern Dweller embed themselves with a more sweeping sense of power thanks to woven-in symphonic elements, without distracting from the calamitous heft that is the album’s driving force. It’s become almost cliché to state this already, but Worm Shepherd truly do sound heavy in the most literal sense, where guitars like falling anvils will smash through at a very deliberate pace, while being accentuated by slam breakdowns and a decently tight and sharp drum tone. The willingness to nudge the needle a bit does make the difference though, where longer songs feel more justified in letting themselves ring out more, and the overall mood is more ominous and haunted overall. For a sound that’s become very cut-and-dry very fast, it’s good to see Worm Shepherd taking a proactive route of trying something more, and In The Wake Ov Sòl is ultimately more engaging as a result.

Strip that back though, and Worm Shepherd do feel comfortable with hitting the usual beats their particular scene demands. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, mind, especially when between Devin Duarte’s immaculate vocal range and the triple guitar assault that facilitates how earth-rendering heavy this actually is, they seem to fall into place rather well. On the other hand though, the anti-suicide sentiment of the album is a bit unwieldy (especially when all previous conditioning implies that lyrics really aren’t important in this scene), and the shoulder-to-shoulder proximity to so many others in the exact same field does take the edge off somewhat. It’s not something that Worm Shepherd can be blamed for though, and it can’t be said that they aren’t trying to at least fray the lines a bit. For as interbred as this scene can be, getting a guest vocalist as high-profile as Chelsea Grin’s Alex Koehler feels like a greater move in itself, and Worm Shepherd are able to mask some of the genre’s shortcomings a bit more effectively than others. It’s just a more solid approximation of what the blackened deathcore scene has to offer on the whole, where the ambitions are greater among an execution that’s predictably and welcomely enormous. Whether it’ll elevate Worm Shepherd above the competition remains to be seen given how tight the space they’re occupying has come to be, but they can certainly make a strong case for it. It wouldn’t be out of the question or unwelcome if they did just that.

7/10

For fans of: Lorna Shore, Distant, Osiah

‘In The Wake Ov Sòl’ by Worm Shepherd is released on 4th June on Unique Leader Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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