REVIEW ROUND-UP: Hawthorne Heights, ALT BLK ERA, Perennial

Artwork for Hawthorne Heights’ ‘Lost Lights’

Hawthorne Heights

Lost Lights

Get those nostalgia specs on—Hawthorne Heights are back! It’s how you get the most value from acts like this in any case, particularly the ones who mightn’t have aged or advanced with the most grace. In the case of Hawthorne Heights…well, they’re still where they’ve been for a bit now, reliant on the people who couldn’t get enough of Ohio Is For Lovers nearly 20 years ago. It’s not invalid for a band of their stripe—Silverstein and Senses Fail actually do it rather well—but Hawthorne Heights’ late period is rarely seeing a stellar turnout from it. At the very best, you’ll get a generally catchy selection of songs wedged in the 2000s emo playbook, with the exact lack of legacy growth you’d expect. Exhibit A: Lost Lights.

To be fair though, this is still alright. It’s probably wise to keep it confined to an EP where some of the more persistent elements of arrested development can be kept in check, and as a result, Hawthorne Heights generally come off well enough. It’s definitely catchier in parts than expected, as The Storm and Dandelions put a surprisingly firm emphasis on choruses that could’ve easily slotted among their output two decades ago, and haven’t undergone much wear-and-tear since. If you want an example of how Hawthorne Heights have persisted as long as they have, Lost Lights is surprisingly credible. Also a smart move is keeping screams to a supplementary role; they don’t have a lot of impact as it is, and keeping them off to the side doesn’t impact much as a whole. For as little as it adds, Lost Lights isn’t the niggling, oft-cringeworthy attempt at recapturing past glories anew.

At the same time, name recognition is no small factor in keeping it afloat, and you have to assume that Hawthorne Heights are clued into that. It’s probably one of the reasons that this is an EP to begin with, where the lower stakes combined with a pre-existing fanbase is a generally easier formula to make something positive from. Some of that mid-range drive does begin to bleed through though, particularly in Empty and We Were Never Lost that feel a bit more thin and canned in their production. JT Woodruff is hardly pushing himself vocally either, but it’s at least forgivable for ‘elder-emo’ fare that knows where its place is. It’s frankly astounding that Hawthorne Heights of all bands are continuing with a more restrained permutation of their classic lyrical throughlines, even if, again, Empty steers towards their more cloying ends a bit too closely and a bit too often.

That’s not to say that this would be a riotous improvement should those issues be addressed either. By now, there’s a vacuum-sealed cap on what a band like Hawthorne Heights are capable of; nostalgia from the right crowd will inevitably elevate it that bit higher anyway. So while Lost Lights is nothing close to special, it’s a good next step nonetheless. Put it this way—if you’ve got a predisposition to this sort of thing anyway, you’ll like this more than you won’t; if you have ‘Nam flashbacks from the mere idea of an emo fringe, this won’t convert you, but nor will it offend to any greater degree. It simply is, which is something that Hawthorne Heights have been getting noticeably comfortable with for the past few years now. And y’know what? Good for them.

For fans of: Silverstein, Senses Fail, Story Of The Year

‘Lost Lights’ by Hawthorne Heights is released on 8th September on Pure Noise Records.

Artwork for ALT BLK ERA’s ‘Freak Show’


Freak Show

This is not the sort of act you experience any sort of moral righteousness from criticising. In part, it’s because ALT BLK ERA are still very young; they’re a pair of sisters, one 19 and the other 16. But also, they’ve got good fundamental instincts when it comes to the art they’re creating. There’s a sense of community they’re clearly looking to foster, as women of colour in an alternative scene that still sees them marginalised and stereotyped, and creating a safe space outside those notions of ‘otherness’. There’s definitely precedence to work with all of that; hell, Nova Twins have reached phenomenal heights on what adds up to effectively this exact premise. But the element of how that’s tackled through their music can’t just be willfully ignored, and Freak Show is where the wheels begin to come off with spectacular haste.

It really is almost exclusively the execution that does this in, too. On paper, ALT BLK ERA have got something that seems totally workable, as they mash nu-metal with trap and a pseudo-Prodigy electronic backbone, in a way that’s not innovative but has a proven track record. The difference is that the version of it on Freak Show is nowhere close to prime time, in some very blatant ways. Whenever a guitar is used, it manifests as some flat, emaciated gurgle like on Misfits : SOLAR and Oggy, not helped by the bloated lurch that so much of the EP falls into. At least the opener I’m Normally Like This is more bracing in pace, but even that can’t mask a general cheapness that permeates across the board. Synths buzz with an uncomfortable terseness, and any semblance of atmosphere is fully hamstrung by a noticeable shallowness in this mix. And on a song like Misfits : LUNAR thats seeks a moment of climactic opulence in symphonic, operatic flair, it’s kind of inexcusable.

All that ALT BLK ERA really have to stand on is their intent, and while that’s definitely good, it’s also not enough in the way it’s presented. I’m Normally Like This feels like the clearest example of how this struggles, wherethe commentary on the commodification of alternative styles and communities runs a lot deeper than what feels like some school-age applicationcan shoulder. Sure, for an act this young, clapping back at mean people and ‘normies’ is probably where most realistic scenarios lie, but it also illustrates a disconnect when the vocals are so self-serious, trying for a gruffness and yapping ferocity that’s always out of reach. By the time Freak Show is over, you feel like you’ve heard the entirety of what ALT BLK ERA are capable of, which feels threadbare even across only five tracks.

None of that is to say that they aren’t capable of improvement; hopefully that’s exactly what will come as both they and their musical experience grows. But right now, this is not working out at all. ALT BLK ERA could currently pass as in the drafting stage, with ideas and ambitions that are valiant, and are very far away from being totally realised. There simply isn’t the power, dexterity or resonance of other acts striving to do what they are, and in a marketplace with plenty to choose from in that field, Freak Show in its current state isn’t cutting it. It’s a shame, because the clear drive here says a lot. Let’s just hope they get another chance to make something more and better from it.

For fans of: Nova Twins, The Prodigy, Cassyette

‘Freak Show’ by ALT BLK ERA is released on 1st September.

Artwork for Perennial’s ‘The Leaves Of Autumn Symmetry’


The Leaves Of Autumn Symmetry

When Perennial released In The Midnight Hour early last year, they immediately earmarked themselves as one hell of a find. Here was a band, seemingly coming out of nowhere, with boundless, dauntless creativity and a sense of craftsmanship to put together art-punk, post-hardcore, garage-rock and the widest corners of jazz, pop and electronica, and really make it work. As niche as they remain (unsurprisingly, given the sheer weight of what they do), they’re an act for whom looking away would feel like a huge disservice. So while this new EP might be effectively just reworkings of five tracks from their 2017 debut The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves, it’s worth the look in. It’s not like that anyone heard that album when it first came out anyway, and Perennial have only become way more impressive since.

Though, even that can’t overshadow how much of a stopgap this does feel, if nonetheless a pleasant one. When it’s old material being tweaked and not even running for ten minutes, it’s not the sort of thing you lose your mind over. But Perennial are just so good at what they do that you find yourself being drawn in regardless, because there’s evidently always been a flame on the go. To start with the production, it’s obvious that that’s where the main clean-up hinges. This is way more sharp and explosive overall, around Chelsey Hahn and Chad Jewett’s vocals that pierce exactly as they should, and an instrumental palette that’s widened slightly to incorporate the more diverse shakes picked up down the line. In other words, it’s exactly how this should play out—not just a simple remaster (as would be so easy to do), but notable instances of touching up that add up fairly handsomely.

It works in absolute certainty when music like this lives and die on its own kinetic, nervy forthrightness. To strictly call these ‘songs’ might be a misnomer; what Perennial have is more a series of ideas, typically not even cracking two minutes, but serve as stellar proofs of concept for just how much they can do in that time. And there is a lot going on here, pulling in different directions with Hippolyta!’s jacked-up surf-rock sandwiched between breathless, motorik vocal barrages, or Dissolver that’s borderline pop-punk at times, but never rests on that when it’s far more gratifying at the end to coat it with strips of flayed hardcore, tactile jazz and chopped-up vocal samples. The single constant is the intensity of it all, as the little hornet-stings of riffs and abundance of snark sets a fairly definitive tone. This is dance-punk if the dance you’re doing is caused by the sensation of being burned and electrocuted at the same time.

So as far as stopgaps go, The Leaves Of Autumn Symmetry is far from a wasted effort, or some dissatisfying loosie. As a reminder of what Perennial are capable of—and clearly always have been—it does the job, and especially so when it comes to drumming up some hype for whatever comes next. That’s probably the most crucial aspect for a band like this, though when every morsel of material they drop is able to accomplish that, it makes for a constant string of jobs well done. So that’s where Perennial are right now—still totally unique, and still totally brilliant.

For fans of: Refused, The Blood Brothers, At The Drive-In

‘The Leaves Of Autumn Symmetry’ by Perennial is released on 1st September.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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