Rock Spirit Absolute Joy
That’s one hell of an album title, isn’t it? It’s almost like an SEO-ready mission statement, whose bluntness sets a bar for WACO to clear right out of the gate. Fortunately, they’ve built up a portfolio of skills over the years to where they’re equipped to pull it off, spanning punk, contemporary alt-rock and a noted classic rock flair, now brought together for unquestionably their strongest body of work to date. That’s not by a small margin either; WACO have always had an impressive knack for colour and perseverance in their music, but Rock Spirit Absolute Joy isn’t even close in the distance it vaults over previous efforts.
And especially now on this album, it feels as though the loss and catharsis that coloured 2019’s Hope Rituals has turned into hope, and a brighter outlook moving forward. Optimism is the key component here, something that Jak Hutchcraft splatters across Millionaire and Elevation as he strives towards real happiness among a world ill-equipped for such a goal. Sure, the sentiments might slide into something more maudlin on a track like Better Place, but the sincerity is undeniable when it comes from a vocalist like Hutchcraft, unrefined and frayed with truckloads of personality. He’s got a wide-eyed gusto that’s constantly infectious, and as he weaves in vignettes about living in the childhood home of The Bee Gees on Barry Gibb Was My Landlord, or the environment benefit of looking after your jeans on The New Wave Of British Denim, the vivacity of his perspective only spreads further.
It’s also a great way of framing what’s also WACO’s most explosive instrumental palette yet, as they lean on classic glam-rock theatrics to augment their alt-punk. Just on their own, the big power chords field a particular timeless enormity on Better Place and Hardships Will Happen, and it’s to the band’s credit as composers that they aren’t overshadowed when the bells and whistles are added on. Rather, they’re just new, equally sweet flavours; the walls of synth buzz on The World and the gloopy psychedelics of Seventeen work in conjunction, to where the diversity on show comes pretty high in its list of positives. It helps that nothing feels out of place or as though it wouldn’t work in the album package (although the perkier acoustic ballad Next Romance finds that maudlin streak returning in less palatable stead), and thus, WACO cling on to something properly enjoyable through and through.
Again, it’s the most a work of theirs has given that off possibly ever, and the sign of a band who’ve been put through the ringer coming into the light with glorious purpose. Add on the snappiness and the excitability with which seemingly everything is baked with, and it’s hard to discredit WACO of making one of the highlights of the year in the stakes of pure fun. More than that, it totally lives up its title in every way—it does indeed rock, it’s got loads of spirit, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.
For fans of: Vukovi, Crazy Arm, Frank Turner
‘Rock Spirit Absolute Joy’ by WACO is released on 2nd September on Venn Records.
While the hype machine hasn’t fully begun to whizz around Aniimalia just yet, they display all the sounds of a band who’ll be amongst it before long. At least, within certain parameters anyway; there’s always an ongoing search for new bands to fill any nascent corners of hard rock or radio-rock, and—in the UK cases—inevitably find themselves on a high-profile Download slot. For Aniimalia, it’s pretty apparent that’s what they’re building up to, when the usual channels and avenues already seem to be revealing themselves with little resistance.
As for the band itself… they’re alright. They definitely fit the bill of an upstart hard rock band getting the push but lacking a fair bit of what makes the best hit so potently. Kira Beckett isn’t a bad vocalist as far as emotional wherewithal goes, but when she’ll inevitably be thrust into the same lanes as Lzzy Hale or Taylor Momsen, she has nowhere near the effortlessness or charisma to fully keep up. It’s in that regard where Pressure Points definitely wears its greenness on its sleeve, in how Aniimalia seldom feel like they’re developing their own ideas, nor do they push the anthemic basics over the top.
It makes for an EP that’s serviceable in laying down foundations, but dying to have more done with it as soon as possible. They’ve got the chops for big choruses, like on Alien and False Enemy, but without the crucial firepower underneath them to match their forebears. Similarly, the instrumentation is all-around solid (particularly with some welcome beefing up of the bass), though without a defining moment to shred or roar outside of some clear-cut boundaries. The technical skill is there but not the character that’s ultimately Aniimalia’s most crucial missing piece at this stage.
It leaves Pressure Points feeling rather ordinary, never tilting into being bad but unable to completely sever the cord that’s keeping Aniimalia tied to the local band mould. And that’s a shame when there’s a bit of promise here, albeit not quite enough to obscure how underdeveloped they still are. It’s natural at least, and they aren’t falling behind where bands tend to be at a similar stage, but that means they’re also prone to the same setbacks that stick out pretty significantly here.
For fans of: Rise To Remain, Halestorm, The Virginmarys
‘Pressure Points’ by Aniimalia is out now on Marshall Records.
In a rare change of pace for punk side-projects / supergroups, Strategies opt to actually cast their net out a bit wider instead of sounding like a mild variation on their parent outfits. Members of The Lawrence Arms, The Ghost and Great Apes comprise this new band, and subsequently shed their salt-of-the-earth punk rollick for something closer to a second-wave emo twinkle à la American Football or Jets To Brazil. It’s pulled off reasonably too, evidently with a knowledge of the source material that makes a rather understated four tracks go down pretty smoothly.
At their best, Strategies will yield something like Silent Count that’s a bit steadier and more propulsive in the percussion, and finds a way to balance that with how shimmering and lush their emo leanings are. It’s the track that feels more emblematic of a direction for them specifically, or at least feels that way in terms of the emo space. Comparatively, Outages or Fire Drill play very closely to oft-established ideas, with the slower pacing that allows the sawdust guitar tone to crackle and rumble, and the glittery production to rise to the top. At no point is it ever bad though, more just in-keeping with where this particular scene has been for almost three decades, and where you’d really expect a side-project within it to nestle down.
Yes, that’s a pretty crucial element of where this EP lands that’s also the yoke that Strategies wield. In a sound that’s already light on thrills, that isn’t changing much here, nor is it restricting this from still being good. Brian Moss gives the exact approachable, older vocal performance that always works with the simmering warmth of his accompaniments. Similarly, the thoughtfulness in the writing, while playing to the normal themes of this stripe of emo, is all strongly put together, to reinforce how firmly Strategies know the core ideals they’re going for. It’ll appeal in the same way that a lot of later-stage stuff in this vein does, i.e. for hitting the right beats satisfactorily and emulating the known sheen well enough. In other words, if you’re after a shot of the old-school with everything in its correct place, you could do worse.
For fans of: American Football, Jets To Brazil, Colossal
‘Strategies’ by Strategies is released on 26th August.
Words by Luke Nuttall