REVIEW ROUND-UP: Coldplay, Every Time I Die, Can’t Swim, Starset

Coldplay

Music Of The Spheres

The hypothetical ‘music of the spheres’ is the sound that the planets are postulated to make in orbit, incomprehensible to human thought; Coldplay, meanwhile, are the exact opposite of that, though it’s no wonder they’ve chosen to adopt such a lofty theme. Especially more recently, they’ve always tried to go grander and more thought-provoking than they’re capable of being, to where an album backed by cosmic ambitions isn’t out of the question at all, even if it is probably their most pop-friendly effort to date. That isn’t a problem in itself, but it does highlight how great the chasm in this album’s mere concept is, where Coldplay want to frame their usual odes to love and peace around around enormous, sweeping grandeur bigger than all humanity, while wheeling out BTS as their top-bill collaborators. The thing is, their cut My Universe is probably the best song here for how simple and earnest it is as a love song, something which the clunky platitudes of Humankind or an increasingly directionless political sentiment on People Of The Pride can’t seem to grasp. Between this and the botched job at similar subject matter on 2019’s Everyday Life, it signposts Coldplay’s songwriting limitations enormously, and the fact they keep leaning into them and never feel any less flimsy in doing so says more about where Music Of The Spheres falls in relation to its own intent. There doesn’t feel like a lot to really dig into here, not helped by the abundance of interludes that don’t amount to anything at all, but Coldplay’s headfirst dive into pop yields a similar coldness to what many from the far outside looking in would presume about such a shift. The denigration around ‘going pop’ is played out at this point, but Music Of The Spheres seems to lean into those perceived diminished values; positioning Higher Power and My Universe as the singles does feel particularly telling, in the punchier, glossier compositions that have the most obvious crossover appeal, while everything else tries to muster it up but droops while doing so. Outside of Coloratura which is admittedly a fittingly expansive closer in its sweeping ten minutes, Music Of The Spheres rarely seems to want to indulge in the adventurousness its concept allows, which leads to floaty electro-pop cuts like Let Somebody Go and Biutyful, or a stab at gutless, proto-Kasabian arena-rock on People Of The Pride. The compromise is pretty blatant throughout, nowhere more obviously than on ❤️, where the presences of more interesting collaborators We Are KING and Jacob Collier are sandblasted away for a void of AutoTuned a capella. It goes without saying that Coldplay can afford to take the risks they think they’re taking, but that thought process is also part of the problem on this album. To Coldplay, all of this constitutes a big swing for the fences, when in reality it’s just forwarding the notion of a bland, flavourless band who had creative impulses once upon a time, but only ever bring them forward in passing. This isn’t big or explorative like they want it to be; it’s just another flavour of apathy that Coldplay continue to foster by default.

5/10

For fans of: Snow Patrol, The Killers, Keane

‘Music Of The Spheres’ by Coldplay is out now on Parlophone Records.


Every Time I Die

Radical

At this point, nine albums deep into one of the most consistent careers in rock music of any form, Every Time I Die could afford to phone it in. No one could really blame them or dispute it, and it could be seen as an eventuality for a band who don’t tend to innovate from album to album, but evidently they aren’t at that point yet. Rather, Radical finds them as comfortable as ever with leading the pack in blistering, brilliantly combustible hardcore, where they continue to sound like very little else other than themselves. Their own take on the southern-fried flavouring remains the one that consistently gives its hardcore side precedence, where there’s enough of a sneering, heated groove on Post-Boredom or White Void to rip the oncoming landscape asunder, but can still feed naturally into electrified bruisers like Colossal Wreck and Hostile Architecture, or even the relatively pensive Thing With Feathers to complement the distinct vocal warble of Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull. In terms of Every Time I Die themselves though, their experience in this field is unquestionable, such is the degree to which they still feel excited and energised about making music. That’s across the board too; Keith Buckley is most prominent in screams and hollers that never sound less like about half a dozen animals ripping each other apart, but the twin helpings of guitar beef from Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams have just as much going for them in pure ferocity, as do Steve Micciche’s bass and Clayton Holyoak’s drumming to round out the package in typically explosive style. It’s a prime example of how being consistently and carnally thrilling can trump a hit-or-miss change when the outcome is so predetermined; it might be a bit longer than necessary—which, honestly, isn’t an entirely new affliction for Every Time I Die albums—but the clarity with which Radical makes itself known as coming from one of modern hardcore’s best goes without saying. It all traces back to the simple fact that Every Time I Die are still wired and hungry, this time soundtracking the ever-familiar sight of a world falling apart for the majority of people living in it, but with the sardonic, devil-may-care attitude that means even some of its most nihilistic dips are all part of the fun of barrelling onwards. If a song called Planet Shit doesn’t exemplify that, nothing will, and it’s a very Every Time I Day way of going about things with fangs bared and wits sharpened. And when that’s compounded with the fact that there’s barely a hint of ennui to speak of, Every Time I Die’s impossible winning streak continues in typically spectacular fashion. It’s less a new height and more an expansion of the high floor that plenty of bands would kill to have, such is the legacy of Every Time I Die that’s nowhere close to slowing down.

8/10

For fans of: The Damned Things, Cancer Bats, ‘68

‘Radical’ by Every Time I Die is released on 22nd October on Epitaph Records.


Can’t Swim

Change Of Plans

If Change Of Plans does one thing excellently, it’s prove that Someone Who Isn’t Me was a complete fluke. It was probably always going to be, as a late-in-the-year EP that felt vastly disconnected from everything Can’t Swim had ever done before (even among its own individual tracks), but now things are back on track, they can carry on being as great and underrated as ever. And yeah, Change Of Plans is once again tapping into Can’t Swim’s winning approach, with impossible tense post-hardcore thrashers that they still seem to be the only ones doing. That’s not a bad thing though; it gives Can’t Swim a huge boost in grabbing an identity, though not to the extent where they’re leaving the scene behind. It’s more a case of straddling the line between post-hardcore and full-on hardcore with expert deftness, in recruiting Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo to lend an extra dose of teeth to Set The Room Ablaze, while not missing a single melodic beat on a track like 10 Years Too Late. Can’t Swim have always been good at hitting that threshold of curdled angst without fully letting it loose, and Change Of Plans exercises it just as well, if not better than before. Chris LoPorto’s voice really is the perfect vehicle for that exact emotion, the gnarled, soured rasp that sits just on the cusp on a scream to tease out even more tension. Few bands in post-hardcore can match the sense of barely contained rage that Can’t Swim possess, and on an album like this fuelled by a sense of chaos and futility in an unpredictable world, that’s all the more palpable. But Can’t Swim are an adaptable band—they’ve been plugging away for years without what can truly be described as a breakthrough—and the power on display here in the roars of guitars and bass feel like that of a band looking to fight their way out of whatever comes their way, no matter how indiscriminately they might swing. LoPorto might sound like he’s on the verge of snapping at any given moment, but the tenacity to beat back and find some semblance of control only piles onto the strength that’s so evident in Can’t Swim. They’re back with a vengeance, as hungry and electrified as their best often is, and yield another great body of work that’ll likely fly under the radar for way too many once again. That just seems to be a sad fact at this stage, but with as steadfast and resilient as Can’t Swim are, there’ll no doubt be more brilliance to come regardless.

8/10

For fans of: Trash Boat, Trophy Eyes, Static Dress

‘Change Of Plans’ by Can’t Swim is released on 22nd October on Pure Noise Records.


Starset

Horizons

Look, if you’ve heard one Starset album at this point, you’ve heard them all. Clearly their cosmic ambitions don’t extend to tuning up the actual sound, which has led to the same feature-length slab of buzzed-out, overbearing space-rock being rehashed for a fourth time now. That’s not to immediately dismiss Starset as a bad band—they do have their moments where, against all odds, something worthwhile with break free from their own impenetrable walls—but it takes a certain amount of wherewithal to really get something from a Starset album besides an overwhelming feeling of boredom. It’s all here—the compressed walls of guitars slathered with multiple coats of effects; the strings and programming designed to plaster any semblance of negative space; and an intergalactic way of theming that’s hasn’t gotten any less thin as a means of disguising some rather obvious hard rock lyrical tropes. It’s all front-loaded too, where songs like Otherworldly and Earthrise do get pretty close to paying off their own bombast, but in a way that’s in no way a constant and terminally runs out of steam seemingly with each passing track. Starset albums are already too long as a general trend, but when they can’t even eke out that much enjoyment, it’s little more than an endurance test. With that in mind, all that’s left is the effectiveness of the music itself which—kudos to them—has an expensive, cinematic quality that can at least be interesting to mesh with hard rock to squeeze out every last drop of power of each respective sound. That’s the element that Starset always get the most right, where there’s such a perfectionist aspect to their overall composition, though to perhaps conjecture, they seem to conflate technical proficiency with overall quality too much to see returns from either. But even when identifying the root of the issue, it doesn’t Horizons from being less of a chore than their other, practically identical efforts. The rut that Starset have dug for themselves is too deep for a swift exit, meaning they’ve effectively sealed their fate now; they’re too big to outright fail, but it’s hard to see them hitting many more noteworthy heights.

5/10

For fans of: Thirty Seconds To Mars, Skillet, Linkin Park

‘Horizons’ by Starset is released on 22nd October on Fearless Records.


Tom Morello

The Atlas Underground Fire

Tom Morello’s solo efforts nowadays seem to represent a weird artistic blind spot for him. He’s undoubtedly a talented musician in Rage Against The Machine and an intelligent, compelling figure in his own right, but his last album The Atlas Underground was so misguided on all fronts, as an electro-rock clanker with pretty much zero replay value beyond the initial morbid curiosity. Fitting, then, that this spiritual successor leaves the same cold impression, albeit one that now comes packed with plenty of name collaborators that feels more like an excuse for Morello to flex his contacts list above all else. It doesn’t help that the music they’re paired with typically hasn’t improved, either in the vein of more dubstep gurgles and gallumphing electronica that fits nowhere in the modern landscape, or in impersonations of their own sound that feel notably compromised. Making the cover of Highway To Hell the first proper song is already a baffling choice, but both Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder have their vocals mixed like actual shit; meanwhile, the limitations of grandson being a uniformly worthless artist bleed into Hold The Line, and while the overweight thud of the Refused collaboration Save Our Souls could slot on some of their recent works, it’s perhaps taken beyond its logical limit here. At the other side of that scale though, Let’s Get The Party Started is about as solid as most of Bring Me The Horizon’s recent work, and it’s a wise move to keep the country-rock The War Inside restrained enough to let Chris Stapleton’s great voice be the domineering force. There are moments where it’s gotten right here, but it also begs the question of what Morello’s endgame is with this. The expected political slants are there, but with so many artists falling into their own lanes and only held in place by a grinding chainsaw guitar or electronics, there isn’t a succinct vision that comes through at any point. Particularly towards the end with Charmed I’m Sure and On The Shore Of Eternity, where Morello’s work turns to full dance music, nothing about this seems cogent and put-together, and combined with the lumbering, overpowering production that makes a reasonable length seem a chore to get through, it’s just as much of a dud as the first was. More power to Morello for choosing this as his current creative paths, but it’s the presence of the collaborators who’ll prove the main draw, not what he’s doing himself.

4/10

For fans of: grandson, K.Flay, Bring Me The Horizon

‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ by Tom Morello is out now on Commandante / Mom+Pop Records.


Death Blooms

Life Is Pain

While the narrative of nu-metalcore being the next big thing in heavy music seems to have generally died down, it’s impressive that Death Blooms have managed to flourish outside it. If anything, it’s probably been a bigger boon for them, where they aren’t tied down to an ephemeral wave that could otherwise limit them, and gives them the opportunity to do something of their own. Granted, it’s hard to gauge how much that notion has been adopted, especially in the context of a full-length where Death Blooms are still fixated on pure displays of anger above all else. They’re not exactly a lyrical or thematically rich band, as evidenced by Life Is Pain’s general ethos of ‘all release, all the time’, but it’d be wrong to say they don’t pull off their one trick exceptionally well. Paul Barrow definitely fits that bill as a frontman with gutturals that embody that rage with such force, where the swings might be broad but they always connect and always yield some sort of bruise when they do. On top of that, the visceral thrill of a song like Shut Up being as full-throated as it is shouldn’t be ignored; the parallels to Slipknot’s more straight-up aggro fare are both unmistakable and excellently charged. Death Blooms also have the benefit of a heaving, grinding sound that cherry-picks the strongest aspects of both nu-metal and metalcore, to exacerbate their rampage while serrating the edges and make those huge swings connect so much more. The key aspect is groove, in how the deep, low-slung guitars plough and carve through a uniformly potent mix in what feels like a timely update to the best of nu-metal’s original wave. Obviously some of the rust and jagged shards that made earlier Slipknot or Korn albums so thrilling have been buffed out, but not too much, and it lends a degree of authenticity to Death Blooms that’s impressively realised. Similar to Cane Hill, they know the most optimal way to make this sound work, and Life Is Pain achieves that through a lean runtime with no real noteworthy dips. As a means of moving inwards from the fringes of wider rock successes, this feels like it might just do it for Death Blooms; they’ve hit a stride for a while now, but this is probably the best evidence to date of how much they’re able to maintain it.

7/10

For fans of: Slipknot, Korn, Cane Hill

‘Life Is Pain’ by Death Blooms is released on 22nd October on Adventure Cat Records.


Slow Crush

Hush

Slow Crush’s shoegaze has become fully ingratiated in the heavier end of the underground, though how accurate that can be tends to fluctuate. On Hush especially, there’s definitely the quaking undertones that a band like Loathe will thread into their music, but in Isa Holliday’s vocals and the general lofty elegance they always keep at the fore, they do tend to split the difference between both ends of their genre’s borderline unquantifiable spectrum. It’s why it can be difficult at times to really critique music like this when there isn’t an easy reference point, but Slow Crush feel like a band who can easily bypass any potential quibbles that might arise from that. For one, they’ve got the sort of exceptional balance in their sound that sees the ethereal highs and crushing lows complement each other throughout, though even then, it’s tempered by the howls of brighter reverb on a track like Swivel to facilitate Slow Crush’s overall tranquility. It’s a remarkably pretty album, maybe a bit one-note in how that’s executed when there isn’t a true standout track or moment, but able to keep the swooning, careening quality up across the board, no matter which direction it’s bent in. The production similarly has a fluidity and scope to it, mostly to accentuate how clear and crystalline the guitars are, while still letting the percussion and bass through as its heaving rhythm section. As for Holliday, she effectively feels like another instrument within this mix, rarely with an explicit magnetism but offering the breathy, floaty contributions that hold firm the beauty of an album like this. She’s the centrepiece without ever drawing too much attention, the eye of the maelstrom that’s liable to move through the storm without becoming damaged or subsumed by it. Bolstered by the emotionality intrinsic to an album this sweeping and moving even on its most surface level, Hush has the consistency—both of vision and execution—to really stand out in the modern waves of shoegaze, heavy or otherwise. Slow Crush are already making their important moves right now, but an album like this helps a lot in pinning down where the potential greatness comes from, and how it can be facilitated even more going forward. The fact it isn’t quite there at the moment is barely even an issue; there are some for whom this will really strike with precision and killer efficiency, and it’s not hard to see why.

7/10

For fans of: Nothing, Narrow Head, Cloakroom

‘Hush’ by Slow Crush is released on 22nd October on Church Road Records.


