REVIEW ROUND-UP: Starbenders, The Wytches, Sydney Sprague, Values Here

Artwork for Starbenders’ ‘Take Back The Night’


Take Back The Night

In most music, there’s value in sincerity. It’s why glam-rock is nowhere close to as big a deal as it was in either its ‘70s or ‘80s incarnations—music that artificial just doesn’t strike as much of a chord. So when you get a band like Starbenders, who ostensibly find themselves within that genre space, but have a new album whose creation hinges on very real experiences with both mental and physical health, there’s somewhat of a gulf to clear there. Not an impossible one, but one that takes more manoeuvring than either the sequins or the sleaze will allow on their own. And so, on Take Back The Night, the solution posed is…to just not do glam-rock in any ‘traditional’ way.

The skeleton is there, if little else, mostly informed by Kimi Shelter’s presence as frontwoman that’s the closest it gets to anything over the top. Otherwise, Take Back The Night finds itself fleshed out more by pop-rock and garage-rock, as the face of previous tour-mates Palaye Royale seems to poke around the corner. Thankfully, Starbenders are better than that overall, even if they’re also not without flaw. Primarily, there’s an issue with filler that comes to a head in the album’s longer length and dialed-back propensity for true wildness. Thus, We’re Not OK plods along with weedy choral vocals and a sense of flare almost totally extinguished, and a starved cover of Alice Cooper’s Poison has next to none of the original’s power-ballad swell.

To be fair though, Starbenders can ultimately achieve more than what some seemingly self-imposed extenuating circumstances may imply. Yes, the fire might be muted and flickering instead of outright raging, but there’s still enough glitz and bombast to The Game or Body Talk or If You Need It that breaks through. Hell, Marianne even has a bit of a Ghost slant to it with how the backing vocals are layered. Meanwhile, Cherry Wine flips the script entirely in a way that’s borderline Fleetwood Mac-like in spots thanks to its propulsive jangle and earworm hook, while Seven White Horses embeds into that some of Shelter’s rougher vocal scratch and more overtly sexual lyrics. When they can get away with stuff like that, Starbenders actually sound really cool, in how an album littered with good to great ideas sees them culminate in something that can match up.

On the whole then, while its patchiness doesn’t do it a lot of favours, Take Back The Night feels like the right steps to take for exactly what Starbenders want. The tone and mood are both generally accurate all the way down, and although the sound would benefit from cutting loose more often (and fitting into a more svelte album overall), the best moments do shine fairly noticeably. To redraw the Palaye Royale comparisons, it honestly wouldn’t be objectionable to see Starbenders with their level of success instead; there’s just something easier to like here. Even with as openly and nakedly flawed as Take Back The Night is, that’s still worth something.

For fans of: Palaye Royale, Yonaka, The Struts

‘Take Back The Night’ by Starbenders is released on 22nd September on Sumerian Records.

Artwork for The Wytches’ ‘Our Guest Can’t Be Named’

The Wytches

Our Guest Can’t Be Named

If it seems as though The Wytches have slipped off the radar recently…well, that’s what happens when you switch to self-releasing an album during the height of the pandemic. Not that the band are at fault for that, per se, but it can be a tough blow to recover from, particularly in a style as niche as their pseudo-psychedelic garage-rock. Like their spiritual brethren in Pulled Apart By Horses, The Wytches are a band who can struggle when their momentum is yanked from underneath them, such is the case with Our Guest Can’t Be Named. Cool ideas can only go so far when the struggle to actualise them feels so inherent.

Then again, maybe that isn’t even true. Frontman Kristian Bell has openly referenced Neil Young’s bare production and deliberate imperfections with regards to this album, so it could well be that this was The Wytches’ intention all along. The problem is the difficulty had with taking to it, as there isn’t a lot in The Wytches’ wheelhouse that cleanly tessellates with that. It’s most obvious on Bill Blood, where it’s clearly built around some stone-smashing groove that’s been flattened and emaciated beyond recognition. This just isn’t a sound equipped for hollowness and barrenness; it’s crying out for a weight that simply never shows up, and lacks a lot of grounding as a result. Particularly on slower cuts like Unsure, the emptier mix is far from flattering when it instead cultivates a mood that’s so dry and stiff and stale.

The frustrating part is how there’s definitely potential with what’s here, and how The Wytches even brush against it on a fair few occasions. It’s most prevalent near the start, and best when there’s a lot of yawning bleakness to explore. The shambling dirge of Maira wanders and teeters through its polluted wake; afterwards, Sloped Old Tower with its quasi-Radiohead swoon hangs its guitars and bass to set the scene of its chiaroscuro frame. Even later on, there’s the unsupported darkness of the title track and the frayed, withered waltz of Fool, as a means of clicking into place that feels by chance, but is still there. It’s likely the effect that Our Guest Can’t Be Named intended to convey, given the esoteric scrawlings making up the lyrics, and a notable lack of refinement across really any performance. But when that fails to pan out, the album seems even more limp for it. Take Bats or Something To Fall Back On, for example; obviously, virtuosic singing is by no means required, but when combined with how leached their backdrops sound, it begins to feel like forced amateurism in some obvious and hard-to-accept ways.

Obviously with the seed of something better clearly planted here, The Wytches don’t exactly have a complete failure on their hands. It’s lacking a lot, but a worse band wouldn’t stretch out in some of the ways they do. But at the same time, the shortcomings really are difficult to escape, and there just isn’t enough about Our Guest Can’t Be Named that holds firmly together to save it. Even on what is likely the intended final product, there’s really only so much water that holds when the holes can be so glaring. The Wytches aren’t totally drowning from that, but they are deflating more than they need to.

For fans of: Tigercub, Drenge, Pulled Apart By Horses

‘Our Guest Can’t Be Named’ by The Wytches is released on 22nd September on Alcopop! Records.

Artwork for Sydney Sprague’s ‘someone in hell loves you’

Sydney Sprague

someone in hell loves you

Apparently Sydney Sprague has previously been dubbed the ‘punk rock Kacey Musgraves’, which might a bit of a spurious over-extrapolation on the whole, but you can definitely see where the intention comes from. All the personal, homespun detail of sweet-voiced indie-rock is expectedly present, though the love of pop-rock of the ‘90s and 2000s feels notably more pronounced. It all gave Sprague some decent lift on her debut maybe i will see you at the end of the world, an album that mightn’t have gone blow for blow with its stylistic contemporaries size-wise, but still had all the potential to do just that.

somebody in hell loves you, by comparison, is very much in the same boat. Sprague continues down a pleasant wide range of avenues that her musical makeup opens, with the uniform solidity that poppier singer-songwriter indie-rock typically inspires. If anything, Sprague can tap into the colour and vibrancy within this sound much better than most because of it. Opener if im honest is the introductory rip into that with its guitar glow pitched somewhere between ‘90s college-rock and 2000s emo; later on, there’s the spidery, fidgety kick of smiley face and the respective gauzy washes of god damn it jane and big star go, both of which manage to remain robust and sweeping. The absence of any bedroom-pop blockades really does work wonders here, when considering how successfully Sprague’s creative breadth discards any need for them.

Still, somebody in hell loves you isn’t completely without its limits, in what seems to be the natural order of things for indie-rock soloists who are without a set-in-stone moment to pop off. Sprague’s version of that is far less egregious than most, however; the simple fact a cleaner, crisper finish can pull her back quite easily. Her writing, too, can hit a similarly high watermark pretty frequently. Being somewhat older than much of this set really does help Sprague, where she’s freer of some of the more cloying adolescent angles that tend to crop up and create some distance. Even if some of this effectively a version of that—lsob springs to mind immediately—the more obvious shortcomings are less so, and Sprague has a stronger handle on keeping it all working efficiently.

Honestly, somebody in hell loves you might be one of the better examples of this sort of thing, simply because a lack of towering highs is replaced by overall greater appeal and consistency. On the overall spectrum, slotting between the Beabadoobee and Jetty Bones schools of thought makes for a nice fit, an area that isn’t extensively explored that Sprague can use to her advantage. All of that is to say, the likelihood of drifting one way or the other does feel on the cards, but if the inherent strengths can stay put, there’s a good chance of the shine remaining. Besides, there’s a lot done of this album to spark faith in Sprague’s creative prowess, wherever that may lead.

For fans of: Beabadoobee, Jetty Bones, Pool Kids

‘someone in hell loves you’ by Sydney Sprague is out now on Rude Records.

Artwork for Values Here’s ‘Take Your Time, I’ll Be Waiting’

Values Here

Take Your Time, I’ll Be Waiting

Despite being an ostensibly new band, Values Here feel like they come from a different time entirely. They kind of do, in a way, spearheaded by guitarist John Porcelly who boasts such ‘80s and ‘90s hardcore names as Youth Of Today and Shelter among his accomplishments, but it takes a little fast-forwarding to land upon where this new band is. That’s because, from every pore of their being, Values Here give off a musk of late-‘90s / early-2000s pop-punk and super-melodic hardcore, with almost complete accuracy and reverence for pulling it off as well as possible.

It’s a far cry from where much of the genre is right now, though in a very good way. This is as organic and free of interference as it comes, owning the choppy, rough edges that might prevent it from soaring that bit higher, but doing a lot to foster its ragged momentum. The rough-and-ready feel is what makes this work, brought further forward by vocalist Chui whose delivery outside of the typical genre vocal profile stands out immeasurably. It might take a little while to settle, though; the first couple of tracks have them placed a bit too far back, and though there’s so nice attitude to Chui’s Spanish curl, it can sometimes be at the expense of power. That attitude goes a long way though, particularly with how aligned to big, empowering sentiments that Values Here are. Songs like It’s Your Business Not Mine and We Are Stronger thrive on their own broadness and boldness, in no small part down to how much presence is baked in throughout.

It’s all incredibly evocative of that decades-old era, particularly in how Values Here haven’t really done much to redress it. The aforementioned production style is a big factor, but so is the use of hardcore in ways that blend with a palette that tends to skew poppier overall. As tiresome as double-time drums became in pop-punk in the 2010s, here, they’re the tie to a hardcore background that’s not neglected, but also not dwelled on too much. Melody is the bar-none key element, as show by how poppier tracks like Do You Know Why or Lift Your Head feel much more exuberant. Add on top of that the tweaks and touches for additional flavour—the lovely, glittery vocal layering on Feeling Down; the breezy indie jangle of Victory; the big drums and power-chords on No One’s Left Behind—and the signs of Values Here being much more than a side-project left-turn rear up in earnest. It’s too tightly-threaded in its details for that to be the case.

But more than anything, Take Your Time, I’ll Be Waiting has such an unmissable fun factor. It’s arguably the most nailed-on aim of Values Here; they don’t give off the aura of a band pressured to take over the world, nor would they likely want to. And so, as a means of delivering their absolute best unimpeded, they’ve given it one hell of a go here. There’s a freshness while retaining its classic punch, parlayed into what’s undoubtedly different from around it without flying so far away that it loses sight. It’s just a great little package overall, especially from the perspective of a throwback where any creaks or rust are practically nonexistent. Value is, indeed, here.

For fans of: Millencolin, The Ataris, MxPx

‘Take Your Time, I’ll Be Waiting’ by Values Here is released on 22nd September on End Hits Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Leave a Reply