The contention and ‘controversy’ around Deafheaven does feel somewhat overplayed nowadays. It was certainly there at the start, as one would expect from a notoriously close-minded black-metal audience seeing their precious sound blended with shoegaze and just a general lightness, but it’s an angle that’s leaned on too much for a band who’ve been around for over a decade, and who are by no means the originators of the sound as it is. Plus, it’s hard to imagine anyone is surprised enough by Deafheaven to inspire such rancor anymore, not when they’re one of modern metal’s most acclaimed prospects, and capable of a degree of excellence that just feels self-evident at this stage. The love awarded to 2013’s Sunbather even outside of the metal world comes to mind the most, as the moment where Deafheaven’s capabilities to land so far out of their ‘traditional’ catchment was fully set in stone. That instance feels like a very pertinent comparison point to Infinite Granite too, which might represent some of the furthest movements from black-metal that Deafheaven have made yet, but at the same time, could also be one of their boldest artistic statements. The distance between them and ‘normal’ black-metal has always been palpable, so to fully embrace that in heady, tumultuous shoegaze (where even the blackgaze tag isn’t completely accurate) is a creative move that effectively pays off from the jump. The sound of Infinite Granite is just so sweeping and all-encompassing, more reliant on shades of light and how they can have the most space; the opening track Shellstar is the perfect example, in how its glittering tranquility breaks out into something more rock-oriented without losing that sparkle. The indie-rock elements of Deafheaven’s sound are a lot more pronounced on this album, not only from how the hook of Great Mass Of Color has unavoidable shades of The Smiths, but in the jangle and swoon that the guitars will have, and the sense of pace that exacerbates how warm and easygoing this feels. An unconventional descriptor for what’s ostensibly in the black-metal territory, but Deafheaven facilitate such a mood so well, and can do so without fully cutting ties to that starting block. It’s definitely a rarity, but George Clarke can still wrench out those screams, only nestled within the mix for the blast of coldness and instability that really serves as a jolt. Elsewhere though, the crescendo that goes on on the closer Mombasa, from gentle, crystalline lucidity into a pummeling roar that’s one of the most enrapturing musical moments of the year.
That’s a rather unique feature for this album though, given that Infinite Granite feels a lot more about the singular experience than bringing out individual moments. As an album, it’s designed to exhale and linger in its own beauty; to say it heaves is far too unwieldy a term for an album so rooted in otherworldly presence. That might be why Clarke feels as much a part of the instrumental tapestry as anything else, with gentler, cleaner tones that are purposely obscured among the walls of shimmering, shining guitars. The production on here immaculate, but never leaves cognizant bite to be subsumed beneath it all; if not metal, Deafheaven are still defiantly a rock band, only more capable of expanding that seemingly rigid skeleton into something much more fluid and often impressionistic. After all, the album centres on a period of insomnia with the artwork serving as a synesthetic representation of that, with an abstract shade of blue reassembling and fizzling out with the dawn of morning, and the light that brings. It’s the sort of spacious, oft-ambiguous theme that’s almost too good of a fit for where Deafheaven are in their career, moving more explicitly into the musical light and letting out the yawn of liberation and welcoming that rings so viscerally across this album. On the same note, the turns don’t feel quite a readily embraced as they were on an album like Ordinary Corrupt Human Love—which is the primary factor that’s kept that album so steadfast over the years—but that’s also kind of the point, and Deafheaven embrace it with the grace and aplomb of a band for whom creative stagnation just isn’t an option. And there’s nothing stagnant about Infinite Granite, as a free-flowing entity that’s still towering and powerful, and a new avenue that bears some truly captivating results. It’s the beauty of a band like Deafheaven, and why it’d ultimately be a loss should they be as tied to their black-metal shades as many would probably want; you’d lose out on such tremendous boldness and eruptions of colour and creativity as this. • LN
For fans of: Birds In Row, MØL, Deftones
‘Infinite Granite’ by Deafheaven is released on 20th August on Sargent House.
Don’t You Feel Amazing?
To this day, Trash Boat serve as one of the most set-in-stone pieces of evidence for why bands shouldn’t be written off so early. On their debut, they felt like little more than another clone of The Story So Far when those were dime a dozen, but 2018’s Crown Shyness felt like so much more by comparison. Their pop-punk roots were still foundational, but there was a combination of brawniness and vulnerability that came from a more defined post-hardcore side that made that album feel so vital, even now. The parallels can be easily drawn to Boston Manor, where the best version of themselves came from peeling back the pop-punk and revealing something hungrier within, but the closest comparisons between the two belong on Don’t You Feel Amazing?. By no small margin, this is Trash Boat’s equivalent to Welcome To The Neighbourhood, angrier and bleaker where the last remnants of pop-punk have been sloughed off seemingly by necessity, for the simple reason that it doesn’t fit the brooding, gnashing darkness that’s now taken over. That alone signifies a huge departure even from Crown Shyness, but the thing about Don’t You Feel Amazing? is that, in both sound and creative philosophy, Trash Boat are practically unrecognisable next to the version of themselves on their debut. That felt like a band hemmed in by the scene around them; now, post-hardcore clashes with nu-metal and clattering punk, where it’s abrasive and grimy without being subsumed by that, yet still feels raw and real all the same. The seismic bass rumble and throttling drums that kick off the opening title track are about as stark as justifying that statement get, alongside the sweltering dance-punk of Bad Entertainment and Maladaptive Daydreaming, and the low, alt-metal swing that colours bruisers like Vertigo and Alpha Omega. The best part is that everything ties together with such ease; there’s an almost grunge flavour to the production that complements a post-hardcore instrumental set so well from practically every angle, and Tobi Duncan as a frontman brings such a degree of fire and intensity to his performance. It’s by far the most capable that Trash Boat have ever sounded when it comes to developing a sound of their own, where sonic shifts and movements across genre will only add up to more instead of fracturing the larger canvas.
If anything, the Welcome To The Neighbourhood reference point is vaulted over with such deftness; Trash Boat move into darker tones and territory, but that’s where they split off into their own thing completely, and capture such a visceral depth by doing so. Don’t You Feel Amazing? is more wide-firing, but it’s no less insidious or incisive, with a viciousness that doesn’t feel like contempt for the modern world, but is ready to rip it up and built it anew should that be necessary. Of course, on a song like He’s So Good in which Duncan recalls the ostracism by his own father after coming out as bisexual, there’s a mingled frustration and desperation that holds fast, especially with lines like “His father’s so austere / His boy’s a fucking queer” delivered with what feels like an almost resigned distance. That mindset of being pinned down in an uncaring world returns with Duncan’s addressing of his health problems on Alpha Omega and Synthetic Sympathy and how futile the lack of understanding from even his surgeons can feel, as well as his own views of himself on Idios that are less like prostrating, and more an examination of if he’s fallen into the same cycle of negativity and destruction that informs everything else around him. Trash Boat have really developed a knack for tapping into the hopelessness of what’s around them and making the conscious attempt to smash through it; that’s the whole concept of Silence Is Golden, but the album as a whole has such an exhilarating way of building its kinetic energy around that notion. It makes for a true all-killer, no-filler experience, where the movement and momentum is forceful, but knows when to hit peaks of intensity (especially early on) that heighten the experience even further. It’s still a bit unbelievable that this is the product of Trash Boat’s metamorphosis, but in the best possible way, when there’s basically not a hint of the drastically limited band they started out as, and instead, they stand as one of the most holistically impactful bands that UK rock has produced in years. It’s, quite frankly, amazing.
For fans of: Boston Manor, Static Dress, Wargasm
‘Don’t You Feel Amazing?’ by Trash Boat is out now on Hopeless Records.
Between The Buried And Me
At this point, the leaps that Between The Buried And Me are making from album to album are just worth standing back and admiring. Quite clearly, they’ve realised they’re one of the best and most successful contemporary prog-metal bands around, now with carte blanche to move from one hair-brained project to another with the knowledge that, more often than not, it’ll work in their favour. Their Automata double release experiment a couple of years ago might’ve been bitty, but it produced enough highs to warrant it overall, as have their various concept albums and dalliances with both the heavier and more experimental ends of metal. This is a bit of a curious case though—a sequel to their 2007 album Colors which was arguably the springboard upon which their current heights were reached. It’s not out of the question for this band to do something like that, but it’s just a curious prospect that can be hard to visualise, especially when that album never felt as though it was crying out to be built on in the first place. In all honesty though, the ‘sequel’ aspect of Colors II feels more like a canny bit of branding above anything else, representing a return to the original’s form of a singular, ever-evolving piece of music that could still be dissected into individual tracks. That’s still mighty impressive to pull off again though, because yeah, Between The Buried And Me do pull it off in typically great fashion. It speaks to their reliability in many ways, where not only is Colors II predictably sprawling and dense just in a pure sonic sense, but also able to translate that vastness into experimentation that’s yet to be dulled or feel underwhelming. Between The Buried And Me aren’t ones for wedging in a huge chorus, but there are definitely melodic flourishes on Revolution In Limbo and Never Seen/Future Shock that will sweep and soar in a very traditional prog sense. From a compositional aspect, that free-flowing creative style that’s almost akin to jazz manifests throughout Colors II, though naturally, in a way that represents the colossal gamut of influences Between The Buried And Me hold; there are the multiple drum solos on Fix The Error and respective 11- and 15-minute suites of Never Seen/Future Shock and Human Is Hell (Another One With Love), but also the cartoon sound effects dashed into Prehistory.
In the rankings of modern prog, Between The Buried And Me continue to solidify themselves as their own entity with all the decisions they make. They’ll lean into death metal and Tommy Giles Rogers’ vocals, from soft cleans to screams, are as versatile as ever, all while avoiding either binary of djent or deep-prog weariness. That’s nothing new from Between The Buried And Me, not when they’ve been going for over 20 years at this point, but it’s the fact that their creative wheel remains so thoroughly oiled and active that impresses the most. The fact that an album verging on an hour-and-a-half remains so consistently engaging is a feat in itself, which is a testament to both the insane proficiency that’s gone into this—from a musical and production point of view, there’s barely a hair out of place anywhere here—but also that the human core a lot of prog can lack is more visible. If there’s a criticism to be made, it would still be that, given that even Between The Buried And Me aren’t immune to some of the mechanical trappings that prog never fully shakes off, but you do feel something more visceral going on, in lyrics that will drift between social commentary and self-analysis, and in Rogers’ aforementioned range that really does hit some surprising highs emotionally. It’s all just the standard excellence that a new Between The Buried And Me album entails, where even the weight of expectation in being a sequel to one of their classics doesn’t even faze them. That in itself is what a great deal of this album’s wonder hinges on, in a seemingly out-of-the-blue decision that, truth be told, didn’t really need to be made, but serves as a solid lateral move that can definitely be amplified by what came before. But even just on its own, Colors II is Between The Buried And Me at their usual top form, with another masterclass in modern prog design and craftsmanship to show that there’s a reason why they’re the best in the business. • LN
For fans of: Protest The Hero, SikTh, Animals As Leaders
‘Colors II’ by Between The Buried And Me is released on 20th August on Sumerian Records.
Press To MECO
As underrated as Press To MECO are—and really, have been since the very beginning—they feel like one of those bands for whom it’s so prevalent that any move could be their last. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case either, as a member of the Britrock new wave of creative yet catchy alt-rock, bolstered by some incredible vocal harmonies and a catalogue that’s small but practically devoid of filler. But for whatever reason, Press To MECO just haven’t hit the heights they’re deserving of, where their stasis is all the more noticeable because of how good their material frequently is. On new album Transmute especially, the parallels with a band like Puppy become the most salient, of a band who could be handed unparalleled success on a silver platter thanks to a combination of heavy, melodically decadent alt-rock, but see that greater success pass them by so infuriatingly often. And if there’s one album of Press To MECO’s that deserves the superstar status, it really is Transmute, where the math-rock touches of old have been ironed out, but quite literally everything else has been cranked up for their greatest career highlight yet. The Puppy comparisons come through here too, as a heavier sound informed by metal and grunge sits at Transmute’s centre, though never at the risk of alienating melody or an unshakable pop focus. That’s always been such a high watermark of quality on Press To MECO’s name, and if anything, it’s even stronger here; the expertly layered vocals are front and centre on tracks like A Test Of Our Resolve and Sabotage, as the precise melodic keystone holding together a heavier experience around it. Their guitar tone of choice is one that’s accommodating to both the metallic and the alternative, where the Royal Blood riff on Smouldering Sticks has more crunch and sneer to it than the source material tends to, or where the double header of Rusty Nails and Gold fall into such a perfect cross-section of the two ideals, in angularity, heft and undeniable accessibility.
It’s borderline perfect for what this sort of alt-rock should be, with a diamond-encrusted standard to songcraft that just never lets up; Way To Know is the penultimate track on the album, and yet it still proceeds to nudge up the ante with one of the richest, most vibrant approaches to melody on the entire album. But that’s just the bar that Press To MECO set themselves, akin to the best of modern Don Broco in terms of pushing that threshold for melody and presence at far as possible. That sticks out in how meaty Jake Crawford’s bass is—especially when it’s just allowed to roar on a track like A Test Of Our Resolve—but in every respect, Transmute has an enormity that always falls into place and comes so naturally. Even on its slower moments like Baby Steps or the really fascinating simmer of Lead, Press To MECO’s creativity unfurls in such a compelling way. That’s only compounded by some real heart at the centre of it all, where questions of change within the modern world swill around, with any resistance inflated thanks to anxieties and strife that have become a depressing norm. But there’s still light and hope to be found, and while it comes with a certain amount of uncertainty on the closer Hesitation, the path to something better is still an option, and choosing to follow it feels like the right decision. As songwriters, Press To MECO really do have a knack for interesting hooks and imagery (see a track like Baby Steps for how that can unfold), but in the simple terms of mood that they can cultivate, they’re capable of striking upon something so life-affirming within modern alt-rock that’s always so joyous to see. Transmute’s grand statement mightn’t be a new one but it latches on all the same, just as every other part of it feels so wonderfully crafted around the very best of its genre for one of easiest, more definitive triumphs to come out all year. This is where the movements to make Press To MECO into legitimate world-beaters needs to start; it’s by far their best work and one of the strongest of the year, full stop, and with how absurdly infectious and self-evidently wonderful this is, there’s no reason not to let it soar. • LN
For fans of: Puppy, Black Peaks, Arcane Roots
‘Transmute’ by Press To MECO is released on 20th August on Marshall Records.
Meet Me @ The Altar
It’s pretty refreshing to see a pop-punk band get some buzz again, and especially one like Meet Me @ The Altar. Even just a quick listen will solidify that they aren’t punk by technicality, but rather more in line with the Four Year Strong end of their genre, in a lot of crunch and heavy melodies flirting with easycore. That’s a scene that’s made some rather unexpected spikes of resurgence in the past couple of years, maybe in part due to a pushback against how much the genre has swung back to its polished, overly sanitised variant, but also because the output has just been really strong. And in the case of Meet Me @ The Altar on their new EP, they’re continuing that stride by being one of the most capable new acts pop-punk has delivered in a long while. Of course, it’s not impossible to rule out bias in a statement like that, given how a chunkier sound overall sounds so much better than yet another watered-down trap-pop hybrid, but the quality does speak for itself, where Feel A Thing and Brighter Days (Are Before Us) are so brazen and bright without cutting corners. The organic feel is what rules here, where the guitars and bass from Téa Campbell have some considerable meat that can still parlay into a monster chorus on Now Or Never, and how the pounding drums from Ada Juarez have so much force to them. For a Fueled By Ramen release, the fact there’s not a hint of micromanaging or overworking is borderline mystifying, but there’s no complaints to be had when Model Citizen uses that production budget for entirely good things. Sure, the percussion might be a little flat in a way its forcefulness can only amplify, but that’s barely a problem when there’s so much vigour elsewhere.
But like with all good pop-punk, it’s Meet Me @ The Altar’s way around a hook and a melody that’s where this EP lives and dies, and the steps forward that they’re making just based on these six tracks are palpable already. Edith Johnson is their greatest asset in this department, with a terrific voice that—like everything else—files into the happiest medium between power and gloss, but it’s the hopeful mood that Model Citizen has that’s perhaps it’s most ear-catching source of drive. It feels very triumphant, where the negativity and downtrodden weight of the past are sloughed off, and steps towards self-improvement and actualisation become more tangible. It fits perfectly with the hugeness and brightness that pops out the most in Meet Me @ The Altar’s sound, something that’s refreshingly buoyant compared to how drained and pessimistic a lot of modern pop-punk’s wave can feel. There isn’t tremendous innovation here, but the spirit is so much more enjoyable, and serves as one of the most authentic representations of the genre’s more inclusive profile to date. A band like this has so much more weight and potential behind them than another rapper making a likely temporary jump over; Meet Me @ The Altar feel more important in defining where the scene will go in the next few years. That’s a monumental amount of pressure to put on what’s ostensibly a brand new band, especially off the back of an EP that’s not quite edged into greatness just yet, but there’s not an act around at this level that inspires more hope for the genre being in safe hands than this.
For fans of: Four Year Strong, Set Your Goals, Hit The Lights
‘Model Citizen’ by Meet Me @ The Altar is out now on Fueled By Ramen.
The debut full-length from Strange Bones has been a long time coming, if only to establish once and for all what their creative model is. They made a rather harsh transition from ho-hum garage-punk band to something more industrial and leaning on electro-punk, to where that subsequent material could feel like a band playing catch-up with their own ambitions. The flashes of promise aside—let’s not forget this is a band who’ve worked with Stormzy and Skepta in the past—Strange Bones have spent a good few years without some definitive momentum behind them, which England Screams sadly hasn’t rectified. They’re still a band whose core idea just isn’t pliable enough; they’ll dish out volleys of ire towards a crumbling society framed through a notably urban, grime-covered lens, where they’ll try to channel The Prodigy but with none of the litheness that could make that band truly impactful. Bobby Bentham is no Keith Flint for a start, with a vocal delivery that only sometimes ramps up out of its drawling ennui, and doesn’t do a whole lot to boost content that can be exceptionally broad. The majority of times that this album can be seen as pointed, it comes from simply making things louder and more abrasive, or when PAV4N and Bob Vylan lend some more dexterity in the guest features on Dogma and Menace respectively. More often than not, Strange Bones are comfortable with leaving the force of their wallops to do the heavy lifting, which doesn’t prove as foolproof as they might anticipate.
It’s not like it can’t work, and on the purest, more carnal level that would probably be great live, there’s a definite magnetism to how full-throttle England Screams can be just on the surface, where the clashing guitars and sub-bass are amped up by drum ‘n’ bass thunder on Jungle and Sin City, and the unfettered aggro does hit harder. Without any modulation though, that approach can yield diminishing returns, and when that comes on the same album where the constant pounding just gets exhausting after a while, Strange Bones can struggle to continue breaking through. They aren’t a one-trick pony per se, but it’s not like there’s much variety, with a maximalist approach that, especially by the time Crime Pays hits, trying to be glassier and more deconstructed but winding up supremely messy, proves itself to lack the versatility to do a whole lot beyond some quick whacks. It doesn’t help that it’s the sort of loudness that can get really overwhelming when it’s not balanced out, leading to England Screams trying its hardest to work through sheer force alone, and building up its presence but not its punch. This can be a remarkably forgettable album at points, either emblematic of teething problems that might have persisted longer than they otherwise should, or a damning indictment that Strange Bones’ current electro-punk energy mightn’t be all it’s cracked up to be. At the end of the day, the needle hasn’t moved; Strange Bones still show those hints of potential, but they aren’t going anywhere with them. • LN
For fans of: The Prodigy, Bob Vylan, Ho99o9
‘England Screams’ by Strange Bones is released on 20th August on FRKST / 300 Entertainment.
The ‘rappers-go-pop-punk’ trend doesn’t look to be dying down any time soon, but there’s at least less scorn to be thrown at LiL Lotus for his efforts. He’s not a TikTok moonlighter for a start, and with his other ventures as an emo-rapper and the frontman for screamo band If I Die First, there’s more of a connection to the scene and, therefore, the sound already. And unlike MOD SUN, who had the exact same opportunities to succeed and still managed to royally screw it up earlier this year, LiL Lotus’ forays actually turn out pretty well, relative to what’s going on around him, that is. The basis of his sound is virtually unchanged from his peers—namely a lot of 2000s worship that factors in a hefty dose of blink-182, and seasoned with the customary trap contemporaneity—but ERRØR BØY does feel more fleshed-out on the whole. For one, there’s more than the barest, picked-clean guitar presence which really helps bulk the sound up and turns Think Of Me Tonight into the perfect roaring opener, but the shades of emo-pop work too in giving Romantic Disaster and Rooftop a bit more litheness and punch. It also somewhat remedies what could be the album’s most galling issue in the percussion, which generally takes the form of a programmed beat but it’s nowhere near as limp as it could otherwise be. Rather, ERRØR BØY is less likable in its more obvious emo-rap pivots like No Getting Over This and Why U Do Me Like This; they’re more antithetical to the brighter sound that Lotus slips into pretty well, and when they mostly come towards the end, it makes for an unfortunate drop-off that’s all too noticeable.
