Clean Cut Kid
Full credit to Clean Cut Kid—leaving a major label to go to an indie can’t be an easy decision, especially when that’s still seen as a tentpole conducive to ‘making it’ within music. But for as admirable as it is, it does still seem like an odd decision for them specifically; they’ll cite greater creative freedom, but at the very least musically, HISS isn’t the sort of album for which that’s a defining factor. If anything, this sort of indie-folk is ideal to come from a major—warm, suitably placid, and not going too far off the beaten path to jeopardise its potential in the wider world.
It’s all pretty decent for what Clean Cut Kid are trying to achieve, albeit in a way that’s not screaming out in excitement or enthusiasm. Rather, it’s hitting the usual marks of an album this purposely small and contained, in the shrunken acoustic guitars as the main instrument of choice, and a reedy vocal delivery that, as shown on Golden Ribbon, becomes even more frail and fractious in its falsetto. That’s courtesy of frontman Mike Halls, a vocalist whose overall demeanour is reminiscent of a less-wet Passenger, and does a fair amount to further define and thicken the boundaries of Clean Cut Kid’s work within indie-folk.
But again, it’s hard to get too annoyed at an album this tame, and that isn’t meant in a disparaging way. If anything, it’s nice to hear an album in this vein that’s willing to address some higher stakes, a lot of that being in self-examination brought to the fore by the pandemic, in feeling of inadequacy on Little Black Space and Hit And Miss, or empathy towards loved ones equally being put through the wringer on She Takes A Pill and Cathy. It’s just a little more meat on the bones overall, paired with some instrumental touches that are nowhere near as brittle as indie-folk tends to be. Yes, the gentle, understated acoustics are still the primary creative nucleus, but they come with percussion and touches of electric guitar to round out the edges a bit more, and even sometimes a bit more still, like the jaunty, bubbly synth on Inside My Head.
There’s nothing too radical here though, just enough to where HISS feels more developed to eke out some more presence for itself. Especially with how polished it sounds (even with all the trappings of an analogue recording), this isn’t all that indicative of a massive reinvention into wilder territory for Clean Cut Kid, even when they’re now in the ideal position to do so. It’s still very pleasant and equable with notable charm in the writing and instrumental choices, though that’s about the extent of it. In other words, it’s okay.
For fans of: Passenger, Ten Tonnes, Bon Iver
‘HISS’ by Clean Cut Kid is released on 11th November on Alcopop! Records.
You Had To Be There
So apparently this new album is Young Culture reconnecting with their pop-punk roots, which is definitely needed after their self-titled effort in 2020 fell very flat in little memorable fare their pop-leaning efforts produced. Of course, ‘pop-punk’ is spoken in a relative sense when addressing You Had To Be There, i.e. enough to squeeze into genre boundaries while still making All Time Low sound like Discharge by comparison. It’s more akin to The Summer Set in that respect, defined by its polish and exuberance over inspired songcraft, but not without some fun to be had amongst it.
Even on that metric though, the room for growth that The Summer Set have exhibited over their lifetime isn’t really replicated by Young Culture here. More often, this album locks them into post-breakup rumination and impulse, framed by a breezy, Californicated brand of pop-rock plucked from a nebulous timeframe between the mid-2000s and early-2010s. It’s topped off by the glitz of the now-dormant New Romantic wave from a couple of years ago, in the shimmer of Different Now or Silver Lining (Put It On Me). And just like a lot of that sound, the overriding reaction that Young Culture create is one that’s fully aware of how overworked it can all feel, though it’s all pretty pleasant in how light it is.
At no point is You Had To Be There pushing its boundaries or overexerting itself beyond that, but that’s fine. This is a more comfortable, workable groove that Young Culture have settled in, regardless of how openly disposable it can all feel. It’s all about the flash and barrelling, big-hearted earnestness at the end of the day, something which Alex Magnan is good at selling, and which even deviations like touches of The 1975-esque pop on Not In Love or wistful pop-country on Whiskey feed into.
It’s just always worth keeping in mind that lack of much truly substantive, on any front; even on the closest case to ‘proper’ pop-punk in Good Karma, it’s still a fairly liberal use of that term overall (exponentially more so in the context of simply ‘punk’). It’s all harmless enough though, the sort of junk food that’s satisfying for a brief moment, if not long term. It’s still an upswing for Young Culture too, in being generally more catchy and melodically sticky, and therefore fitting the accepted criteria of pop-rock in a more successful fashion by design. It’s hard to deny them of that, if nothing else; on an album that’s irrefutably not for everyone and perhaps won’t stick for long even then, at least there’s something to be gleaned from the sugar rush.
For fans of: The Summer Set, Mayday Parade, We The Kings
‘You Had To Be There’ by Young Culture is released on 11th November on Rude Records / Equal Vision Records.
Searching For Now, Lost In Again
First impressions aren’t great with this one, in artwork that can charitably be described as lacking, and a title that’s pretentious nearly to the point of meaninglessness. That’s also the most literal flouting of ‘don’t just a book by its cover’ as you get with music, but Pryti’s output doesn’t do a ton to redeem her either. Imagine the most cinematic aspirations of modern Bring Me The Horizon affixed with a colossal, ponderous weight that makes it almost impossible to take flight, and that’s the kind of undercutting that Pryti’s new album falls victim to, almost constantly.
It’s not hard to parse out the overall goal from what’s here either, particularly when it’s chasing the sort of intense yet immense mood that a lot of rock-leaning alt-pop wants. The issue comes when it’s nowhere close to the drama that Pryti is trying to instill; in fact, with how cavernous essentially everything is played to be, with precious little definition among it all, it rings as more inert than anything. Both sides of that are captured in the opening pair of Hypnotise and Archive, the former comprising impenetrable walls of guitar while the latter seeking more sparse atmosphere, and neither achieving all that much. It’s all so titanic in scope with nothing moving or modulating within it, and as a result, the album grinds along when it’s intended to soar.
To give Pryti the benefit of the doubt, there’s enough that’s salvageable to stand out. She’s consistently the best part with a strident, clear voice (even if the vibrato on Satellite feels more assisted by production than it should), and it’s always nice to pick up more of her piano within the mix, even as just a fleeting attempt to carve out some definition. It’s no surprise that instances like that tend to mitigate the dirgelike crawl turn out most promising, where a more propulsive beat on Battlefield or a faster-strummed guitar line on Teardrops stand out much more. They’re just more limited than would be preferred unfortunately, locked behind the wall of sound that the production seldom gives much body to.
Thus, it all just ends up a bit cold and lifeless. There are stakes and heightened emotions clearly buried within—the writing and fervour in the performance make that clear—but the room for that to break through simply isn’t there. Instead, Pryti’s music winds up succumbing to a lot of missed opportunities that severely limit the enjoyability of it all. It’s not the worst thing ever, simply for how obvious its promise is, but it’s not showing that off nearly as much as it could or should.
For fans of: later Bring Me The Horizon, Halsey, Scarlet
‘Searching For Now, Lost In Again’ by Pryti is released on 11th November on Welcome To Pariahville Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall