REVIEW ROUND-UP: The Dollyrots, The Hirsch Effekt, Aiko

Artwork for The Dollyrots’ ‘Night Owls’

The Dollyrots

Night Owls

Like their frequent compatriots in Bowling For Soup, The Dollyrots’ most commendable feature is how much they’ve made out of relatively little. They’re eight albums deep now, almost all contained within their own independently-moving corner of pop-punk, and with a work ethic that means there’s seemingly always something in the pipeline. Unlike Bowling For Soup though, who were fortunate enough to breach their particular boundaries into the genre’s greater purview, The Dollyrots feel as though they hit their limit a fair while ago. They’ve got their audience now and are making music pretty much for them alone, and if the fact that they have been and will be a support act on 90% of BFS tours until the end of time is anything to go by, it’s not an audience that’s clamouring for much new.

So while Night Owls is nothing fundamentally unique within The Dollyrots’ catalogue, it’s at least nice to be able to say that it tilts more towards an easy-to-like effort. A combination of factors does pull some heavy lifting in that assessment—some form of desensitisation to how this kind of abjectly sugary pop-punk plays out, and how pop-punk’s artificiality in recent years positions The Dollyrots as a nakedly earnest and lightweight palette-cleanser. There’s not a rough bone to speak of here, though for an album in which Kelly Ogden primarily projects a sense of comfort within married life, it’s to be expected. If anything, it’s a wonder the lovey-dovey side of I Just Wanna Play Dead or Tonight With You doesn’t go overboard into true saccharine territory, or that the lampshading of that older perspective on Hot Mom With The Skinny Pants On isn’t as relentlessly cringeworthy as it could be. Ogden’s energy becomes quite similar to P!nk in a lot of ways, as an ‘elder’ stateswoman within the scene who seldom practices a lot of depth anymore, but feels supremely comfortable in the lane she’s found herself in.

Not like that implies variety in The Dollyrots’ musical direction but, y’know…it’s something, isn’t it? And for as sweetened and straight-laced as their brand of pop-punk is, Night Owls gets some okay work from it nonetheless. Even with their limitations still in place—namely how sonic diversity is pretty much a non-factor and their A-to-B approach to pop-punk has yet to significantly evolve in over two decades—it’s hard to deny that the title track or Hey Girl contain some of The Dollyrots’ stickiest hooks in a long while. In general, the floor of quality has been raised a little, among this kind of bright, chunky pop-rock that plays well to the band’s more rambunctious sensibilities. Things do get a bit sappier when Trees Sway strips down to an acoustic framework, but that’s definitively an outlier. Otherwise, Night Owls clearly finds The Dollyrots in their element—not overreaching to such a degree that it’s notable, but also putting their generally good instincts on display.

That’s not suggesting that this is The One for them; the half-life feels no longer than a lot of what preceded it, nor will it likely hold fast whenever the inevitable follow-up comes around. But if The Dollyrots have been lacking the fun and frolics they’re designed to extol lately, Night Owls goes a decent way to curtailing that. It’s not bad at all for a band vehemently opposed to branching out, given that they stumble upon an above-average crop of choruses and melodies that are more than enough to see them to the end. For those still heavily invested in the regular output from Camp Dollyrots—and even for some inclined to take a cursory glance over—Night Owls will more than suffice. • LN

For fans of: Bowling For Soup, The Donnas, The Muffs

‘Night Owls’ by The Dollyrots is released on 13th October on Wicked Cool Records.

Artwork for The Hirsch Effekt’s ‘Urian’

The Hirsch Effekt


German trio The Hirsch Effekt traverse many plains, textures, harmonies and melodies across Urian. Embracing multiple styles and genres to produce a highly intriguing collection of songs, the new album is a haunting delight.

Agora introduces the album with a serene vocal lead and acoustic guitar, and soon hints of orchestration slowly emerge into the mix. There’s an ethereality to the sound, with the minimalist layering giving space to each part. Segueing into Otus, eager anticipation manifests from a distorted guitar lead, rising intensity and compelling vocals, before reaching the full ensemble of instruments and vocals. Shimmering guitars create a vast atmosphere while bass and percussion ground the sound with a heavy base. Groove rhythms hit the spot alongside intriguing riffs and motifs that add extra dynamic details across the track. 2054 unleashes a ferocious onslaught of high-octane distorted heaviness. Suddenly switching to an orchestral and acoustic led section, the fury ends as unexpectedly as it begins only to return to fiery realms in an even more ferocious manner. Delving into demonic realms, the darkness and dissonance of Urian explores an array of moods and styles as the song progresses. There is so much going on across the instrumental layers in respect to technical guitars, rhythms and ludicrous blastbeats. From banshee screams to soaring vocals, the vocal textures enhance the developing mood.

The soft intimate delivery of lyrics in the opening to Stegodon is accompanied with a gradual build-up of cleaner toned instruments before bursting once again into full band form. The percussion feels very prominent here, and it brings an energy to the track as the rhythmic movement becomes the focus. Soaring vocals and brighter tones produce an elevated, uplifting mood. Intricate lead guitar melodies entwine through Granica, giving a more traditional prog flavour. The track soon begins to crescendo, growing in power until it reaches its end. Blud screeches into life with an abrasive sound of thundering rhythms and guttural harsh vocals, carrying some black metal-esque influences. Orchestral arrangements add drama as the track ebbs and flows through varying displays of power. Urian concludes with Eristys. The album’s opening is somewhat mirrored here with a serene, soft vocal, acoustic guitars and string instruments. The driving rhythm grows more prominent, before gently returning to the delicate guitar melody to end.

The Hirsch Effekt clearly pour a wealth of emotions into their art. From the gloomy and desolate to the uplifting and sense of solace, Urian comprises of a captivating and skilful arrangement of music. • HR

For fans of: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Rolo Tomassi, SikTh

‘Urian’ by The Hirsch Effekt is out now on Long Branch Records.

Artwork for Aiko’s ‘Fortune’s Child’


Fortune’s Child

Bloody hell, is it 2015 again or something?! That’s what you get from Aiko, who appears to have been plucked out of time and deposited a decade later, far removed from the era of ‘crossover’ soloists whose claim to alternative spaces was by being too unconventional for chart-pop by a factor of a degree or two. Dark times indeed, but at least’s a space free to do something with it, now that its flagbearers have either improved by orders of magnitude (i.e. Halsey), or thankfully vanished off the face of the planet. But with her evident time displacement, Aiko clearly hasn’t got the memo that this sort of thing doesn’t fly anymore (hell, it barely did back then). In other words, if someone distilled the essence of mid-2010s alt-pop, tropes and all, it’d look like the majority of Fortune’s Child.

It’s a classic case of an album viewing itself as far more daring and transgressive than it actually is. None of this is all that new or surprising, lodged between dark-pop’s colour palette and lumbering percussion to feign bombast, with the occasional left turn into more standard (yet similarly underwhelming) pop-rock. And while that side of Aiko’s repertoire is resplendent with its own issues—namely how extremely underpowered guitars will sandblast away any notion of a gallop, like on Lucky Streak—it’s at least a break from the drudgery elsewhere. It seems to be a running theme with there ‘genreless’ albums that pace is treated like an afterthought, and that’s very much true here as well. Particularly on songs like Power and Queen Of Joy that also want to have capricious, theatrical flutters to reinforce their edginess, there just isn’t the means of holding that all together, when a rather shallow pool of production dumps all its resources into thudding along.

If there’s a more strident positive to be found on Fortune’s Child, it’d likely be Aiko herself. Yes, her shrunken little trills smack of early Halsey (the worst of their eras, FYI), but there’s personality to break through that, or if nothing else, buttress it up. There’s a bit of swagger to her that makes songs about empowerment and self-love feel believable, and Naivní sung in her native Czech is the kind of immediate stimulus of character that it’d be worth embracing much more often. After all, the songs themselves are very entwined with alt-pop’s de rigeur, where anything distinct is reliant solely on Aiko as a frontwoman. And though she’s frequently good, that’s the kind of weight that can cause a singer to buckle if they’re not prepared, and Aiko is dangerously close to that.

When the comparisons drawn to Halsey are as unavoidable as they are, it can really overshadow Fortune’s Child in terms of what Aiko delivers. Even someone like Melanie Martinez, as dogshit as she is, has a gimmick that makes it borderline impossible to look away. Aiko’s one distinction right now is that she’s squatting in an unoccupied space, even though it’s been that way for good reason. But in true fashion of hangers-on that fail to take the hint, she’s more instantly forgettable than awful. Outside of the broadest possible strokes, you won’t remember what Fortune’s Child aims to bring or the feelings it’s designed to evoke, pretty much immediately after it ends. That doesn’t seem very fortunate, now does it? • LN

For fans of: Halsey, Yonaka, Lorde

‘Fortune’s Child’ by Aiko is released on 13th October.

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)

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