On top of that, the writing does tend to follow suit with that, ticking the usual boxes that these albums have made routine, and standing out a bit less explicitly than in its sound. It helps that Lotus as a singer has a more natural timbre for this sort of thing, both in his curled, louder register and perhaps more so in his lower simmering vocal, and to his credit again, there’s not quite the same level of abject stupidity and blandness to his writing. The Drake references on the hook of Fake Love might be the cleverest thing anyone in this bracket has come up with, but past that, the relationship drama alongside Against The Current’s Chrissy Costanza is well-executed on Romantic Disaster, and there’s definitely a sweetness to Rooftop that makes it stand out too. On the other hand, Over And Over Again comes dangerously close to the insipidity of the hypebeast set, and the relationship melodrama can be laid on a bit thick with Lips That Kill and No Getting Over This. There isn’t quite enough to fully escape the performative corner that a lot of these artists back themselves into, but Lotus has more wiggle room than most, and even if his work isn’t great, the opportunities to move upwards are more apparent here. Maybe it’s the curve that’s a necessity when judging albums like this, but ERRØR BØY is markedly better than plenty that have come before, if only by virtue of Lotus actually sounding as though he’s invested in this type of music. It’s frankly astounding that that’s the bar that’s been set, but the results ultimately speak for themselves. • LN
For fans of: Machine Gun Kelly, MOD SUN, jxdn
‘ERRØR BØY’ by LiL Lotus is released on 20th August on Epitaph Records.
It’s not a tremendous surprise that Native Tongue found Switchfoot aligning themselves with the drained, drowsy husk of ‘alternative’ music in 2019. That was right around the time when the curse of Imagine Dragons was still running rampant, and for a band like Switchfoot whose lightweight pop-rock didn’t need that much retooling to get there, it was an obvious move to maybe spark something of a wider career resurgence. Needless to say, that didn’t happen as Switchfoot remained a ‘fans only’ prospect like they have for years, something which interrobang seems a bit more determined to play into. Even for an album that’s less cynically motivated as this one is, it’s still not a particularly exciting listen, in the soft, meandering pop-rock that seems to wear its own colourlessness with pride. Even in its moments where there’s an uptick in energy like if i were you and the hard way, the softened textures on the guitars and drums and the generally clandestine mood isn’t exactly gripping, the sort of fare that a band who’ve spent a hefty career being lumped into the Christian rock bracket are expected to produce. It’s even more noticeable in how saccharine and treacly the likes of the bones of us and wolves could be, in shrunken, twee guitars and a glossier atmosphere that’s very in-keeping with their adult-alternative style nowadays. There’s no vibrancy or drive outside of its most superficial qualities; this is rock music by technicalities in a dictionary definition, certainly not be means of grit or bravado to spare.
Of course, this is Switchfoot, a band for whom that can rarely be applied to on a good day, though the obviousness of this musical direction coming on their twelfth album has the unmistakable odour of a band drifting into their later years with all the ease and complacency one might expect. This feels very low-stakes, and that can make it hard to become invested when there’s so little going on here. To give them credit, the lyric writing itself isn’t awful on beloved and if i were you, and in moments where the backdrop of the pandemic and the mental clouds become harder and harder to push past, but Switchfoot don’t have a level of intensity to reasonably sell it outside of those core messages. It’s the same with Jon Foreman, whose voice has a lot of power, but that doesn’t typically bleed into passion or grit that could probably benefit these songs. He actually sounds rather similar to Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds, funnily enough, which should serve as a fair indication for how the reliance on volume above all plays out, even if Foreman is a more pleasant singer to listen to. But even for all the criticisms that can apply, an album like this just doesn’t feel worth it, to some degree. interrobang isn’t a very good album, but pointing that out isn’t going to impact anything, either from Switchfoot themselves or the fanbase who are quite clearly in it for the long haul. On the same token, this is exactly the sort of album that fades away in record time, and for an album like that called interrobang, it’s ironic that there’s next to nothing here worth questioning or exclaiming about. • LN
For fans of: Imagine Dragons, Nickelback, Needtobreathe
‘interrobang’ by Switchfoot is released on 20th August on Fantasy Records.
When Facing The Things We Turn Away From
If Ashton Irwin’s Superbloom proved anything, it was that 5 Seconds Of Summer solo projects could go much further than might typically be expected. Of course, a gritty, grandiose rock album was never going to be the norm for these ventures; for a band whose closest parallel has been One Direction, it’s easy enough to predict the same fragmented creative approach when it comes to genre outside of the band. And so, with Luke Hemmings’ solo debut, it’s all too fitting that he establishes himself as the more traditionalist, old-school pop star in the vein of Niall Horan, compared to Irwin’s more vivacious and freewheeling Harry Styles. Fittingly too, this is far less gripping than its counterpart, pretty much in all the ways one would expect for this sort of very pristine, composed soft-rock. Here, Hemmings is shooting straight for an incredibly populist mindset with his music, where there’s definitely detail, but not laced so deeply that it can’t have the greatest emotional resonance possible. And that’s where it’s looking to strike time and time again, in Hemmings’ trembling voice and the syrupy heft of the words coming from it, to the point where the blurring together comes around in earnest. Something like Saigon or especially Mum feel more personal on the whole, but the album suffers when its perceived vulnerability doesn’t have much tangible weight behind it. To be fair, nothing here feels cynical—Hemmings’ remarkable earnestness ensures that’s a big boon—but it isn’t substantive either, and it leaves When Facing The Things… feeling decidedly more flavourless than it could be.
The sound doesn’t help either, where its composure and construction is, once again, very solid, but lacking in decisive flair or anything that can prevent it feeling as waifish or ephemeral as it does. Hemmings’ way of trying to get around that appears to be something of a maximalist ballad approach, where the reverb and strings will swell in to force forward that sense of cinematic power and emotion, but between the too-clean production and the fact that the album moves at a drastically slow pace, again, it doesn’t stick. It really is a case of that bombast drowning out everything else that holds the album back most; more present guitars and bass would provide something to latch onto, or really just any sort of momentum or instrumental definition would suffice. There are still examples of that in the heady indie-pop haze of Motion or the blatant but memorable riff on Post Malone’s Circles on Baby Blue, moments which have more shape and body outside of having production gloss bleed over everything. It makes a frustratingly nondescript listen, when Hemmings’ work does have potential in how well-crafted it can be, but doesn’t muster a significant punch to properly get there and realise it. Fine for listen or two, then, but don’t expect to get much mileage past that. • LN
For fans of: Niall Horan, Ed Sheeran, Ashe
‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’ by Luke Hemmings is out now on Sony Music Entertainment.
In the pantheon of more obvious ‘critic-bait’ acts, the history of Villagers sounds about right, going from two-time Mercury Prize nominees at the start of the 2010s to being basically forgotten about a decade later. It’s a commonality for indie-folk acts not within the mainstream’s thickest insulation, as is the practice of ploughing forward regardless of a waning profile, while that one bellwether release—namely 2010’s Becoming A Jackal—always hangs just out of reach. It seems to be the logic for continuing to go even more grandiose on Fever Dreams, where any previous hints of spartan indie-folk are replaced by glossy soft-rock and a very poised, ‘70s-esque sway. It’s probably the most distinctive Villagers have sounded in a while, though that isn’t as grand a statement as it might appear when the album itself thrives most within the confines of that discography. Removed from that, it sounds pleasant in how languid and floaty it is, and how that’s propped by the combination of Conor O’Brien’s vocals and lyrics to both evoke a similar dreamlike state, but there isn’t much more to really dig into. Regardless of a greater opulence which is a plus, Fever Dreams falls deeply into slow, meandering comfort, which might be by design but doesn’t equate to a whole lot of excitement or staying power. The closest to real excitement comes in the tacked-on indie-rock coda to Circles In The Firing Line, and even then, it comes around with such an obvious clunk.
To be completely fair though, Villagers aren’t an exciting band to begin with, and the fact that they’ve expanded their sound to this degree as least makes for a good talking point, especially when it has Beene executed rather well. The deft production hand brings the ripples of light out even further across the board, and makes it so there’s at least a decent amount of enjoyment to come from bathing in The First Day or So Simpatico. The latter probably shows the greatest boon of this album, being the ability to work more with longer, more fluid songs, where the strings and horns can slide in at their own pace and create a really warm, encompassing vibe. It’s what Fever Dreams is best at overall, as a summer album in the purest sense of capturing a relaxing mood and luxuriating within it. And that’s something new for Villagers that they can definitely be given credit for; it’s not like indie-folk is taking off in the same way it was about a decade ago, and being able to retool in this sense effectively is a good skill for them to have. It’d be even better if the album had a bit more weight to it beyond the breeziness—an issue that’s plagued a good amount of Villagers’ work, it must be said—but Fever Dreams is solid for what it’s trying to accomplish, if not all that liable to last too long when it’s over. • LN
For fans of: Laura Marling, Sharon Van Etten, John Grant
‘Fever Dreams’ by Villagers is released on 20th August on Domino Recording Co.
