The impression that Baby Strange give off on their second album is that of a band brimming with confidence, and for whom the glut within the scene around them has gone basically unheeded because of that. This is more indie-leaning post-punk in the vein that’s become a well of near-guaranteed acclaim to tap, and while World Below isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s not like the influence extends much beyond those previous foundations. To Baby Strange’s credit, it can be catchier overall, particularly when they fully compound upon the litheness of the throbbing basslines with disco pivots on the title track or electrified jolt of Under The Surface. World Below isn’t bogged down by the heaviness and the naval-gazing that’s become shorthand in post-punk for ‘artistic seriousness’; it’s more lively and kinetic, owing that to the wave of revivalism in the 2000s spearheaded by early Arctic Monkeys. Of course, that’s still affixed with how tight the hold on the zeitgeist still currently is, embodied by the bass-led lurch of When It Calls that trades off the cool of its angular strut with how this could come from basically anyone and remain unchanged. Whereas someone like Kid Kapichi can sharpen themselves even further to punch their works up to a noteworthy degree, Baby Strange seldom go that far, leading to hooks that connect but don’t exactly stick. And yes, that’s the predominant consequence of not developing their own identity, just like so many in the indie-rock and post-punk lanes have already experienced. Boil it down to its key essence, and World Below’s framework doesn’t exactly leap off the page, in politically-minded music driven by jumpy, bass-driven rock music, and a vocalist in Johnny Madden singing in a lower, largely motorik register. It’s just a bit ordinary, compared to how Idles or Fontaines D.C. have worked within this niche and wound up with newer flavours each time, regardless of how successfully they turned out. Baby Strange, meanwhile, work for what they do, but mostly give off the impression of a band still trying to find their feet in the scene, and being unaware that solid-but-not-exceptional material just doesn’t do the trick anymore.
For fans of: Amyl & The Sniffers, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, early Arctic Monkeys
‘World Below’ by Baby Strange is out now on Icons Creating Evil Art.
Of the numerous guest musicians present on Onelinedrawing’s Tenderwild, the one that has the biggest implications is Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. He and Jonah Matranga have actually had somewhat similar careers paths, peaking early within emo and having clout to spare for it (and yes, that work with Far is still very good), but coming into a recent lull where the recognisability of their names is more prevalent. Tenderwild goes even a few steps further though, presenting Matranga as clearly a good-natured, good-moralled man, who’s also dove headfirst into the sentimentality that ageing within this vein of emo-pop can squeeze out. In other words, the ‘acquired tastes’ that tend to plague Dashboard Confessional’s recent material come through here in earnest, made all the more disappointing by how hard Matranga is clearly trying. God bless him for so doggedly committing to the kindhearted persona of an older guy who mightn’t be up on the minutiae of the movements he’s supporting but does so anyway, but it’s that angle that grows the cloying mawkishness of material like this the quickest. Even outside of obvious contenders on concept alone like Don’t Give Up and Everyday Angels, Tenderwild desperately feels like it could do with some teeth, if only to curtail the tonal dissonance of condemning police brutality on black people and spare, waifish indie-folk on When I Did Drugs. It’s largely cut from the same sonic cloth as Dashboard Confessional, where, aside from some more developed folk-rock stomp on the likes of This Is Water or What I Know, there’s very little of note to take in. It’s primarily acoustic and very dainty within that, cushioned by bleary atmosphere made to feel all the more weightless by Matranga’s hushed delivery. It wouldn’t be so bad if that development and fleshing-out was more readily present, given that it brings some welcome propulsion when it’s here, if nothing else; as it stands, it’s not so much of an unevenness that afflicts Tenderwild, but the extent to which a pretty unengaging concept at its base level decides to or to not mask itself. These aren’t fresh sentiments or means of executing them, and Matranga’s inherent likability isn’t as significant a thrust forward as it needs to be. It’s simply marred by a low ceiling and a blandness that even the best of intentions can’t help to clear away.
For fans of: Dashboard Confessional, City And Colour, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
‘Tenderwild’ by Onelinedrawing is released on 24th June on Iodine Records.
The degree to which pop music can be entirely beholden to its own past starts to brush its upper limit on Social Animals’ self-titled album. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, particularly with how much The Killers or Neon Trees act as points of reference here, and Social Animals will at least fall into the realms of passably enjoyable fare in mostly similar fashion. And that’s really about it; nothing particularly wows or nestles among the zenith of its style, as much as proves competent in where it is, where the tone is set early on glossy synths to field an untamed indie-rock gallop indicative of Brandon Flowers’ crew on Best Years and Adults. It’s noteworthy within that comparison that Dedric Clark doesn’t have the same gusto in his voice, not helped when he’s swaddled in reverb or held into a breathier register like on Show Me How. Tonally, he’s got more in common with the wave of online indie bands housing the likes of Wallows or Dayglow, in that sort of youthful-ish, reflexive-ish timbre that’s definitely looking towards a TikTok crowd to be courted, albeit not excessively so. Social Animals are a bit more widescreen than that, where they might weave their introspective commentary in, but it still comes amongst the big tales of youth and the heightened emotions that brings. The likability of it all is more inherent than what they’re actively doing, given the relative lack of bounding guitars to match the taut bass and drums that sends them more into a similarly attractive new wave lane. Again, the bar of the acts they find themselves rubbing shoulders with has heights that Social Animals, at this moment in time, are notably under-equipped to deal with. They clearly know pop and are getting their bearings within it, but are as familiar with how to maximise the punch that their forebears have effectively weaponised at this stage. It does unfortunately make it to where Social Animals aren’t an alternative that offers much of anything the original articles don’t have, but they aren’t worth totally writing off for it either.
For fans of: The Killers, Neon Trees, Wallows
‘Social Animals’ by Social Animals is released on 24th June on Rise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall