The Catch Up – 2021 (Part 1)

Olivia Rodrigo

Sour

Being the breakout pop star of the moment comes with enormous pressure to deliver, but with the seemingly endless stream of praise coming towards Olivia Rodrigo and her debut record Sour, it seems she’s universally met expectations. Sour is a breakup album through and through, Rodrigo taking the listener on the full first-relationship-ending-in-tears emotional journey. Ballads are obviously synonymous with breakup albums, and they’re an area where Sour never lacks, inescapable lead single drivers license acting as more of a taster for the majority record than anyone could have guessed. Well over half of what’s here is gentle teenage melancholy, these songs often coming one after another with little uptempo respite – if any of these ballads were the sole toned-down moments on a record then they’d be complete showstoppers. In the hands of a lesser artist, having so many one after another would leave their record dead in the water straightaway. With Rodrigo in the driver’s seat though, these songs are sold with so much palpable rawness and with a ridiculous amount of songwriting prowess (particularly for someone so young). When the more exciting moments (where Rodrigo shows off much of her versatility when it comes to genre) do come, be it the pop punk exhilaration of good 4 u or moody stomp of jealousy, jealousy, they feel glorious and cathartic and ready to unite anyone who’s ever been wronged by an ex or their social media feed, regardless of age. Though Sour takes a while to warm up musically, all of its songs are crafted to an incredible standard. Most importantly, Olivia Rodrigo has something to say on this album, and hers is a voice many fans (of different generations) will be following for some time. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Taylor Swift, Conan Gray, FLETCHER


Chevelle

NIRATIAS

Chevelle’s continued metamorphosis from mid-tier radio-rockers to an actually legitimate alt-metal band is still an astounding development, mostly because that isn’t the path these bands usually take. As easy as it would be to remain stuck in their ways, their last handful of albums have found Chevelle attempting to reach something wider and loftier, now up to the obligatory sci-fi concept album with NIRATIAS. And right from the start, it’s worth acknowledging that there’s not significant paradigm shift within that content – a rather obvious statement when the title is an acronym for ‘nothing is real and this is a simulation’ – but the attempt alone is more adventurous than most in this lane are willing to go. Paired with a sonic well that draws most from Tool in its dank, bleak tones and slithering basslines, Chevelle actually manage to deliver something that’s nearly wholly compelling, especially when their experience at more straightforward material is woven in with such ease. Songs like So Long, Mother Earth and Self Destructor bring in their bigger, more defined choruses without losing the heft or grit picked up elsewhere, and the snapped-out rhythms of Peach definitely feel more in line with a more progressive brand of late ‘90s / early 2000s alt-metal that Chevelle align themselves with excellently. Musically NIRATIAS is a consistently convincing step towards something deeper and more experimental for Chevelle, and the fact they arrive there without abandoning their old strengths and still thrive is something to certainly praise. At the same time though, it’s an album that’ll appeal to a certain stripe of listener more than others; that’s been the case with Chevelle’s more progressive bent basically since it started, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the results will likely seem more impressive to those not as familiar with the touchstones they’re pulling from. Even so, this is still good work (probably better than Tool’s last album, to be honest), the sort of noteworthy advancement that has a lot of potential moving forward, and a lot to like and think highly of even now. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Tool, A Perfect Circle, Deftones


Måneskin

Teatro d’ira – Vol. I

Yes, the sudden boost for Måneskin unquestionably came from them winning Eurovision this year (and it’s not like our covering them here is any different), but their newfound profile comes across as more than just a fit of post-winners hype. More so, it’s the fact that this is what won Eurovision, a rugged, rampantly horny blues-rock band that doesn’t even come close to fitting the same mould as ABBA or Lulu. They’re like Greta Van Fleet but good, most of all, in that Måneskin understand that this sort of throwback-rock needs some real muscle and intensity to work. Part of that can be attributed to Damiano David as a frontman, in both a naturally more ragged voice and how the Italian language lends itself well to his snarling cadences, but sonically, Måneskin feel so much more legitimate than most in the same lane. There’s actual weight to the guitar and bass where Zitti e buoni and Lividi sui gomiti have their moments of real righteousness, and on a song like Coraline where it is toned down more, the band aren’t sacrificing anything to do so. Even when they do cross over into English-language songs to make the gap between them and blatant nostalgia aping even closer, there’s still a riotousness to I Wanna Be Your Slave that’s far less tame and clandestine than most are willing to go. It’s also worth noting that Måneskin’s break came on the Italian version of X Factor, and how, out of pretty much every act in their field, they feel the least manufactured and compromised by a country mile. Even for as slight and scrappy as this album can be sometimes, it feels as though it’s coming from a real place, not designed by algorithm to pander to boomers who’ve not listened to something new past the ‘70s. It’s an exciting step into potentially amazing things, something that literally every fact surrounding this band would try to dispute but simply can’t. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement, Dorothy


Zara Larsson

Poster Girl

The story of Zara Larsson’s second album is nothing new in the world of pop; constant rewrites and indecision about which tracks to include delaying an already difficult release and the career rise of a promising young star. The singer herself has also blamed her sense of perfectionism for the four-year gap between her mainstream debut and Poster Girl, and the songs on this record are certainly a step up from her old material. You can tell straightaway which ones predate writing for this album – the super-dramatic Love Me Land, Marshmello-helmed WOW and now three-year-old Ruin My Life – and have been tacked on just because of their success as singles (strongest and most sonically relevant single All The Time curiously left off the track-list), cohesion maybe an afterthought. That said, the songs that are bona fide Poster Girl creations are a different story. Led by groovy bass and irresistible pop girl choruses, these tracks are full of fun, designed for loud crowd moments and hip swinging partying. Need Someone and the title track are pure pop bliss, Look What You’ve Done has drawn ABBA comparisons for its string-accompanied other-side-of-a-breakup joy, while FFF is undeniably one of the highlights of Larsson’s career so far, nailing the silly Europop dance song format and carrying it off with shedloads of swagger. What Poster Girl doesn’t do is reinvent the wheel, but it’s a level up and repackaging of Larsson’s talents (with even a hint of a full-on cohesive album artist) and most importantly, bucketloads of fun. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Anne-Marie, Mabel, Selena Gomez


Arab Strap

As Days Get Dark

Arab Strap aren’t an easy band to get into, almost solely for how they fall into the dead centre of tremendous density and grisly, often uncomfortable lyrical sentiment. But as is often the case in those situations, they’re difficult to look away from, in what’s an almost voyeuristic experience with Aidan Moffat’s deliberately sleazy and grubby lyrical style that never shies away from the sordid details. It’s fascinating to watch in unfiltered stories of crippling sexual proclivities on Another Clockwork Day and Compersion, Pt. 1, or dangerous hypermasculine behaviour on Here Comes Comus!, all of which seem to delight in steamrolling over the conventions of what could be deemed indie-rock. For as broad as that descriptor is, As Days Get Dark feels like an ‘indie’ album from a nominal perspective at best; tonally, it’s far darker and seedier, in the programmed percussion that simulates creeping dread all on its own, even before the low-hanging bass and guitars and unstable horns fall in around it. For the duo’s first album in 16 years, nothing has been lost in terms of pure intent and the potential to eviscerate such a swathe around themselves. If anything, that increased age and weariness feeds into it excellently, in Moffat’s clear layers of cynicism congealed around a hopeless landscape inhibited by hopeless people (see Fable Of The Urban Fox for how that fully comes into play), and the natural brogue of his Scottish accent that’s so much heavier and more tired simply through design. It’s a great listen for something more ominous and thorny, where Arab Strap bring such a quiet intensity so impressively and convincingly with every word. It can be difficult to get into, sure, but making it across that high barrier to entry yields an album that’s truly difficult to forget in a hurry. • LN

8/10

For fans of: The Twilight Sad, Low, Bill Callahan


Nick Jonas

Spaceman

Stripped back reflection been a theme amongst many lockdown albums, but for Nick Jonas, he’s used the time to create Spaceman, a record he hopes will up the ante for his solo career. The experiments come with the overall framing of the record – it’s perhaps the Nick Jonas record that feels most like a fully realised project, at the very least the one with the most planning and brainpower behind it. Songs are interconnected with extended intros and outros, futuristic, theme-keeping bleeping sound effects, and overarching lyrical themes of distance, indulgence, euphoria and commitment. It’s a promising concept, although it’s not one you’d pick up on without being directly told about it. Despite the effort to push himself, Jonas doesn’t really step outside of the box on many, if any, other areas of Spaceman. It’s mostly a record of seductive pop/R&B jams, a style of music it can be hard to get a lot of personality through with, and the singer struggles to stamp individuality on a lot of the tracks here. He fares best with the more fun moments like 2Drunk or love songs where he can really sell the sweetness of what he’s singing about like the gospel-esque This Is Heaven or dreampop-tinged If I Fall. Otherwise, not much else here has one diving for the ‘save’ button. The attempts Nick Jonas has made to create a full concept album are applause-worthy, they need to be pushed a lot further than on Spaceman to really make a mark. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Justin Timberlake, Charlie Puth, Liam Payne


Griff

One Foot In Front Of The Other

The Rising Star gong at the Brit Awards is usually a pretty good indicator that an artist is going to go places, and latest recipient Griff is marking her glory with the release of her debut mixtape. One Foot In Front Of The Other showcases a phenomenal talent, with Griff writing and producing the majority of these tracks completely by herself, her actual performance on them assured but showing a tenderness (something a lot of pop stars shy away from) as she explores her own journey towards letting others in, healing her broken heart and learning to love again. It’s not a narrative that’s in any way new, but Griff’s likeable candour and fresh take on pop production helps sell every single one of these tracks. Black Hole already feels like a masterclass in pop songwriting, its melodramatic lyrics counteracted by the fun, danceable instrumental, Shade Of Yellow radiates the warmth and safety its lyrics talk about, while stripped back moments like reflective Heart Of Gold or stunning piano ballad Earl Grey Tea shine. This is exactly the release she needed to put out – a collection of songs that proves her as a formidable talent in the pop world, but more importantly, makes listeners hungry for more. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Nina Nesbitt, Foxes, Emily Burns


dodie

Build A Problem

Perhaps it’s the career as a YouTuber with a following of almost two million, but there’s always been a focus on communal soul-bearing with Dodie’s music. She may write songs as a form of catharsis for herself, but she never comes across as talking down to or at her listeners, always positioning them in her eyeline. There’s a delicacy to her sound that’s often hard to take as anything other than twee, but debut album Build A Problem further displays the skill at crafting musical worlds the singer has shown previously on her Human EP. The production on Build A Problem is audibly meticulous, but accentuates the flaws of Dodie’s sound. She builds textures with pretty harmonies, her delicate vocal layered on top of itself ten times over to create something more enveloping than mighty. The instrumentation creates a sense of intimacy, acoustic guitars quietly plucking away in the background, and while the strings are an organic mainstay on the record, things that are more unique and impressive such as the singer’s own clarinet playing are introduced without fanfare. If you’re a listener who doesn’t tend to gravitate towards poetic lyrics in favour of musical substance (which would assumingly be more of the case outside of Dodie’s online fanbase), this isn’t the record for you – while there is a point of view in the lyrics and credit to be found in these songs’ framework, they float along, going in one ear and straight out the other. Build A Problem shows a promising idea of the artist Dodie could be, but there’s just not enough meat on the bone here to really force you to pay attention. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Maisie Peters, mxmtoon, Rusty Clanton


Eyehategod

A History Of Nomadic Behavior

In a sound as well-established as NOLA sludge-metal, it doesn’t take long to realise that something about Eyehategod’s latest sounds off. They’ve always been a bit outside the norm of that particular scene in their notable punk edge, but where Down or Crowbar have held on to a relatively natural progression in their recent output, A History Of Nomadic Behavior sounds bizarrely thin and toothless for what it’s trying to be. It’s less a problem with Mike IX Williams as a frontman though, with a hoarse, bellicose rasp that still brings a substantive punk streak to things, even in lyrics that are mostly tied-together images to highlight how desperation, poverty and just a general despondency will shape this band’s path. Rather, Eyehategod’s sound has notably less presence this time around; Williams sounds as though he recorded his parts in a completely different room given the contrast of fidelities, and in the gloomy, slow-paced instrumentation that leaches out any meaningful doom and sludge elements, it just sounds slow and old. The bite to this album is almost entirely peritextual in its relation to Williams’ liver transplant in 2016, in which his haggard voice has a gnarled quality that nothing else can sufficiently match. Thus, A History Of Nomadic Behavior just doesn’t wow in any significant way, as an indication of an ageing band that aren’t doing so gracefully, and instead try to capture some sort of force that widely misses its mark. Especially for a band known for such a visceral, hard-bitten lifestyle, this doesn’t come close to the impression that gives. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Down, Crowbar, Corrosion Of Conformity


Madison Beer

Life Support

Debut album Life Support is a more grown-up album for Madison Beer in every sense. Exploring heavier subject matter like the singer’s borderline personality disorder diagnosis in her lyrics, along with using lush strings and cavernous production to hammer home some epic moments, feels like a world away from her As She Pleases EP. But while that EP was a short, sweet taster with some cute pop moments, Life Support feels bloated and filed down to aim for the ultimate pop star sound. Beer has been accused of being an Ariana Grande copycat since her career began – the similarities are 100% there, from the breathy harmonies peppered across the record’s tracklist to the purring way the singer delivers sex jam Baby – but just like any other singer, she borrows liberally from various areas of pop inspirations rather than just one specific artist. Even though the songs on Life Support are lyrically so personal and so much of Beer must have gone into them, it feels like something is missing – these songs are uber dramatic and feel like they’re made to fill huge rooms, but the content of the tracks themselves isn’t memorable enough to do that, and it feels like there isn’t much of a discernible personality aside from trying to prove itself. The mask is dropped on the glint-in-eye Baby and funky bass-led BOYSHIT, both strangely shepherded towards the back end of the record, strange considering they’re the most enjoyable things on it. Life Support is a strange dichotomy between Madison Beer bearing the darkest parts of her soul and her music feeling easily attributed to any young pop starlet. She has the talent to be huge, but she needs much more flavour to get beyond the odd viral hit. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Camila Cabello, Ariana Grande, Bea Miller


Brand Of Sacrifice

Lifeblood

‘Reinventing deathcore’ might seem like a heavy cross to affix to Brand Of Sacrifice – mostly because time and experience has done enough to convince that it might actually be impossible – but they’re nothing if not willing to try. Given that this second album is based around the manga Berserk and boasts guest stars like Emmure’s Frankie Palmeri and I Prevail’s Eric Vanlerberghe, they’re clearly against being corralled among the genre’s usual monotony, and Lifeblood reflects that rather effectively on the whole. It’s still not amazing, mostly due to the deathcore grounding still being a little rigid overall, but to their enormous credit, Brand Of Sacrifice actually put the work in to sound grand and imposing, where the choral vocals and synths actually feel like necessary accompaniments rather than hackneyed modernity. It’s a welcome break from chug-happy nothingness, while still holding onto a level of heaviness that’s really impressive throughout, especially for how polished this album is. This is what modern deathcore should be aspiring to be a lot more often, where it actually feels adventurous and in service to more than just straight pummeling. Even if it still doesn’t leave much to say – such is the limitations of this genre as a whole, sadly – there’s more to like about Lifeblood than average for deathcore albums, to where the potential for longevity is a lot greater as a whole. It’s definitely worth a look for that if nothing else. • LN

7/10

For fans of: The Acacia Strain, Oceano, Osiah


Maggie Lindemann

PARANOIA

When you have an experience as traumatic as Maggie Lindemann’s detainment in Malaysia, bubblegum pop definitely isn’t the right medium to tell such a story through. Enter PARANOIA, the singer’s first full project with her new pop punk sound. It sees Lindemann delve into subject matter slightly deeper than her breakout hits Pretty Girl (about how she’s more than that) and Obsessed (about a vain lover) allowed, discussing the emotional impact of her Malaysian experience and subsequent paranoia on Knife Under My Pillow and Different. This switch-up in sound doesn’t feel overtly like it’s jumping on the 2000s rock revival bandwagon many artists have been pushing forward of late, and the singer’s silky vocal that feels made for radio play powers an angsty stormer like Crash And Burn in a way many Hayley Williams copycats could only dream of. The most impressive thing about PARANOIA is how little fat there is to chew in its runtime. The one exception is GASLIGHT!!! featuring Siiickbrain. Trap beats and floaty vocals make it the furthest thing from Lindemann’s new pop punk image on the whole EP, and Siiickbrain’s screams, the one thing somewhat tying it to the rest of these songs, are genuinely unpleasant to listen to. Thankfully, it’s gotten out of the way early in the EP’s sub-three minute fashion. PARANOIA is overall a super promising reinvention from a young artist who could’ve so easily been pigeonholed in the music biz. Lindemann has promised she has bigger and better things coming in the form of her debut album, and this project has done enough to ensure fans will be hungry for it. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Paramore, Avril Lavigne, Pale Waves


guccihighwaters

joke’s on you

It’s fair to say that emo-rap is nowhere near the lucrative force it once was, even extending to the acts once suspected to be something of a long-lasting crossover force. Granted, guccihighwaters was never given that luxury to an extent as full as others, but compared to so many of the no-names that the scene facilitated, he at least had a profile. And yet, on joke’s on you, you really get a feel for how far this sound has slipped, given how dated this all feels already. Admittedly he’s picked up some production that can has a bit more misty atmosphere (outside of the usual recycled trap beats), but that rarely gets over the usual hump of deeply uninteresting songs and a vocalist whose idea of sounding vulnerable is to thin out his voice to sound as brittle and weedy as possible. It’s all compounded by the usual problems too, in wallowing lyrics that don’t offer much depth outside surface-level depressive musings, and an issue with pace and tone that makes everything drag horrendously. It definitely feels like one of the last gasps of a scene breaking through, in the same way that so much recent emo-rap has, and that only piles on the generic, formless existence of joke’s on you even higher. Like so much, it’s not going to stick around in the slightest, and there’s no anticipation of that miraculously changing either. • LN

4/10

For fans of: nothing,nowhere., Lil Xtra, Smrtdeath


Aly & AJ

a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun

Putting a record out 14 years after your last, which preceded something of a fizzle out due to label turbulence, isn’t a decision one just rushes into. With Aly & AJ, former Disney star sisters who’ve made a glorious return with synthpop EPs, their fourth album a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun is not only another sonic pivot, but a collection of songs they’re genuinely passionate about. The sisters set out to create a “timeless California” vibe on a touch of the beat…, favouring more organic instrumentation (recorded by a live band) and melding together influences from the 60s and 70s with modern trends and sentiments – it feels like a new breed of the Americana bands Aly & AJ have been so inspired by. At the drop of a hat, they can go from euphoric pop dancing to romantic introspection, all of which feel like they have pure sunshine woven through them, tailor made for warm road trips and good times with those closest to you. Pretty Places and Don’t Need Nothing sum up the ethos of the entire record, setting a bar for sun-kissed, dreamy pop rock that champions leaving life’s stresses behind in favour of embracing the beauty in every day (particularly poignant with the times we’re living in). Symptom Of Your Touch and Paradise provide the pop heart bursts, while Lucky To Get Him and Break Yourself tread new ground, fitting sprawling creativity in three or four minutes. Artistically, the cohesion on a touch of the beat… is second to none, as is the songwriting and execution. This record shows what an essential voice Aly & AJ have the potential to be if the world gives them the chance; but before that, they’re the perfect optimistic soundtrack to escape to. • GJ

9/10

For fans of: Haim, Fleetwood Mac, Maggie Rogers


Dead Poet Society

-!-

With an intro track sampling a conversation around the authenticity of modern music, there’s definitely room to pigeonhole Dead Poet Society within the camp of bands openly promoting ‘real’ rock music, yet having a flagrant disregard for the innovation that can make it exciting. Perhaps it’s less serious than that overall when they reside closer to the coterie of Badflower or Highly Suspect, but it’s an easy set-up to a band with ideas and views of themselves that are way above their station. It’s not even that -!- is a bad album – Dead Poet Society have similar proficiency to the bands they’ll be grouped with in this form of alt-hard rock – but they aren’t at a point of wowing yet, nor do they really have the same amount of flair to them. They’ve definitely got a trump card in frontman Jack Underkofler, but the lyrics he’s given to work with aren’t all that great, and it distinctly feels like a band trying to be deeper and more transgressive than they’re equipped to be. At least there’s a solid instrumental foundation all the way through (unnecessary interludes excluded), where there’s a lot of raucous guitar work touched with a poppier finish, but not too much to distract. It yields the best results on .AmericanBlood. and .intoodeep., but heavier, less coiled versions of the classic rock revival and Royal Blood formulae on .loveyoulikethat. and .lovemelikeyoudo. respectively have some punch to them that’s pretty likable. You get the impression that Dead Poet Society are yet to find one thing they really excel at, and instead opt to pick and choose some relative strengths from around their scene that isn’t quite as amazing as they want it to be, but leaves a good number of doors open for the future. Let’s just hope it actually pays off moving forward. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Badflower, Highly Suspect, cleopatrick


The Steel Woods

All Of Your Stones

On The Steel Woods’ last album Old News, it felt as though they were really trying to redefine themselves within country-rock, with the sort of sprawling, deliberately inaccessible and heavy work that can feel completely at odds with what the genre usually offers. Suffice to say, it didn’t quite work as well as they might have wanted, so while All Of Your Stones isn’t a full face-turn (it’s still longer and meatier than albums like this tend to be), it’s a bit more of a standard affair, for better and for worse. For one, there’s still an unavoidable amount of clunk to be found, kicked off by the blocky groove of opener proper Out Of Blue and feeling increasingly noteworthy from then on. There’s definitely a bit more elegance to a song like You Never Came Home where the abundance of pianos feel as though they’re trying to replicate a classic rock ballad, but beyond that and some acoustic-driven moments that, to be honest, could be more interesting, there’s a similar exhausting size here that The Steel Woods can rarely escape. At least it’s produced well enough, with the guitars having some sizzle and muscle, and the writing in general is a cut above a lot of country-rock banality. For what it is, it does feel as though the boat is being pushed out in a sound that seldom entertains that idea, and that’s one thing at The Steel Woods’ core that remains strong regardless. What’s around it might be a bit more hit-or-miss, but the idea can be accepted nonetheless. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cody Jinks, The Cadillac Three


Glitterer

Life Is Not A Lesson

It’s been odd to see some of the polarised responses to Glitterer, especially considering how Ned Russin’s former band Title Fight frequently received top billing among their particular wave of emo. It’s not like the genesis of Glitterer feels all that different either, mainly repurposed in fuzzy indie-rock draped in distinguished shades of melancholy and insularity. But therein lies the problem, in that it’s a common route for emo side-projects to take, and in its abortive length and very limited sense of construction, Life Is Not A Lesson is a notably thin listen. At least it sounds fine (outside of the farty synths that dominate How A Song Should Go, that is), and this sort of downbeat, scruffy indie-rock does a fair job at masking the technical shortcomings in Russin’s voice. At the same time though, when most of these songs won’t even scrape two minutes and they touch on a lot of the same subject matter of anxiety and uncertainty, it highlights a flimsiness that doesn’t necessarily feel rushed, but shorn of the depth or palpable grit that a lot of this music can have when it works. Couple that with the fact that it’s not all that memorable at really any point, and the 22-minute overall runtime barely even feels worth it, where an okay indie-rock prospect falls down almost entirely on its own accord. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Superheaven, Title Fight, Basement


Charlotte Lawrence

Charlotte

Sad songs and their attached image are super trendy with younger artists right now, but it seems that a lot of them make the mistake of putting out projects overwhelmingly made up of slow, ballad-like numbers instead of more varied sounds and speeds. Charlotte Lawrence seems to have fallen into this trap with her latest EP Charlotte, consisting largely of toned down spotlight moments as opposed to her more EDM-tinged debut Young. Lead single Talk You Down is far and away the best thing on here, its watery synths and catchy melody super danceable, but still a worthy soundtrack for anyone struggling with anxiety if they scratch the track’s surface. You is pretty enough too, with some differentiation in the vocal patterns to make it more memorable than a lot of what comes afterwards. Aside from those though, almost everything else here is very delicate, not exactly the best complement for Lawrence’s breathy vocals that don’t serve as the best vehicle for personality. RX, which should be a storming solidarity moment between people who keep sliding down the slippery slope back to their exes, plods along to a singular drumbeat and piano, while the one other change-up in sound Why Do You Love Me feels completely stripped of the energy that the guitar and pounding, stuttering chorus invite with a somewhat faceless performance. All in all, as appealing as the sentiments are in the lyrics on Charlotte, a lot of the material doesn’t feel like a good fit for the singer’s talents, the more toned-down ones turning into a bit of a snooze-fest. They’re not poorly-crafted songs in the slightest, but Charlotte’s misfiring shows a lack of understanding of how to handle what Charlotte Lawrence has brought and can bring to the table. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Billie Eilish, Olivia O’Brien, Sasha Sloan


Soen

Imperial

As a prog-metal band formed from alumni of other, heavier bands (most notably Opeth, Testament and Death), Soen widely opt to lean away from the more extreme side of things. It’s a reasonable decision, to avoid too much overlap and to show off a bit more musical diversity, and it’s not exactly like Imperial suffers for it. That doesn’t necessarily make it a great album, but the overall loftier tone is a nice one to take up on Deceiver or Monarch, where the band display equal levels of aptitude with both sweeping prog and a heavier side to themselves. The instrumental mixing and balancing is universally solid on all fronts, and Joel Ekelöf has a more sonorous vocal tone that captures a lot of the drama and theatricality that this band are trying to foster below the surface. The problem is that those exact descriptors could be applied to any number of bands, and Soen’s lack of relative thrills are doing them any favours when it comes to standing out or making a name for themselves outside of who’s involved. The writing isn’t anything to scream praises for, and for an album with a fairly modest length, it’s not hard to feel that settle in on more than a few occasions when songs will routinely eclipse five minutes. Mostly, it’s just the most expected derivative of prog-metal, where it’s rarely bad doesn’t particularly wow much either. It’s sufficient enough though, and cutting back on some of its genre’s crippling self-indulgence is always a good thing, if nothing else. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Opeth, Anathema, Haken


That Handsome Devil

Your Parents Are Sellouts

It’s not like there are many high expectations when it comes to this album. That Handsome Devil aren’t a novelty band but they aren’t one you go to for real insight or intelligence, and the fact this new album came pretty much out of nowhere on New Year’s Day implies there isn’t a great deal of stock in it regardless. The same could’ve been said about their other albums, but where the self-titled and A City Dressed In Dynamite were at least fun, Your Parents Are Sellouts feels as though it’s trying to capture the same energy but from the completely wrong perspective. Gone is the gonzo alt-rap / psychobilly caterwauling that was so distinctive, replaced by a more subdued skew towards a rough soul-reggae-rock template at times, where the same liveliness is in nowhere near the same capacity. Godforbid isn’t on full power as a frontman either, where he’ll regularly flit between unenthused mumbles on Dinosaur or La Di Frickin Da, or a far less forceful version of his usually outsized personality on Hoodlum and Guys Are Gross. There’s still a tongue-in-cheek element that’s been left intact, particularly on Date Rape U which feels like a spiritual sequel to Dating Tips and is far better than its title might suggest, but in general, there isn’t a lot here to speak too highly of. It’s frankly amazing that That Handsome Devil have lasted this long, but Your Parents Are Sellouts definitely feels the impact of its self-imposed low stakes, predominantly for the worse. • LN

4/10

For fans of: Electric Six, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Richard Cheese


stillhungry

stillhungry

Choosing to make your second record self-titled just like your first is a quiet statement even before hearing the music, but one listen to stillhungry’s sophomore release armed with such knowledge tells you everything you need to know. The project of musicians Matteo DeBenedetti, Jenna Murphy and Erik Kase Romero, stillhungry is a project of quietly self-assured alt-country that wears its heart and lyrical prowess very much on its sleeve. These are songs about hard times, conveyed through pure poetry, the three band members sharing vocal duties equally and making everything feel like a multi-faceted recount of events. It can be easy for the delicate melodies to drift over your head (you know exactly what you’re in for from the first track), existing only as a soundtrack to a moment where you need a squeeze on the shoulder in the form of music or a zoned-out, eyes closed kind of afternoon instead of a tune that takes gargantuan effort to get out of your brain. That said, stillhungry is very much an endearing labour of love that showcases real talent. Certainly one that could have a cult following in time. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Soccer Mommy, Dogwood Tales, Snacking


Sirenia

Riddles, Ruins & Revelations

When the vaunted selling point of a symphonic metal band is ‘they use more synths’, it might be worth taking time to evaluate how narrow those genre conventions are when that’s seen as a unique feature. The crossover into pure power-metal is a similar discussion, and a noteworthy one when it comes to Sirenia and how overall pedestrian they sound on both fronts. The buzzer synth is a nice touch – it’s reminiscent of Amaranthe’s less frustratingly derivative moments – but it’ll regularly feel wedged in or crammed against the usually packed mix to feel like a gimmick above all else. It’s not exactly a shock within these particular genres, but given how, when stripped away, Sirenia basically sound like the most cookie-cutter version of that imaginable, it doesn’t feel like they’re looking to extend their reach further than a brief flicker of immediate recognisability. It’s not as if the writing is more than the genre’s usual highfalutin grandstanding, nor does Emmanuelle Zoldan sound like a more distinctive presence than any other operatic singer in her lane, despite still being incredibly talented and proficient. The main problem that Sirenia have is that there isn’t much staying power to them, especially when they’ll be brought in the same conversation as a band like Epica whose album this year has only increased in value over time. Sirenia, meanwhile, are the empty-calorie stuffing that comprises a distressing amount within their genre; in other words, it’s nothing new in the slightest. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Amaranthe, Delain, Within Temptation


Mason Hill

Against The Wall

Chances are that the most you’ll have heard about Mason Hill is how they scored a UK Top 20 album with this release, an impressive feat for an independent band but a curious one nonetheless. It’s akin to Massive Wagons’ similar achievement a few years back, where organic groundswell has put in the work despite the band’s sound being far from where the contemporary compass is pointing. Unlike Massive Wagons though, Mason Hill have less of a sense of fun to them, instead being more in line with cut-and-dry US butt-rock, and winding up with an obvious downgrade as a result. There’s an obviously British slant that keeps them a bit higher than that particular low threshold – Scott Taylor’s solid voice and the presence of an actual bass from Matthew Ward, above all – but the dreary tone and chugging pace don’t make for a particularly entertaining listen, especially when so much of this territory has effectively been covered, mined and salted at this point. It’s not even a case of laziness given that Mason Hill perform a better approximation of this thing than a lot of others, but rather the sound and style itself does them no favours in terms of exploration or bringing new musical ideas into the fold. It’s a very polished, neatly-packaged hard rock album, keeping itself from drifting away with the rest of the detritus but never exceeding those expectations either. For those for whom a hard rock sound this standard is still a source of appeal, there’s no reason that Against The Wall shouldn’t suit, but you’d like to think that a more discerning music fan would expect just a bit more. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Massive Wagons, Inglorious, Wayward Sons


Oscar Scheller

Boys Cry

Working behind the scenes for game-changing artists is sure to get creative juices flowing, something that’s clearly worked for Oscar Scheller. While producing for Ashnikko and Rina Sawayama, he put out his third album Boys Cry earlier this year, and it’s a record with a clear point of view. Boys Cry is a showcase of male vulnerability and reinforcing new definitions of masculinity, going in depth on heartbreaks, mental illness, self-love, and playing with Barbie instead of Action Man. These songs are all very in vogue – cutesy instrumentals that sound tailor-made for TikTok with sadboy lyrics drenched in charm, although they do rely a little too heavily on cliches. Scheller’s vocals, an often echoey baritone, are the most immediately engaging thing about this record, but it can often be hard to make out what’s being said which is an issue when the lyrics being sung are paramount to what this album is trying to do. A problem with the sound Boys Cry is going for is how toned-down it can be. Peach, the standout pop song on Boys Cry, is a chilled-out guitar-and-whistle earworm – definitely not the usual framework for such a track. Other instrumentals on the record aim to go hand-in-hand with the vulnerable lyrics but come out a bit too chilled, with no real memorable hooks to keep anything in your brain. The sentiment behind Boys Cry gets points, but it’s unlikely to stay with you unless it scores a TikTok hit. • GJ

6/10

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


Claud

Super Monster

If Phoebe Bridgers signs you, you must be onto something when it comes to emotional storytelling. Claud’s debut album Super Monster came out through Bridger’s Saddest Factory Records in February, and it feels like a true Gen-Z coming of age. Told through intimate bedroom pop that sounds like it’s grabbing your hand and flying you through dreamy soundscapes, Super Monster goes through a whole emotional spectrum. It feels like the next logical evolution for Soccer Mommy and Adult Mom-type artists, adding dinky synth lines and flourishes that make songs that could require a lot of attention a bite-sized sugar rush. Claud’s vocals are super pretty, bringing a level of lovable sweetness to material that could be forgettable in the wrong hands, and really selling the wist of Overnight and Soft Spot. While these songs have every chance to become easy breezy TikTok music, there’s a hint of experimentation with the cutesy punk edge to That’s Mr. Bitch To You to echo the anti-male chauvinist lyrics. It’s clear with Super Monster that Claud still has some growing to do when it comes to their sound, but there’s lots of potential here and definitely some new playlist mainstays. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Soccer Mommy, Tegan And Sara, Samia


Awake At Last

Armageddon

Why do bands like this still exist? What use is there for another cookie-cutter butt-rock band drowning themselves in production and filters to the point where even the most ardent of Tapout-sporting chuds wouldn’t want this? At least Awake At Last have kept it brief at only four songs, but Armageddon still manages to cram in all the woeful parts of this scene with the greatest of ease. That production really is the most noticeable part too, where it predictably tries to sound epic and sweeping but winds up gutless, as guitars and drums having nothing close to weight and anything close to a bassline has been scrubbed away post-haste. You also don’t realise how underpowered Vincent Torres is as a vocalist until he’s paired with Adelitas Way’s Rick DeJesus on This Means War, a singer that’s capable of far more gravitas and might than what’s bordering on Escape The Fate-lite. Of course the lyrics are awful too, wallowing in the absolute broadest platitudes that anyone who’s heard more than one of these bands would presume with titles like Dead To Me and This Means War, without even the good graces to bring choruses that stick or anything close to flair. It’s borderline worthless, even for the scene it’s in, and Awake At Last outwardly trying to capitalise on an already fleeting strain of modernity just feels embarrassing. • LN

2/10

For fans of: Through Fire, Saint Asonia, My Darkest Days


Courting

Grand National

At least Courting are staking their claim in modern post-punk with an EP, not another full-length that might be solid but winds up basically indistinguishable from most everything else that’s out there. It’s basically an invaluable boon for Grand National here, where yet again, the ideas, sound and content aren’t bad, but Courting really aren’t making a case for standing out in any particular way. Especially in an attempt to crossbreed Sports Team’s rubberiness with Idles’ all-encompassing shadow (see closer Slow Burner for the most obvious showcase), it’s hard to see what Courting offer that doesn’t involving stepping on all manner of toes to get there. At least it still sounds pretty good, where the bass and sharper guitars stick out on the title track and Popshop!, and Sean Murphy-O’Neill has the correct disenfranchised tone for ruminating on modern life and the music industry in the sardonic way that he does. It’s a perfectly serviceable post-punk release, salvaged by a brief and easy runtime to prevent any of the most glaring likenesses from setting in too deeply. It’s a bit of cheat move, especially for what feels deliberately engineered to have that effect, but at least it works; there’s more of an impetus to keep Courting around, simply on the grounds of not taking up as much room as others. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Sports Team, Idles, Fontaines D.C.


Arm’s Length

Everything Nice

Getting your big break on TikTok is an oh-so current way to start a career, and Ontario’s Arms Length have been earning some major brownie points on the platform, hoping to capitalise on the traction with their latest EP, Everything Nice. Considering the trio have only been a band for a few years and are made up of 18 to 20 year olds, their second EP sounds ridiculously advanced compared to most bands of their ilk at this stage in their careers. Everything Nice is a crash course in the best parts of all kinds of modern pop punk and emo – the grittiness of Seahaven and Balance and Composure, the intricate guitar work of Tiny Moving Parts and the huge, rabble-rousing choruses of most pop punk bands. Everything works wonderfully together, too. Gallows Humour has a super effective build, dropping out guitars at pivotal moments only for them to crash back in alongside the most call-to-arms lyrics of the track, while quintessential single Garamond provides real catharsis like a good emo anthem should. It’s hard to not picture some of these lyrics (“you put the bliss in ignorance, you were my household name” springs to mind immediately) adorning Tumblr gifsets or artisanal flags designed for bedroom walls, but also soundtracking sweaty crowds full of faces red from screaming back at the stage. Everything Nice is perhaps a little too much a product of its influences at this point in time, but Arms Length have obvious potential to join the ranks of beloved cult emo bands. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Seahaven, Citizen, Basement


Drip-Fed

Kill The Buzz

Rarely does the concept of ‘accessibility’ hold much weight within hardcore, but if there’s a band currently making that working in their favour, it would be Drip-Fed. It’s enough to where, in truth, they don’t really fit many standard definitions of hardcore; Jeffrey Blum’s vocals are regularly ragged and guttural, but there’s a cleanness to the instrumentals behind him that’s leaning more towards punk or alt-rock, particularly in how the basslines will course and throb with a more middling pace. As such, moments of real white-hot blazing like Tone Deaf or Wearing A Wire are more a minority, but Kill The Buzz has a richness to it regardless, especially in some really great layering and mix balancing that’s a bit more considerate of its moving parts than a lot of hardcore tends to be. It makes the lyrics feel a bit more tense in their succumbing to rage and depression, where the more brooding tone of it all feels like a necessary highlight to really make those sentiments linger. Overall it’s just an extremely solid example of hardcore with an alt-rock edge, not something that shift any notable paradigms, but a good potential introduction to the genre to be sure. Even for those well-versed though, Drip-Fed clearly have ideas outside the norm, and it’s brisk enough to where it’s definitely worth a try, if only for an intriguing chance of pace. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Touché Amoré, Polar Bear Club, Make Do And Mend


Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

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