Part Of Me
What…happened here? Afterlife’s 2019 debut Breaking Point may have inhabited precisely zero thoughts since it came out, but it wasn’t objectionable, if only because it felt like an attempt (albeit a failed one) to square up to the then-rising nu-metalcore star of Cane Hill. As for Part Of Me though, it might feel like more convincing evidence to why its predecessor was released in the January dumping ground, where their label had no faith in what Afterlife could produce, and this second chance has only been permitted out of perfunctory good will. This is dated to its bones, where the slightly beefier guitar tone has more presence than most of the metalcore backwash of its ilk, but only serves to be negated by how unrepentantly dull this is, and by how much more awkward the rapped sections feel. It’s the sort of metalcore that operates in the same butt-rock space as someone like I Prevail, where the reliance on huge, pounding size is seen as an easy workaround for the lack of ideas. Because musically, Afterlife are about as bankrupt of inspiration as it comes, between metalcore melodies that feel so stock and rote on the title track and Burn It Down, and the critically unwanted pivot into ‘emotional’ rap-rock territory on Miles Away that sounds like one of Hollywood Undead’s misguided stabs at earnestness. At least it starts relatively stably with Wasting Time and Envy, the two examples of nu-metal crunch that even remotely pay off, but placing them at the very front feels like a ploy to imply an album with more going for it than it actually has.
There’s also the writing, which anyone even slightly familiar with how this script goes can probably predict the content of—hell, even some of the exact phrasing used—without hearing a single word. That’s because Part Of Me is positively swimming in its scene’s clichés, free of any specificity or real stakes that could do literally anything positive for it; Wasting Time tries to make a political point of all things, but because of the rampant ineptitude of this stripe of metalcore, barely musters sentiments stronger than “America is bad”. Then there’s Misfit Anthem which couldn’t be more on-the-nose if it tried; Miles Away as a sappy breakup song that just compounds the toothlessness of everything else; and Burn It Down, in which the final dregs of low-grade metalcore’s obsession with fire metaphors are assembled into an expected dud. There’s not a kernel of insight here, no matter how hard Afterlife try to sell it, and it’s not like Tyler Levenson is that much of a force as a vocalist, when his screams equate more to loud singing in terms of a power level. Even then though, Afterlife have the backing to ensure that everything is in its correct place and that none of this is outright incompetent, but a buffed-out variant of the least impactful version of metalcore imaginable is not worth sinking time into when there’s actually more interesting and innovative fare out there. Here, Afterlife just serve to rope themselves in with the I Prevails and Memphis May Fires of modern metalcore, the bands that will likely stick around through influxes of behind-the-scenes funding alone, because there’s not a chance in hell that music this bland and blasé is resonating with anyone. • LN
For fans of: I Prevail, Memphis May Fire, We Came As Romans
‘Part Of Me’ by Afterlife is out now on Hopeless Records.
From the off, Insurgent’s debut EP Sentient delivers a powerful sound. It’s hard to comprehend this is a debut release; the production quality is fantastic, and the quartet clearly have a solid understanding of composition techniques. Thematically, the idea of each track being written from the perspective of a god-like figure is fascinating. Interesting lyrical narratives take a release to another level and show further creativity behind the song-writing. Kate Teitge’s vocals soar beautifully above the instrumentation, and the contrast of the clean vocals and distorted instrumentation below creates a striking and powerful impact.
Drawing together strong prog elements and anthemic aspects adds further interest to the sound. Counterpart explores some interesting melodies and chord progressions that combine to form an unusual overall sound. The breakdown then shows off a fierce side. Colours Bleed has a deeply emotional feel that translates through all the vocals and instrumentation. It’s a really powerful track that has been so skilfully produced. Sentient is an incredible start for Insurgent – the quality of the song writing, and execution is so well done. Influences from tech and prog bands can be seen but the outfit are carving their own signature across their music. This is definitely a band to watch! • HR
For fans of: TesseracT, Jinjer, Alter Bridge
‘Sentient’ by Insurgent is out now.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)