M(h)aol are…pretty interesting. Already, that’s about as noncommittal an opening gambit as you can get when discussing this band specifically, but it’s also probably the most accurate. There isn’t another act in the same space that sounds like them, and given that they’ve taken root in post-punk—a scene that’s just about up to learning the benefits of sonic diversity—that’s certainly a good thing. And even then, to call them strictly ‘post-punk’ feels reductive in their specific case. Compare Attachment Styles to most of what the genre is producing, and it’s practically alien in the directions it finds itself going down.
But let’s stress, that’s far from a bad thing, and in the natural process of pulling in more unique styles that do actually work, M(h)aol are all the more compelling for it. Cast aside are copy-pasted thrums of bass and spikes of guitar; in their place, fragmented ticks and bursts of noise stand, almost piecemeal in their assembly. In fact, it’s rare to find much in the way of typical melody at all outside of some nimble bass work peppered across No One Ever Talks To Us. There’s the deliberate, unspooling approach to composition that’s basically the antithesis to the modern go-to of fast and frenetic, and it works so well through standing out like that. It’s certainly more replayable, in the sense of dynamism that permeates throughout; even on a comparatively straightforward song like Therapy, there are the shifts in tones and fade-outs that make it a really ear-catching track.
In all, it acts more as the ever-suspiring backdrop against Róisín Nic Ghearailt’s lyrics, the centrepiece of the album that simply ooze contempt for normalised rape culture and misogyny, and the alienation and marginalisation felt from her own sexuality on the excellent poem Bisexual Anxiety. Add in a lack of ambiguity and a vocal style chiseled from raw sardonicism where the weary sighs always hang in the background, and it’s easily the album’s greatest strength. It does shift though, into flickers of self-acceptance on Femme and embrace of sexual proclivities on the extended closer Period Sex, made all the more satisfying as a conclusion because of the time taken to arrive there.
To that end, Attachment Styles drills into the personality that’s coloured a lot of post-punk, but in a way that’s unmistakable for anyone else. Granted, that comes from a near-total deconstruction to where the genre hallmarks are morphed completely, though that’s a credit to how far M(h)aol’s compositional style can take them, above anything. They do feel unique and intuitive in what they do, on top of a humanity that defines them more than all else. In this style of music, in its current state, that’s all you could possibly ask for.
For fans of: Shellac, Gilla Band, The Murder Capital
‘Attachment Styles’ by M(h)aol is released on 3rd February on TULLE Collective.
When bands make up their own little subgenres to affix to their style and feign some form of greater individuality, it’s rarely anything to take enthusiastically. Often, it’s just their own attempt at marketing spin, thus leaving Fencer’s self-classification of ‘garage opera’ as little more than a mechanism to distance themselves from the current alt-hard-rock wave. Compounded with frontman Field Cate’s past life as a child actor, Fencer end up slotting very well into a very Americanised version of prospective success for a rock band, buoyed by a juicy angle or story to largely get away with sounding rather ordinary.
Otherwise, Fencer aren’t exactly the most vibrant act in their current scene, playing exceptionally close to Badflower’s base on the whole. Yeah, they come across as less tryhard, and they’ll stroll into the heavier rock production that would tie up a lot of that band’s loose ends, but it doesn’t necessarily add up to better overall. At least, not for the whole album. The opening run is handily the best example of Fencer working at full capacity; Come On, Keep Screaming and Couch lend the required muscle to the riff-rock angle, and a cover of Morphine’s Buena might just be the best thing here, solely thanks to its creaking, burly bass that’s so much more distinct than anything else.
The problem is everything afterwards, finding Fencer easing back and diluting what that sound brought, and just generally impressing less. Maybe that’s a fundamental issue also, between Cate’s vocal histrionics often akin to a less-poised version of Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, and the mental health script that’s apparently a prerequisite for these bands, only properly standing out on You’re The Prey when it’s closer to explicit teen-edginess. Still, amplifying the album’s top-heaviness is hardly the neatest workaround, when the twee folk-pop of Fishfriend or the grunge pastiche of Sanitarium are the piecemeal shards chipped off the whole that actually worked. It’s a bizarrely structured album, never striking a lode of momentum that even the weaker of these acts get right, and instead lurching to the finish line with the stodgy Bad Bet.
Among all of that, you catch glimpses of workability, should there be some extra tightness or redrafting in place. Undoubtedly, Fencer are a band with ideas, and their failure to spotlight them is what really cuts this debut off at the knees. As they keep spreading themselves out thinly, it’s at the expense of a solid core that isn’t mind-blowingly original, but has a clear foundation. And when that’s neglected, you’re left with an album that makes plucking the gems from it feel like more work than it’s worth.
For fans of: Badflower, Royal Blood, Dead Poet Society
‘Fencer’ by Fencer is released on 3rd February on Blood Blast Distribution.
In every aspect of this debut album, Regal Cheer are emblazoned with the DIY spirit. Had their early days not been marred by the literal plague, you can easily imagine them as the sort of band defined by live prowess, and the sort of word-of-mouth press the indie scene is extremely good at doling out. Basically, if you were all disappointed by the last Joyce Manor album, Cans is an exceptional balm,the sound of two guys bashing out short, to-the-point punk tunes (maybe in the kitchen of the house they can barely afford to rent) as a primo form of release from the daily grind.
It’s not much more than that, but when it only clocks in a 17 minutes, it’s hardly a drag. Nor is it so frantic and chaotic that it’s abortive either; there’s actually a strong amount of melody and construction crammed in here. The likes of Castanets and Tenner might fall well south of two minutes long, but they remain satisfying pieces all the same, as do Forest and Behavioural Problems by punching in punk’s cheat code of killer one-liners that so forcefully anchor themselves in. The former especially carries the inimitable vibe of a 1am 2000trees scream-along in its stripped-down opening, which is a situation that needs to come true yesterday, frankly.
There’s just a uniform solidity across Cans that’s hard to get enough of, especially when the ethos behind it is never compromised. Through and through, it’s emblematic of working-class, salt-of-the-earth gruff-punk spearheaded by Hot Water Music and their ilk, only with the biting British seasoning of a more ‘traditional’ punk vein. Thus, both members Harry and Max bear a vocal style coloured in frayed, exasperated howls, mirroring the guitars and drums chipped out of solid rock with barely a coat of gloss on them. That’s more in an ‘indie’ way than a lo-fi one, mind; it’s rough and scrappy rather than outright messy—there is a difference—which keeps their unshakable melodic chops firmly intact.
It’s simply a strong punk album by keeping within that logical pocket that’s unquestionably the best for Regal Cheer to nestle into. Between its punch, power and screaming populism that’s impossible to miss, Cans clicks in such an emphatically sharp way. It’s the Joyce Manor effect done better than Joyce Manor themselves in recent years—that should honestly say all you need to know here. And now that Regal Cheer can finally get out there and share it among the masses, expect to hear a decent bit more of these two going forward.
For fans of: Joyce Manor, Brawlers, Great Cynics
‘Cans’ by Regal Cheer is released on 3rd February on Beth Shalom Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall