Posts Tagged ‘Grunge’

Dance To The Radio Records – 17th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Between 2005 and 2011, Dance to the Radio was the label that wasn’t lonely synonymous with the Leeds scene, it practically was the Leeds scene, and contributed to putting the city and its bands back on the map, releasing The Pigeon Detectives, Forward Russia, This Et Al, iLiKETRAiNS, and Grammatrics, as well as a number of wide-ranging compilations featuring the like of Pulled Apart by Horses. Returning in 2017 after a six-year hiatus, they’ve focused on a small but carefully-curated roster, giving a home to Tallsaint, Aural Aggro faves Dead Naked Hippies, Jake Whiskin, and Hull’s Low Hummer, who may be relatively new but have established themselves quickly, showcasing an energetic alt-rock sound that incorporates elements of grunge, punk, postpunk, and electro-pop with potent results. Debuting in October 2019 with the single ‘I Choose Live News’, the band have marked a steadily upward trajectory in the profile stakes ever since.

Granted, over half the tracks on Modern Tricks For Living have been released as singles in the last couple of years or so, making this as much a compilation as an album proper, but nevertheless, it hangs together nicely, on account of its stylistic unity and lyrical themes, and it’s well sequenced too, with the ups and downs just where they need to be.

Classic themes of angst, anxiety, and alienation dominate, and they never grow tired or fade. They possess a universality and an eternal relevance. The power and passion of the emotions may fade with age, but they never go away: most disaffected teens still feel it, unless they sell out and become self-satisfied, complacent parts of the machine. And some do – I’ve lost friends that way – but many of us still burn with the anguish of adolescence. As such, despite the band’s youth, there’s a universality in their appeal.

‘These days I feel like I’m dead’: the drawling vocal on ‘Tell You What’ is pure grunge nihilism, but there’s a sparkly electropop aspect to it, too. And the more you delve into Modern Tricks For Living, the more detail and the more canny crafting it reveals: amidst the brashy, trashy surface, there’s a lot more going on. These songs aren’t superficial, rushed, three-chord thrashes – well, they are, but they’re a lot more besides, and that’s the appeal of Low Hummer.

‘Take Arms’ packs some attack and makes for a strong opener. It doesn’t waste any time in planting a powerful earworm, with a motorik beat and bubbling synth bass providing the spine of a spiky punky indie banger that’s pure 90s in its vibe – the guitars fizz and the shouty female backing vocals reactive the riot grrrl sound and it kicks hard.

One of the few tracks not to have been released previously, ‘Don’t You Ever Sleep’, is an exuberant, bouncy paean to boredom that powers through in a whirl of synths in two and three quarter minutes, and it’s exhilarating, and ‘I Choose Live News’ crashes in as the third track, and it’s another relentless rush.

The Curesque ‘Never Enough’ (one suspects the title isn’t entirely accidental either) brings a change of tempo and switches the full-throttle fizz for an altogether dreamier form. It’s well-placed, and proves they’re not one-dimensional or one-pace, hinting at a range that they’re yet to fully explore. Slinging lines like ‘I hate this place / I hate the world’ , they pack in the angst and nihilism

‘Sometimes I Wish’ has some neat bass runs and a cyclical guitar riff that builds, while a wild lead part tops it all off. The tempo change towards the end is both unexpected and well-executed. ‘Slow One’ isn’t all that slow, but these things are all relative, and ‘The People, This Place’, another previous single release provides a blistering finale. And what can I say? This is a cracking album from beginning to end, that presents a solid selection of songs. Modern Tricks For Living is exciting and exhilarating, and it’s as simple as that.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Grunge isn’t dead. Not by a long way. Although, the trouble with grunge is that even at its height, most of the bands weren’t that impressive, and the ones who were achieved the widest success were the weakest, most accessible of the crop. Without the polished and ultimately marketable Nevermind, Nirvana would have never achieved global domination, although both Bleach and In Utero were, and remain, far superior albums, while the like of Tad and Mudhoney are the true sound of grunge, and capture the gritty, sweaty toil of blue collar labour channelled into aural catharsis. These bands never set out to change the world, but to vent their frustrations and ultimately their sense of powerlessness through music.

Perhaps it’s an age thing, but being in sixth form when grunge exploded it felt like not only an exciting time for music, but that this was a wave of music that actually spoke both to and for my generation at the time. In a way I feel rather sorry for the Millennials and Gen Z; the blandness of contemporary music speaks of nothing but surface. Even when addressing genuine issues, there feels like not only an absence of depth, but an absence of real emotion, of soul. Perhaps it’s just that the mainstream industry, represented by the mainstream charts, dominated by mainstream artists on major labels is simply giving the entirety of its focus on monetising slick sonic wallpaper. It seems odd that generations so riven with pain and angst (and who can blame them?) should find solace in this kind of anodyne slop. It can’t just be the numbing effects of antidepressants: something is clearly awry. Small wonder, then, that some delve into their parents’ collections in order to find music that contains what’s missing for them.

New York’s Cronies formed in June 2020 by brothers Jack and Sam Carillo, the press pitch describes the project as ‘the creative offspring of Covid and isolation’. Creative is the word: having pulled in a couple of mates to render this a full band, they’ve already banged out a brace of Eps in the last year ahead of this, their eponymous debut, which Cruel Nature are releasing on another Bandcamp Friday, with Proceeds going to charity.

It’s a bowel-shaking bass note that strikes first, and the sustain is something. And then in lurches a grimy guitar that’s welded to a stumbling rhythm section – and it’s heavy. Then the drawling vocal rips into a fill-throated roar that’s pure Cobain. These guys have taken the relentless battery of Bleach and the nihilistic squall of In Utero as their template, with a dash of thrash and some of the grimy heft of Tad in the mix (‘Slush Fund’ even leans on the riff from Tad’s ‘Behemoth’ but chicks in some stun synths and some manic hollering that’s more reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard), and ‘A Slippery Slope’ throws all of these in at once, along with a sudden change of pace and direction two-thirds of the way in. On ‘Ritchie from Lebanon’ they build a massively dense bulk of noise, the guitars and bass churning, overloading at great volume.

What Cronies have that their peers lack – well, there are many things, if we’re analysing (and of course we are: that’s the purpose of music criticism). But first and foremost, it’s raw passion and energy. There’s nothing slick or ultra-processed about this: Cronies are unashamedly ragged, and really embrace the grunge ethic of the time when most of the bands from Nirvana to Mudhoney were still on labels like Sub Pop. It’s perhaps because of the band’s origins – confined, trapped – that the songs on Cronies teem and seethe with abject frustration. Sometimes, words simply cannot articulate those feelings, and all there is to do is scream and unleash howls of feedback instead of neat chords. And this is what Cronies do, and this is why they speak to us: it’s accepting the limitations of articulation and unleashing a primal howl. It’s powerful because it’s real.

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a long time. An insanely long time. Apart from a brief spell where there were a handful of seated gigs on offer around August of last year, live music has been off the menu for the best – or worst – part of sixteen months, and a long, torturous sixteen months it’s been for so many of us – not least of all those whose livelihoods depend on it, but also for those of us who find comfort and catharsis in the experience, a few hours’ escape from the grind of daily life.

I haver to confess having anxietised over the prospect of attending my first live show since August 2020, since which time I’ve barely set foot in a pub or anywhere really, having been working from home since forever. Less fearful of Covid, more of social situations in general, fearful I’d lost the little social skill I had from before, I simply wasn’t sure what to expect, and the worst fear is the fear of the unknown, and this had perhaps tempered my immense excitement.

In the end, it transpired I needn’t have worried, and everything was nicely managed at the Victoria Vaults. They’ve moved the bar since I was last there, and the refit works well in making for a significantly bigger gig space and next to no bottlenecks, plus the bar staff were friendly and attentive with their table service – which was perhaps as well, because it was sweltering and needed to maintain a flow of cold cider.

