REVIEW ROUND-UP: Bleachers, Foxing, Lingua Ignota

Bleachers

Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night

At this point, Bleachers is demonstrably not the thing that Jack Antonoff is best known for, a fact that really doesn’t need to be reiterated for anyone with even a passing interest in modern pop. He’s become the producer du jour for a metric tonne of pop’s biggest names, though interestingly, the clout gained from Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey and countless others hasn’t really translated into his own work. It certainly could, given that Bleachers have always played to the hugest possible edges of ‘80s pop worship that a bit of celebrity leverage could do wonders for, but that’s happened more indirectly if anything. It’s most likely not Antonoff’s reputation as a musician that’s nabbed him features from Lana Del Rey and Bruce Springsteen on this album, but rather the good will he’s picked up as a reliable industry figurehead, with his own well-liked music in both Bleachers and fun. as a handy bonus. But even that’s not the case on Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night, an album that feels drastically less than the sum of its parts in every regard. This is the sort of ‘80s pastiche that’s almost shockingly out of its depth, where the only things that really work are the general outlines of intentions and artists that are being rather liberally cribbed from. The problem is Antonoff is very surface-level in how he goes about that, and that makes an already short album feel less tight, and more threadbare in how its ideas will rarely feel substantive. Springsteen clearly casts the biggest shadow, not only in his own appearance on Chinatown, but also on Big Life and Don’t Go Dark where an attempt at the glinting heartland rock style is made, only to come out with a general skeleton that might be painted the right colours. There’s no depth to it or any sort of deeper engagement or insight that makes Springsteen’s work so powerful; instead Antonoff finds comfort in broad desires of liberation and running free that have some semantic DNA with The Boss and very little else. There’s also an attempt at a Phil Collins-era Genesis impression on Stop Making This Hurt and a good number of weedy acoustic tracks elsewhere, all of which suffer from the same creative blankness, but they don’t even have the fun factor that can at least make more blatant copycats passable. This is a very unsatisfying album to listen to, where even the customary moments of roaring bombast hit with a whimper, eddied by a surprising amount of dreariness that feels at odd with the entire concept.

But even further down that train of thought, Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night just doesn’t sound very appealing most of the time, which, coming from the mind of a producer as successful as Antonoff, is a huge knock against it almost across the board. Granted, he’s not the only pair of hands behind the production desk, but you’d think that would lead to some balancing and tuning that this album is in dire need of. For one, the vocal production is chronically awful, ruining what could otherwise be passable songs by giving Antonoff this mushy, sloppy affectation, presumably as a means of sounding like waves of backing vocals behind him, but rendering certain parts of songs like Big Life and Stop Making This Hurt practically unintelligible. It even afflicts the supposing saving grace of the guest stars too, where Lana Del Rey is practically a nonentity on Secret Life, and Springsteen drops in practically out of nowhere on Chinatown, but still ends up being enough of a personality that he’s the only part of the album where cracking a smile is possible. That’s mostly because he’s just a great artist through and through, but when Antonoff himself feels like such a limited singer, even not trying at certain points, it’s just nice to have a moment where things come together. Because that’s a precious rarity on this album, and after the admittedly sweet and lush Disney strings on 91, there’s not much quality to find here. Presumably the shtick is to combine the plastic ‘80s with its diametrically opposed heartland cousin—that’s the impression that something like How Dare You Want More gives, anyway—but it’s just not enjoyable, between production that switches between too twee and too blaring, and a lack of punch anywhere that could give something like this some energy. It’s a flabby album when it really can’t afford to be, and that leaves Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night as such a deflated and underpowered listen. An ‘80s rock and pop throwback of this stripe shouldn’t pose this much of a challenge for someone like Antonoff, but it winds up feeling barely tied together and even incompetent in some places. It’s just not worth it; most of the time, the genuine articles are still around—hell, one of them is on this album—and they’re not as shoddy as this.

4/10

For fans of: The Killers, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins

‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ by Bleachers is out now on RCA Records.


Foxing

Draw Down The Moon

Chances are there’s a defined expectation about a new Foxing album at this point. The band themselves have probably done the most to facilitate that, in the sort of emo that skirt through indie-rock and math-rock to no doubt win over a presumed higher calibre of listener, while Conor Murphy will peel through the layered, emotional poetry that his genre thrives on. For whatever numerated wave of emo that Foxing belong to, that’s what’s expected, and the critical adoration ultimately speaks for itself, considering just how beloved within that scene they are. Even if the connotations of emo being a dirty word may prevail (which might be another discussion in itself), Foxing feel as though they’re one of the bands for whom it’s okay to like, when their permutation has the gravity and cerebral grounds that others may lack. That also might make the claim of Draw Down The Moon being by far their most accessible album something of a contentious one, especially when the notion of catchiness is brought in. But that’s the beauty of Foxing being such a smartly creative band, where even on an album that’s distinctly more tight and refined, they’ve not lost any of their emotional muscle. Here, where Murphy ruminates on his own existence, as a tiny creature in an ever-expanding universe that continues to loom over his relative insignificance, themes of love, purpose, sexuality, humanity and more form the expectedly dense knitting of Foxing’s writing. The key is that it’s not overwhelming in any sense, where there’s enough of an emotional rush to songs like Bialystok and If I Believed In Love to thrive just on vitality alone. It’s more noteworthy when discussing the music itself, but Draw Down The Moon has such a brilliant command of stabilising a literate, layered writing style with utter populism in a way that can be so difficult to do. Murphy’s presence similarly feeds into that, where he’s an obviously expressive frontman, but one with such a concise knowledge of nuance and believable humanity to augment what has so much power already.

On top of that, the album just simply sounds fantastic as well. That accessibility is clearer here, particularly in the indie-rock tones that form the title track and Where The Lightning Strikes Twice that have those big, lockstep hooks and huge sense of scale, though without a stiffness or sanitised veneer that’ll sap any energy from them. It’s more a case of Foxing tapping into their conceptual enormity and running with it; the themes and emotional expulsions are all-encompassing, so the sonic cues will immediately follow suit. It’s striking right out of the gate with the incredible crescendo comprising 737, in what might be the perfect summation of how Foxing construct music to be straightforward but left field at the same time, but Draw Down The Moon really doesn’t have a weak track for how beneficial the space to exhale and luxuriate is. That makes for an album that feels just as big as its intentions are, as guitars have the room and fluidity to roar, sparkle or gallop whenever the time calls for it, and a consistently strong bass and drum presence is probably the closest throwback to the DIY scene that Foxing have greatly expanded beyond now. To criticise somewhat, there’s definitely a reliance of reverb that can block out some of the sharper tones, particularly towards the end of the album on Cold Blooded or Speak With The Devil, but in neither instance is it overpowering and there’s at least a creative throughline that can be traced to it that makes sense. After all, Draw Down The Moon thrives on its ability to work through the dualities it extols within itself, of huge forces and miniscule presences within them, and for a band like Foxing who are more than capable of turning that concept into something great, this is exactly that. Maybe it’s a new masterpiece; maybe it’s a strong gateway album into their more obtuse work; regardless of what it is, Foxing have lost none of the boldness in this particular movement, something that definitely shouldn’t be ignored for how complete of a package Draw Down The Moon is.

8/10

For fans of: Oso Oso, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, Into It. Over It.

‘Draw Down The Moon’ by Foxing is released on 6th August on Hopeless Records / Grand Paradise.


Lingua Ignota

SINNER GET READY

Lingua Ignota is probably the perfect example of how great music isn’t necessarily predicated on the desire to keep returning to it. 2019’s CALIGULA was indeed great, an ominous, intense blend of industrial, neo-classical, baroque and noise as a vehicle for Kristin Hayter’s own exorcisms in the wake of horrific abuse, but was the sort of unflinchingly and uncomfortably honest album that could make relistens a hard ask. That can be attributed to its credit though, a feat that even the heaviest of metal is seldom able to achieve, in regurgitating such primal, animalistic emotion that can border on genuine artlessness in the most thrilling way imaginable. It’s the ability to delve into those recesses that makes Hayter’s music so genuinely exhilarating, where albums will serve more as monoliths of human soul-baring to be admired rather than repeatedly enjoyed. And sure, it’s difficult to phrase something like that and still make it sound positive, but that’s the challenge when viewing work like this, and the difficulty that comes from examining such a raw sonic source. And so, when that’s reshaped for SINNER GET READY to focus on religion and the cult-like form that such evangelism can take, the subject matter presents a broader reference point and—to an extent—appeal, but never feels any more distant from Hayter’s own very real experiences dead at the centre. Even from an allegorical perspective around watching devotion and dedication crumble in real time, there’s still something so otherworldly presented in how Hayter puts it all forward; the reference points come from her home in Pennysylvania, but there’s almost an air of the Puritanism of the 17th Century colonisers, where the blood of Christ is repeated as a motif to absolve of sin, or shun further when observed from another perspective. With the wails of female backing vocals across the album that might as well be from women accused of witchcraft pleading their innocence, there’s a heavy, austere air the permeates the album thematically, and it really is fascinating to watch unfold. The horror might be less stark than it was on CALIGULA, only because it’s replaced by a more insidious darkness, on an album that can feel more restrained as it is as a method of bringing that terror forward.

It just feels so different from so much of what’s currently in the heavy music space, where Hayter’s compositional instincts will fully shun form and formula to allow themselves to grow and mutate as they see fit. There’s less of the bloodletting and demonic vocalisations present on CALIGULA, but that lends SINNER GET READY a certain amount of poise that’s very appropriate for its themes. That will subsequently shatter on a track like I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES, as Hayter’s frankly beautiful operatic voice will collapse in on itself into growls and sobs that don’t even give off the slightest hint of artifice, for the sense of deliberate artlessness to return and feel so powerful. That’s more of a side feature of SINNER GET READY, instead shown through the slow burns and builds of PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE and MAN IS LIKE A SPRING FLOWER, where the insidious tics and spectres will haunt the background for a less direct listen that’s just as potent. Of course, it’s hard to beat those moments where the terror will snap back into the fore, notably on THE ORDER OF SPIRITUAL VIRGINS where the veneer of baroque pianos and faint electronic drones is eviscerated by violent piano stabs with such a purposeful lack of core. It really is a hard sound to fully articulate the appeal of, especially when SINNER GET READY is a more subdued listen in most parts than its predecessor, but that’s where its blackened alchemy feels the most successful. The hints of discord and discomfort from the slight electronic whirrs and banjo plucks are palpable, and the way that the layers of backing vocals always feel out of sync with each other has that ramshackle desperation that an album like this thrives on. In a way, there’s something recalling both the heated anti-spiritualism of Zeal & Ardor and the forcibly guttural feminine expression of Backxwash, with Hayter as a similarly haunted solo figure engulfed by the pitch-black around her, and looking for a way out even if that means utterly breaking down in front of her own demons. It very much meets that standard of a Lingua Ignota release, masterfully crafted and definitely not something that’s for everyone, or even to be returned to by those for whom it will appeal. But this sort of deliberately difficult, avant-garde work just feels so intriguing, even from the most outsider standpoint, and that’s where the momentum behind Lingua Ignota is more prevalent. Hayter feels so unique within modern heavy music, and it’s never being downplayed or sequestered; this is true, real expression that doesn’t let up and never fails to be darkly, bleakly enrapturing.

8/10

For fans of: Zeal & Ardor, Liturgy, Daughters

‘SINNER GET READY’ by Lingua Ignota is released on 6th August on Sargent House.


As December Falls

Happier.

If there’s one unequivocal positive to award As December Falls, it’s that they’re trying so hard. The resurgence of pop-rock is one that doesn’t really encapsulate where they fall within the spectrum, but the fact they’re still giving it plenty of gumption and drive is still nice to see. Having said that, they’re also the sort of band for whom the modern genre setting doesn’t really accommodate; they’re pulling from pop-rock and Britrock that’s about a decade out of date with very few exceptions. And so, with Happier., you’ve got an album that’s fundamentally fine but has such a palpable disconnect in the hooks that are clearly poised as its killer app. At least that particular standpoint gives a bit more organic flavour overall, where the guitars are crunchier and louder and are more embracing of their alt-rock slant on a track like Nothing On You. The intention feels as though it was to imbue pop-rock with a bit more weight, as it’s hard to deny that As December Falls do succeed in that department, especially when viewed relative to what’s around them. But that’s really only the first hurdle cleared, and the fact that they don’t do a whole lot with what they have proves a lot more detrimental overall. There are hooks, sure, but nothing that really pops or feels like a legitimate earworm, instead being more in the territory of an above-average Britrock song that’s melodically sound and not much else. The production is marginally more organic and the way that Bethany Hunter’s voice will curl and twist in a solidly high register comes incredibly close, though they can feel more like concessions on songs that don’t project much flair as it is.

It’s a shame, because there’s clearly heart and passion here, and the attempts to be expressive are noteworthy. Songs about fractured mental health and relationships are nothing new, but Hunter’s delivery alone brings a sincerity and earnestness that would usually be enough to push it over the edge. Except on Happier., the struggle to stand out is there all the way through, from some passé word choices (see H.N.A’s key line of “And you say you loved me, so happily never after”) to the general feeling that a lot of this exact ground has been covered before, with just as much of a lack of real distinction to it. It gives no pleasure to say that either, because As December Falls are a band for whom it’s profoundly difficult to dislike; if they felt as though they were trying to cut an easy inroad into ’fashionable’ territory in such a lazy way, that’d be completely different, but that’s not what they are. Instead, Happier has the benefit of outward refinement without an identity below the surface, and what it does have can simply feel a bit dated and past-its-prime by 2021 standards. That’s not to say there’s no enjoyment that can gained from this—nothing here is particularly objectionable and might even swing more positively on a good day—but when on both sides there’s pop-rock and Britrock more exciting and just plain catchier than this, that middle ground for As December Falls just feels even less impressive.

5/10

For fans of: Against The Current, Tigress, Mallory Knox

‘Happier.’ by As December Falls is released on 6th August.


Dude Trips

You Are The Reason I Hate Leaving

Just on the basis of the kind of band they are, Dude Trips already have a lot going in their favour. Bigger-than-big alt-emo with impeccable flits of detail and a hearty Scottish burr tend to do well—see Twin Atlantic, The Xcerts and, indeed, the previous work of Dude Trips themselves—and so an EP of material that basically feels like a band reasserting their place in their comfort zone is about as easy as wins get. Even if You Are The Reason I Hate Leaving is probably as close to standard as it comes, that standard is still remarkably high, and Dude Trips hit that bar with such finesse every single time. There’s not quite the pop savviness of someone like The Xcerts, but that can be used to drill into a heavier emotional weight, be that in an opening line like “I heard your dad was buried / The day before you married” to set such a forlorn tone on 1964, or just Gentle as a whole, about the death of a family dog that can be genuinely striking in how effective its heartstring pulling is. It makes the brighter, more hopeful Polala sing even more by comparison, an excellent centrepiece that holds fast Dude Trips’ reliance on those huge, all-encompassing emotions, but not in a way that skimps on impact for populism’s sake. The fact that relatability does still ring out so often speaks for itself, where Dude Trips will effortlessly drift into that modern Britrock space that’s defined by its own creative vision while still sounding enormous at the same time.

Perhaps it’s not quite as special as some in its class, purely by virtue of being so generally similar, but it’s hard to really use that as a knock against it either. As soon as first track proper Evergreen gets going, with the surging guitars and mountainous drums held together by the gusty production job to beef it up so much more, it’s one of the few instances in rock music where such abject familiarity can create true joy no matter how many times it comes around. It’s the same with the sway-and-smoulder approach offer to 1964, and the robust alt-rock gallop of Polala and Stay, all of which feel like the most natural, embracing things in the world and are all the better for it. It’s just so welcoming and comfortable without being fully sanded down, and Dude Trips will make total use of the melodic potential they’ve got their hands on for a great sound. Maybe the atmosphere can be slightly too thick at times (which can unfortunately drown out some bass tone), but the guitars remain refreshingly crunchy within it, and there can be a surprising heaviness to the percussion at times that’s not all that common in emo like this. They’re just nice touches to take You Are The Reason I Hate Leaving over the top and into the greatness this subgenre facilitates, where Dude Trips really belong and where they can make the most of their talents. They’ve always been a really strong band and this EP is no exception; really it’s just another mark hit on a journey that’ll hopefully continue onwards and upwards.

8/10

For fans of: The Xcerts, Coast To Coast, The Dangerous Summer

‘You Are The Reason I Hate Leaving’ by Dude Trips is released on 6th August on Venn Records.


Overrider

the city eats the stranger//the sky eats the city

The strengths that Overrider have leapt to in such a short time really can be flooring when given the proper attention. Their 2020 releases have already served to define them as an act slicing through darker, more unstable branches of electronic music with a defiantly prog sensibility, with an ear for abstract conceptuality that’s only become stronger. So for what’s now being called their debut album, and when placed in relatively close quarters to their Re:Ntergration EP from last year, the city… feels more like a lateral move than another advancement, though that’s not all that disappointing. After all, it’s a more cinematic endeavour overall, shaped around an accompanying graphic novel to give the cyberpunk atmosphere more grounding (which, for the record, is definitely worth having to hand), but when judged purely on the music, the strengths and weaknesses of the city… are easy enough to pinpoint but will never properly unravel it. For one, the free-flowing nature of its predecessor is gone for regimented tracks, which can feel a bit underwhelming given their short length can make it hard to really expand, but Overrider have a canny enough ear for flow that it never feels choppy. And for their loose storyline—backed by cyberpunk scenery as darkness and collapse engulfs the album as it progresses—they’re hitting those thematic marks really strongly simply through sonic cues and choices.

As ever, it’s that compositional acumen that’s Overrider’s most praiseworthy feature, where the narrative ambition is fine but feels a lot more fleshed-out by the sounds and tones they’ll make use of. A good amount of that success can be attributed to their rock elements, particularly more live percussion on w_-br=_k=r and s_nj_mm=r that gives those songs such an immense sense of propulsion, but just the suite of electronic directions alone does so much. Particularly when conveying an icy, isolated darkness, there’s so much offered by how br-_ch and th_rs-s will churn and grind, or how t=rm-n_t-_n sh_ck always feels on the cusp of totally shattering. That tension has always served Overrider’s music so well, and it’s no exception on the city…, where the distant vocal samples interwoven throughout further facilitate that atmosphere that’s so clinical and detached, but engrossing either way. There’s definitely merit to comparing Overrider to someone like Aphex Twin purely on the basis of unpredictable sound, but this more structured version proves crucially more accessible, without cutting out too many of the most experimental spikes. With that in mind, there’s still a truly excellent album in Overrider yet, where they can fully embrace their wild creativity while keeping so succinct and listenable, and the flashes of that which the city… produces remain so tantalising. Releases like this are what establish Overrider as one of the standout finds of music in the last couple of years, and it’s hard to see that slowing down any time soon.

7/10

For fans of: Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre

‘the city eats the stranger//the sky eats the city’ by Overrider is released on 6th August.


Al Matcott

You Can Be Anyone

On his debut EP, there’s definitely an angle that Al Matcott is going for, namely of the ragged troubadour whose music is further informed by that same freer spirit. So naturally, that makes for indie-rock touched by an alt-country lilt that’s not exactly brimming with tremendous vision, but leans more towards the positive, maybe more than most. The looser framework does provide something different, in how the grumbling, grungey riffs of The Truthseeker and Justine will quake through a mix that’s far less beholden to framework or rigid form. That’s highlighted further when strings or saxophones will creep forward, with the sort of aching looseness that’s comfortable riding under the ever-wide umbrella of indie-rock and little else. It’s the intent that can be appreciated more than the actual product though, especially on those aforementioned cuts which have presence through sheer volume (so much so that Matcott himself is struggling to fight through on the former), but without a whole lot of power. That’s true of Matcott himself in truth, where his lackadaisical delivery is very much in tune with the adjacent Australian garage-rock scene, but at least a song like Mediocre can make the most of what he’s got, with a ramshackle but balanced and warm indie-rock slide.

Really though, You Can Be Anyone does stand out to a degree in its own field through its less regimented means, and the fact that Matcott has a more flexible approach to creativity. The songwriting will undergo a similar rambling process on The Troublemaker and Friends Of Us All that Matcott’s drawl can sell rather well; again, Mediocre’s more focused sight on awful people in the Melbourne music scene is definitely at odds, but in a way that makes it a good lead single candidate. At the same time though, a relatively brief four-track EP doesn’t appear to give the most concise profile of Matcott as an artist, and despite the ease with which he slides through it, the missing parts of that personality that could easily be filled in on a full album are rather striking. For a sampler of ideas though, You Can Be Anyone does generate the necessary interest to come back for more, if only to see where Matcott’s freewheeling style will take him next. To see indie-rock like this that isn’t forcibly constrained by genre conventions is always good, and hopefully that’s something that Matcott can continue to deliver on.

6/10

For fans of: Wilco, Kurt Vile, Ron Gallo

‘You Can Be Anyone’ by Al Matcott is released on 6th August on Skip Hero Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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