Mercury – Act 1
It can be easy to feel sorry for Imagine Dragons sometimes, when so much of their work and ambitions are driven through true sincerity. But then you remember this is Imagine Dragons, the parasitic blight on the music industry throughout the 2010s whose influence has permeated the mainstream rock scene in stiff, booming progressions and a synthetic cheapness from bands who have no business playing into that. And regardless of how sincere they are, the fact that the vast majority of Imagine Dragons’ work has sounded awful is hard to ignore, in clattering, atonal ‘ideas’ that often sound like a very first draft extrapolated way further than it has any right to be. It makes their continued success even more baffling when, of all the music that deigns to call itself rock, this is what the public has aligned themselves with, to where the Act 1 that suffixes this new album ends up feeling more like a threat than a promise. The implication that Imagine Dragons are sticking around is never a good one, especially with the fact that they aren’t even close to recognising how awful they actually are. They’re now five albums in, and their design philosophy of clunky, lumbering palettes of sound hasn’t improved or found more polish. It begs the question of what the thought process behind these choices is; no human with a working set of ears could possibly think that Cutthroat sounds good, or that the jerky, clumsy Monday and Giants are in any way reasonably composed. It’s just such an amateurish way of creating music, to where it’s a borderline miracle Lonely comes along as one of the few Imagine Dragons songs with a sense of groove to it. Even in the inclusion of more prominent guitars to presumably sound less robotic, they’re either blown to smithereens by the same cavernous yet remarkably sterile production of My Life and Dull Knives, or fed into a clandestine island vibe for It’s OK and One Day. Then again, this is Imagine Dragons after all, a band whose incompetence when it comes to putting together a piece of music and marketing it under the thinnest pretensions of ‘experimental’ is unparalleled, and while it’s tempting to call Act 1 an improvement on a ‘law of averages’ basis, it doesn’t even have the catchy moments that could make the Stockholm Syndrome of past songs worm their way in a bit quicker.
It’s really the only barrier between this being totally inconsequential, and totally inconsequential but a bit catchier, and Imagine Dragons can’t even do that right. And look, it’s the sort of stuff that everyone says, but it’s the fact that it’s so forced through at almost every turn that turns them into the punching bag that they are. It’s not cool to like Imagine Dragons, regardless of what the band want to believe, and the fact that they’ve got a song here called No Time For Toxic People really only exacerbates the thin-skinned mentality that makes them such an easy target. Sure, it’s good to have sincerity within art, but a combination of badly crafted music and a syrupy, overwrought sentiment that drips off of #1 or Follow You is the exact sort of product you’d expect from a band who’d take an adage like ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ completely to heart. And it’s not like Imagine Dragons don’t bring it on themselves either; with a song like Easy Come Easy Go, where Dan Reynolds laments the drifting away of old friends, one of whom was a schoolmate who Reynolds stuck beside while they were going through chemo for bone cancer, that’s immediately more noteworthy than the thin dime-store moralities that’ll constitute the bulk of their work, and make them feel so much simpler and more unengaged. It’s not like Reynolds does much to rectify that either, being the caterwauling presence that smashes through his own band’s walls of noise with the emotional subtlety of a brick, before trying to convey an anger or rage on Dull Knives and Cutthroat with a ‘scream’ that’s frankly embarrassing. It can be reminiscent of the path that Muse took more than anything, of a band who took an inflated mainstream profile as carte blanche to do whatever they want, and tanked through doing so. Except Muse used to be good, and Imagine Dragons have always been a band of borderline talentless hacks who got lucky at the exact right second nearly a decade ago, and have been delay their own miniscule half-life ever since. Even then though, it’s hard to see any of these songs getting the same ubiquity as Radioactive or Believer, not when their incompetence is plastered on more heavily than ever, and leaves barely anything of note to show for it. Imagine Dragons? More like imagine this album in the garbage.
For fan of: X Ambassadors, Bastille, Walk The Moon
‘Mercury – Act 1’ by Imagine Dragons is out now on KIDinaKORNER / Interscope Records.
21st Century Love Songs
There’s no doubting that The Wildhearts are dated, but there’s also something so charming about how that turns out. For a band that pre-dated Britrock’s first wave and still have a following to this day, they’ve pretty much earned the right to stick where they are when that’s been so steadfastly averse to trends, and with a creative alchemist like Ginger at the helm (even if his wildest impulses go more to his solo projects), there’s always a bit of love saved for The Wildhearts. Especially after their 2019 album Renaissance Men that was way better than really anyone expected, there’s a lot of good will being sent their way, which seems to be the greatest factor propping up 21st Century Love Songs. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it falls into the camp that bands of this vintage can propagate fairly regularly, in rock music that’s open in its straightforwardness, and an execution that can be a bit outdated and in-its-ways, but is rarely unlikable. It’s what can be dubbed ‘pubgoer rock’, where the music isn’t pushing boundaries and the values do have a ‘traditionalist’ streak to them, especially in the sense of humour, though the presence of real sincerity negates some mean-spiritedness that can often be associated with that crowd. Just look at the opening title track for the best example—it’s boisterous and shouty in getting its message across, but when that message is about the lack of love song templates outside of straight, monogamous relationships, you can crack a smile at that. It’s less weighty on You Do You or Sort Your Fucking Shit Out in what’s more reliant on broad, middle-aged humour, but that’s balanced out by the likes of Remember These Days or Splitter, just for how much unfettered heart comes through in them.
Sonically is where The Wildhearts shine the brightest though, as has always been the case. After nearly 35 years, they do alt-rock with a tone that most just could not do, with a guitar and bass crunch that’ll get just inches away from metal at times like on Institutional Submission, but still feel completely controlled and at home when diving into its poppiest impulses like on Directions. There’s a certainly purity to how The Wildhearts do rock music; they’re clearly still allergic to most fads (you’ll be lucky if you even hear a synth on here), but that’s what makes them hit all the harder and swifter. In comparison to someone like the Foo Fighters whose straight-down-the-middle rock has only begun to sag more and more in recent years, The Wildhearts are a tight and caffeinated as ever, mostly because of the musical maverick status of their frontman, but also just for how much effort they’re willing to give. They still sound heavy and organic in a way that’s accessible, and the clear continued love of making music permeates through so regularly. Rarely are there unique ideas to be found, but that’s only because The Wildhearts have perfected the formula they already have, a riotous, timeless rock sound that’ll show its age, but never in a debilitating way. It’s the sort of music that’s suited for pure enjoyment instead of any sort of scrutiny, and there’s definitely a place for that, regardless of how that might cut back its own shelf life. But that’s evidently not something on The Wildhearts’ mind, not when they’ve got this far being comfortable and are still seeing success for it.
For fans of: Terrorvision, Therapy?, The Almighty
‘21st Century Love Songs’ by The Wildhearts is out now on Graphite Records.
New Found Glory
Forever And Ever x Infinity…And Beyond!!!
At no point has it ever felt like New Found Glory’s Forever And Ever x Infinity needed more songs added to it. It was already kind of a long album, and compared to the band’s past efforts which were literally formative in the direction of modern pop-punk, that resonance was nowhere to be found. But even so, here’s six new tracks comprising a follow-up EP, which in the grander context of the project as a whole, make no difference whatsoever. They don’t feel like leftovers per se, but in the grand scheme of New Found Glory’s catalogue, it’s far from essential in a very noteworthy way, in how they effectively go through the pop-punk motions without amounting to anything greater. At least a song like The Last Red-Eye has the catchiness and bounce that one would expect from this band, but it’s still a comparatively thinner work to some of their others, something that’s even easier to pick up on when the lyrics do feel a bit more juvenile on Ferris Wheel, or lacking in real depth in their relationship standings like on The Devil Has Many Faces. You can tell they belong to a later era in which the stakes have been a lot lower, but there’s also a sense of complacency to these songs that’s decidedly uncharacteristic of New Found Glory. There’s at least character here, which is commendable, and none of the writing is precisely bad, but it’s also easy to pinpoint the similarities to the base album it’s affixed to, both positive and negative.
At least the sound is still good, something which New Found Glory have become particularly reliable with. It’s the pop-punk standard, sure—guitars will crunch among fast tempos and some surprisingly robust drum work—but it tends to be enjoyable regardless, and the short, sharp length of this EP does help a lot there. It’s very much a return to the band’s more youthful sound in many ways, and having that to proctor this galloping sound feels like probably the best possible use of New Found Glory’s abilities in that regard. The lack of ingenuity is definitely cushioned by the fact this is an additional EP rather than anything massively important, but it’s good to see the same creative juice going into this as the majority of New Found Glory’s work, regardless of whether or not they’ve done better before it. They definitely have and just like its album companion, this is by far an extension of their regular fare as opposed to anything more, but it’s not going to disappoint. At the same time, it’s a similarly un-filling experience as its base form on its own, but it isn’t objectionable as a fix, and that’s probably how most will view this anyway.
For fans of: The Ataris, State Champs, MxPx
‘Forever And Ever x Infinity…And Beyond!!!’ by New Found Glory is out now on Hopeless Records.
The Rain Just Follows Me
It always feels strange to see Hawthorne Heights coming out with new music. They’re so anachronistically linked to the emo and post-hardcore of the 2000s that having them around feels like a seminal relic still being on display, only where the value is largely more sentimental than anything else. It’s no secret that Hawthorne Heights’ music has aged in some less-than-flattering ways, to where they’re kept alive almost exclusively through nostalgia these days; at least a band like Silverstein has masked some of their wrinkles effectively through vigorous hook-work. Hawthorne Heights, meanwhile, have been left to tread water, but going off The Rain Just Follows Me, it could be a lot worse. Granted, that thought process can largely be attributed to that nostalgia running on overdrive, but there’s still something so endearing about returning to such a distinctly locked-in-time guitar crunch on Holy Coast and Dull Headlights, or a creative angle on the title track and Seafoam that just wants to hit that intersection between soaring and wistful in the most forceful way possible. It does feel charming more often than not, and for a band who’ve not budged an inch since practically their heyday—which also means they’ve not been suckered into gutting themselves with modern rock trends—there’s a very ‘guilty pleasure’ feel that radiates around this album. That’s not to say the issues aren’t prevalent, not when JT Woodruff’s screams can lack a lot of body in how scratched and weak they feel, or how Chris Popodak’s kickdrum sounds very flat and muted for at least the album’s first half.
Even so though, this remains the sort of album that circumvents most critical faculties rather handily, simply for how bold-faced Hawthorne Heights are in their intentions. That is to say, the old emo mindset is yet to dislodge itself, and as track names like Constant Dread, Tired And Alone and the oh-so-on-the-nose Spray Paint It Black indicate, those bold, brooding emotions are still worn prominently. They haven’t really evolved much either; the cries to cut wrists and blacken eyes are thankfully absent, but the maturity that could ground Hawthorne Heights even more isn’t as centred as it could be, and what comes of it is a collection of songs that lie in the shadow of a band who’ve grown up, but still pine for the old days of big, loud emotionality. It’s arguably where Hawthorne Heights’ modern longevity finds itself the most decisively cut off, in how they’re desire to keep that old flame burning is clouding what could otherwise be a path of moving forward and noteworthy growth, something that they don’t display a great deal of. To be fair, it’s not quite so throttling as their last album in that respect, not when their post-hardcore foundations are less railroaded by the style, but The Rain Just Follows Me ends up being fit for purpose and little else. Still, if that purpose is juicing those nostalgia glands, it doesn’t do a bad job, even if that’s not the most sustainable existence to have.
For fans of: Silverstein, The Used, Senses Fail
‘The Rain Just Follows Me’ by Hawthorne Heights is released on 10th September on Pure Noise Records.
It’s been slightly frustrating to see what feels like Haggard Cat stalling out after what was such a promising start. Forming out of an underground band as beloved as Heck was a good springboard, and a couple of strong albums (including the great Common Sense Holiday) felt as though it was hitting on something strong, especially in a louder, more brash garage-rock sound that’s been picking up a bit more steam. But that doesn’t really seem to have happened here, and the fact that Cheer Up arrives as just an EP rather than a more substantial album seems indicative of a band making more tentative steps forward rather than going in all guns blazing. That’s just from an outside perspective though; within the EP itself, there’s still a rage brewing, albeit more in the form of gnawing ennui that colours Quit Your Jobs and Amateur Dramatics that comes from experience of music industry politics superseding the actual creative process, and the vehement desire to see this move as a band pan out on Fucking TV. As ever, there’s a snark and tongue-in-cheek factor that makes it all go down a lot easier, and Matt Reynolds’ tense, sometimes prickly vocal delivery feeds into the hardcore sensibility that Haggard Cat have always liked to delve into. It’s definitely a leaner version of what’s come before, and not even just through the EP setting; just in general, the writing has a focus that does consistently hit, and crams in a suitable degree of ire and frustration into just five tracks with little struggle.