Skinny Lister

A Matter Of Life & Love

In the surprisingly extensive coterie of active British folk-rock acts (most of whom can be found on the Xtra Mile roster, for the record), Skinny Lister continue to seem one of the more unimportant. Obviously everyone is playing for second behind Frank Turner, but for the fairly large profile and typically extensive touring schedule they have, Skinny Lister just never seem to click anymore outside of a few very specific occasions (i.e. a few ciders deep at 2000 Trees). Their albums seem to come around pretty quickly too, which doesn’t help all that much, and all of the releases that can’t withstand a fair amount of dilution, A Matter Of Life & Love is a top candidate. If you want inconsequential, this is about as close as it gets, where so much of the folk bombast and gallop feels perfunctory at best, and only there to buoy a set of songs that get exceedingly more anonymous with each spin. Finding some form of camaraderie is nothing new within this scene, but it’s usually got more bracing ribaldry to it than this, where the general skeleton of the sentiment acts to have pithy self-esteem anthems and ‘come together’ moments draped over it, with little there otherwise. As such, any deviations feel rather hollow; Damn The Amsterdam easily has the most personality as a flogged-out sea shanty, but Bavaria Area and Breakfast At Heathrow serve as borderline comedy songs, sans any real amounts of charm that a more well-rounded collection of songs would have. Compared to so much folk-rock and folk-punk, Skinny Lister feel surprisingly toothless on this album, where they lack any sort of grit or salt-of-the-earth rollick that could make these songs at least feel more grounded. When the title track could pass off as the theme music for an Only Fools And Horses spinoff, that’s not a good sign, but pretty much across the board, the acoustic guitars don’t have a lot of bite to them, and while it’s nice when the fiddles and tin whistles show up, the production feels so sanitised and unable to let the band themselves do the heavy lifting. As much as there’s a floor of enjoyment that bands like this have, A Matter Of Life & Love isn’t exactly leaping above that for Skinny Lister, where they’re mostly reliant on a fresh-faced likability vastly above all else. It’s easy to lose interest with little effort made to get it back again, which might just be the most accurate indictment of Skinny Lister as a whole nowadays.

4/10

For fans of: Frank Turner, Will Varley, Beans On Toast

‘A Matter Of Life & Love’ by Skinny Lister is released on 22nd October on Xtra Mile Recordings.


Dooms Children

Dooms Children

It’s worth going into the self-titled Dooms Children album disregarding almost everything that Wade MacNeil has done musically in the past. This is a far different animal than anything resembling Alexisonfire or Gallows, more closely in the passion project vein that sees commerciality as a non-factor in favour of brutal honesty. It’s heavy in the untraditional sense then, with MacNeil recounting stark struggles with addiction and self-destruction, and a rehabilitation process that leaves full personal metamorphosis as the only option. It’s coloured in dark shades, but not in a dour sense; rather, there’s a lucidity that feels representative of breaking down and having the grip on oneself severed, and the journey taken to reach a more stable state with sobered alt-country like Chinatown Glow and Spring Equinox. It’s the rich musical palette that makes Dooms Children so enrapturing, kicking off on the heated psychedelia of Trip With Me that breaks and splinters into woozy ‘70s soft-rock on Skeleton Beach and Heavy Year to show off the perfect musical blending and production on display. The sound of this album is completely gorgeous in how the dreamlike waves of guitars have a liquidity but also a robustness to them, dappling over the comparatively taut basslines but never drowning them out. As for the drums, there are points where they’re a bit too stiff or muted out, but never to the extent that there’s real damage done; there’s such an overwhelming luxuriance to this album that’s always in view that feels classic without sinking into throwback-rock banality. MacNeil’s own take feels unique to the stories being told by him, and his craggy, weathered voice sells the weight that the album’s dreamlike sensibility is trying to slough off. For an album this reliant on the slow burn, MacNeil’s work under the Dooms Children name clicks spectacularly well, an unfolding, elucidated example of pure catharsis that sounds fantastic to boot. In MacNeil’s career full of highs, this is yet another, with finding his shreds of light among the darkest being the most important of all.