That’s mostly down to the looser, easy-flowing quality that comes with Haggard Cat’s music anyway, in how the riffs tumble out with such a succinct heaviness that never feels tied down to garage-rock’s own lack of ideas. Granted, as a duo, there’s still that rudimentary feel that’s always been there to the tone of the music, but it’s all kept louder and the production is meatier to simulate that punk edge that they’re never really too far from. Where Amateur Dramatics winds up as Royal Blood-esque in its circular, ongoing riff, a track like Cow is much more explosive and raw, and places Haggard Cat in a much better position to really surge forward with an intensity they’re so good at facilitating. There’s not a tremendous amount of instrumental give here, but it’s enough to matter, and enough to make for a listen that’s simultaneously lithe but also powerful and roaring. It’s basically a cut-down version of what makes Haggard Cat great, and doing so without losing their primary qualities or watering them down too much. They’ve done better, simply through larger album statements being able to hit wider marks, but Cheer Up still packs a lot of punch and once again how criminally underrated this band is.
For fans of: Palm Reader, Phoxjaw, Pulled Apart By Horses
‘Cheer Up’ by Haggard Cat is out now on Bothday Present Records.
I Feel Fine
The Cold In Every Shelter
It’s not hard to deduce where about I Feel Fine are aiming for within the current musical map, in a sound that melds emo equidistant from anthemic swell and soft-focus confessional with the math-rock flourishes that saw a band like American Football rise to become scene heroes. It’s well-worn but not unworkable, such is the case with Lakes’ most recent album earlier in the year. By comparison though, I Feel Fine’s The Cold In Every Shelter has a similar grasp on what it wants to be, without some of that constructive foundation to make it shine in the same way. The most immediate area where that comes to bear is in the vocals, where the tactic of having all four members contribute and harmonise for something more layered and visceral to the emotional experience is noble, but doesn’t quite turn out as it could. It just fuzzes out the diction on the writing to where it’s not as impactful as it could be, and for an album around self-doubt and melancholy as grounded, personal perspectives in the human mind, coming from a vocal crowd can be a diluting factor. At least I Feel Fine stay on the right course when it comes to the homespun nature of this brand of emo, and their work is a lot more digestible in terms of resonance from that viewpoint. They can still drill into the most uncut, unrefined source of emo’s appeal, and that’s something that remains commendable regardless of anything else.
Because at the end of the day, the average emo connoisseur will still find a lot to like about The Cold In Every Shelter, given that it hits all the right beats expected of it. There’s the rickety production style that, combined with the roiling tempos and presence of the drums, leads to the decidedly earthy feel this genre holds near and dear, alongside the fiddly guitars and clear swathes of negative space to accentuate it. In terms of composition and the feel of what this genre often has, I Feel Fine really do nail its homebrewed style, and for a track like Fold which closes the album by spiralling across seven minutes of old post-hardcore and emo, it’s important to recognise that. It’s in the same vein as Lakes’ album in the respect, not necessarily for how its richness comes through but in a weathered, almost burnished state that’s always an attractive sound when played right. It’s the main reason why it’s difficult to outright dislike The Cold In Every Shelter even if it can be recognised that it’s not in the top bracket of this sort of emo; there’s a naturalistic charm and warmth that exudes from this album, where a lot of its shortcomings can be papered over simply through likability alone. Unfortunately that’s not quite enough to elevate I Feel Fine among some of their peers, but it’s not for a lack of trying, nor do they give the impression that they’ll never be among them someday.
For fans of: American Football, Lakes, Crash Of Rhinos
‘The Cold In Every Shelter’ by I Feel Fine is released on 10th September on Venn Records.
The Dead Deads
Tell Your Girls It’s Alright
The rather poor name aside, there’s a lot of bright spots that shine through with The Dead Deads almost immediately. For one, they abide by modern rock’s adage of always having a place for some ‘90s revivalism, though their particular brand encompasses alt-rock, grunge, metal, indie-rock and punk, which has rightfully picked up the attention of notable star backers like Paul Stanley, Lzzy Hale and Corey Taylor. And for the sort of eclectic approach that would be right at home amongst the rest of the alt-nation, The Dead Deads already bring plenty to offer, even if they might be in need of some fine-tuning in the long run. At its core though, Tell Your Girls It’s Alright has the firepower and genuine creative spark that so many of those iconic ‘90s acts had, complete with the rock-ready vocal ensemble and a riot grrrl lyrical slant that lends them more edge. In terms of the ever-nebulous classification of ‘alt-rock’, this does feel like the truest form of that definition, never being tied down to one sound and feeling comfortable and forward-thinking in them all. And even then, the tired ‘genrelessness’ that many will parade doesn’t apply either, when The Dead Deads are so deeply entrenched in rock in all of its forms. Any track here would be an easy fit among the US radio-rock crowd, given how streamlined and creatively sharp each individual moment is, and it’d be a considerable notch more interesting than the billion iteration of post-grunge or throwback-rock it’d be rubbing shoulders with.
Granted, viewing the album as a whole with that same lens can reveal how The Dead Deads don’t really have a set-in-stone creative base yet, where flitting between styles and genres, while rarely bad, can make it seem like a band scrambling to work out what they want most. It’s always been a shadow that’s hung over them and here is no different, though that’s never a derailing factor, nor does it even come all that close, in fact. It’s more of a noteworthy observation, never really impacting a crop of solid creative impulses that do enough to modernise their ‘90s reference points without fully watering them down. The guitars, bass and drums will universally have a great weight to them, playing well against the horns on First Tooth and Deal With Me, and just bringing some appreciated heft to Hey Girlfriend or Wait And See. Elsewhere, there’s darting indie-rock of Thinkers And Preyers and the loosened, low-end swing of Murder Ballad II, the latter of which is a duet with Corey Taylor which allows a further extra flavour to be added, without his inimitable voice overshadowing the work of the band themselves. In the vein of true anthems akin to the ‘90s icons the band are pulling from, there’s nothing quite to that extent, but a consistently solid album still averages out to the sort of effortlessly cool find that really hits the spot. There’s a purity to music like this, and The Dead Deads ingratiating themselves so deeply in that mindset sees them flourish where others might find themselves boxed into a lack of creativity. No such problems are present here though; the roughness around the edges notwithstanding, this is the sort of band worth following the lead of their celebrity fans on, and start paying attention to.
For fans of: Pixies, Failure, Hole
‘Tell Your Girls It’s Alright’ by The Dead Deads is released on 10th September on Rumble Records / ONErpm.
Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth
Between the release of Plague in 2019 and now, Mastiff have taken quite the leap for a band of their profile. It’s not like the majority of people would really notice considering how unashamedly brutal and antisocial this band is, but that’s exactly what makes signing to eOne such a momentous moment. This is a band who’ll more than likely never leave the underground, and the fact they now call such a huge label home with zero concessions or compromises made just isn’t something that happens everyday. It really is the case where Mastiff have cut no corners on this new album too; a howling, unrelenting cocktail of hardcore, grind, sludge and powerviolence is still this band’s M.O., grisly and misanthropic as anything and diving headfirst into its own abyssal pit. Coupled with a backdrop of pandemic-forced misery, Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth practically suffocates in its own bleakness and destructive tendencies, where that can be undoubtedly overwhelming at times, but also just as thrilling. Considering the degree to which Jim Hodge wrenches out a torturous scream, and pairs it with the slow, bludgeoning sledgehammer hit of a song like Lung Rust, it’s easy to assume that pleasant moments where conceived in rather short supply, but the utter misanthropy that Mastiff bring to the table is more than capable of holding its own for an album this titanic in its own scope.
That’s probably where that bigger label clout has been funnelled in the most, and realistically has the least intrusive effect on the overall conception of a Mastiff album. There’s a notable finish that gives the album that bigger feel, where it hasn’t necessarily been cleaned up, but there’s fewer of the bolder displays of DIY-by-necessity that a lot of the heaviest underground bands bear. The mix is more robust and meaty, and it particularly boosts the more chaotic, extreme moments like Midnight Creeper or Beige Sabbath, just to keep everything more even and founded. After all, from a sonic perspective, this has barely been touched, seeing as the guitars and bass retain a guttural low-end that might as well come from some demonic entity, and Michael Shepherd’s drumming brings the tight, expertly mic’d thunder that’s so easily carried over from breakneck pace to a slower, more methodical crush. It’s an imposing sound that Mastiff deliver, never truly innovative within its own extreme lane, but cognizant of its style’s capabilities and potentials to make the absolute most of them from front to back. It’s an arguably perfect example of how this sort of music can translate to a bigger stable without losing what made it so initially appealing. Even if it’s not one for continuous rotation (both as a factor of similar bands and just the immediate shelf life of the style itself), Mastiff making jumps like this is only a good thing, especially when their artistic integrity and creativity to can remain so intact.
For fans of: Nails, Napalm Death, Crowbar
‘Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth’ by Mastiff is released on 10th September on eOne Music.
Words by Luke Nuttall