8/10

For fans of: Jason Isbell, Blue Öyster Cult, The Grateful Dead

‘Dooms Children’ by Dooms Children is out now on Dine Alone Records.


THECITYISOURS

Coma

You almost have to feel sorry for a band like THECITYISOURS. They’re clearly looking to move forward within metalcore, but the ripples of true saturation in the 2010s have yet to ease, and they aren’t unique or innovate enough to withstand that. Frankly, it’s a wonder they even got to a second album, with new frontman Oli Duncanson arriving in the fold but making a miniscule difference to the overall product. Coma still isn’t wowing from a genre point of view, or even just in terms of a broader musical palette; THECITYISOURS still haven’t broken away from the rest of their mid-level contemporaries, and the album exudes a notable flavourlessness for that. They hit upon a bracing melodic chorus like on Death Of Me at times (side note: embracing melody and a popwave skillset undoubtedly gets the best out of this band), but in the chug of the guitars and expected lack of colour or texture, THECITYISOURS’ brand of metalcore just feels more updated rather than improved. They still don’t carry much of an identity, even with Duncanson, a feature that stays throughout and mostly avoids even the briefest extremities in either direction that would’ve at least been somewhat interesting. There’s nothing technically bad or incompetent here; it all just runs together and feels uniformly anonymous, like so much of this genre did in the era about five to ten years ago that THECITYISOURS are clearly cribbing from. At least Duncanson can sell emotion reasonably well, at least in terms of vulnerability; the attempted swagger and machismo on Violent and Body Count sounds nowhere near as cool as it was probably intended to be, so it’s good that it’s generally the minority. The general lyrics and themes themselves aren’t much more interesting, if at all, but at least there’s conviction in how they’re delivered, to where THECITYISOURS thankfully offer more than any number of bottom-feeders looking for an easy ride. Still, that’s not a high bar to clear, and while Coma is far from the worst this genre has offered in the past, it’s not an album that holds much power or feels as though it’ll last. This sound just doesn’t have much of an appeal anymore, not to the fault of the band themselves, but more as a runoff from how much abject burnout came from its overabundance not that long ago. In the case of THECITYISOURS, they’re just bringing it up to date rather than fending it off.

5/10

For fans of: Oceans Ate Alaska, In Hearts Wake, blessthefall

‘Coma’ by THECITYISOURS is released on 22nd October on Arising Empire.


Last Hounds

Burden

Last Hounds represent the sort of new hardcore band borne out of an impeccable sonic alchemy right out of the gate. Take the distinctly British venom of Gallows MK I, blend in the bruising wallop of Comeback Kid and finish with the right amount of melody courtesy of Beartooth, and what you get is the sort of monumentally fresh hardcore debut that just hits at every possible turn. Last Hounds do feel defined by the British grime that underscores the halfway-rap-rock elements of Balaclava and Bleed—not to mention the tremendously executed gang vocals scattered across the entire album—but there’s a universality to their overall hardcore pool that widens the appeal so much more. The straightforwardness of the guitar tone wrestles with a clanking bass presence, but in a way that feels so natural for what Last Hounds are going for, where the general mood is that of snarling, heated destructiveness that’s looking to pull as many extra bodies as possible in along the way. Fitting for an album centred around ripping down societal fixtures of inequality that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, but just in terms of capturing a zeitgeist of frustration and bubbling rage looking for a means of escape, Burden has such an urgency from top to bottom that, on its own, puts Last Hounds among the top bracket of new hardcore. It helps that their efforts have an unmistakable infectiousness at the same time, driven by frontman Mikey’s barks and the waves of urgency the whole album exudes. Honestly, for a new hardcore band pushing through at a time when that sort of driven release feels more justified than ever, Last Hounds barely put a foot wrong. They’re among the best of the new breed within their field, and the spark of Burden alone seems nowhere close to dying out just yet.

8/10

For fans of: Gallows, Comeback Kids, Beartooth

‘Burden’ by Last Hounds is released on 22nd October on Venn Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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