Sitting just feet from a real drum kit with my shoulder against a PA stack felt great, and simply being back in that environment brought a great joy. Then there was the lineup: one of the last shows I’d seen, back in January 2020 had featured both My Wonderful Daze and Redfyrn. Both had impressed then, and given reason to come back for more. Although, of course, January 2020 feels like another life.

With King Orange having dropped off the bill without explanation, it’s a later start with Redfyrn straight on and straight in, with the power trio kicking out hefty blues-based grungy heavy rock with a sludgy/stoner vibe, driven hard by some crunchy 5-string bass. Cat Redfern’s soaring vocals are at times almost folksy, and contrast with the hefty lumbering riffs. Collectively, they’re tight, the songs textured and dynamic. There’s a lot of cymbal, but some proper heavy-hitting drum work and the sludgy sound is both steeped in 70s vintage and contemporary influence, resulting in some solid swinging grooves. The mix could have perhaps done with more guitar, but then I was sitting in front of the bass amp and about six feet from the drum kit. Closer ‘Unreal’ has bounce and grit and groove and is a solid as. The band were clearly pleased to be on stage again, and it came through in a spirited performance.

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My Wonderful Daze’s singer Flowers may be feeling and looking a shade off colour but is in fine voice and all the better once she’s taken her boots off at least for a while. The band bring more big, lumbering riffs, and any concern they may have been rusty after the time out proves to be unfounded, because they’re tight – and loud. They bring all the rage early in the set, coming on more Pretty on the Inside – era Hole than Live Through This, more Solar Race than L7. It’s not long before she’s sitting down to sing because she’s dizzy, and yet still fucking belts out the angst, and despite visibly struggling throughout, it doesn’t affect things sonically: the band don’t just play on, but continue to give it their all. Watching this set really brings home just how hard bands work to do what they do. The slow-burning ‘Dust’ is something of an epic that’s emotionally rich and transitions from a gentle chime to some simmering power chords with some audience participation clapping to aid the build.

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My Wonderful Daze

They announce apologetically that they’re cutting set short to skipped to encore song Tommy for fear of fainting, but it’s a valiant effort and the right choice, although Flowers didn’t make it past the first verse before rushing from the stage. The rest of the band finish the song – and the set – with force, and all the credit to them for their consummate professionalism. Both bands did themselves truly proud, and delivered a great night, and hopefully the first of many.

The Secret Warehouse of Sound Recordings – 29th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The thing that fades with the morning is the night, the hours of darkness in which so many of us find ourselves, if not sleeping, in contemplation or otherwise tormented with thoughts, while others find the memories of the night before receding with the sunrise. And what is so often vivid in those dark hours becomes hazy, intangible, and moved further out of reach with every hour that passes. And it’s that sense of loss, of the passing, of an absence that permeates ‘Fading with the Morning’ with a palpable ache.

Over the course of five finely-crafted minutes, The Beatflux build from a delicate, twinkling guitar intro that’s almost post-rock in its persuasion, into a colossal country-tinged grunger and Enrico Minelli’s gritty vocal has a grainy timbre that’s thick with emotion and a tone that says ‘drunk it, smoked it, lived it’.

Musing on how the ‘Sunlight cuts our eyes, changing hue’ may not be a startlingly poetic or vivid image, but it’s all in the delivery as the band conjure something far more evocative in the moment than on paper. ‘Fading With The Morning’ very much harks back to the sound of Alice in Chains, with a keen sense of melody and a layered subtlety in the arrangement that means it gains momentum as it progresses to truly anthemic scale.

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Prank Monkey Records – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The story goes that London four-piece Muscle Vest reportedly ‘formed in 2018 over a mutual appreciation for ugly rock music’, and that’s what they serve up on their debut EP – a sweaty, guitar-driven dirty rock workout that’s brimming with churning riffs, grease and grime. They come out all guns blazing and firing wildly in all directions with the manic racket of ‘Creepy Crawlie’, a juddering, angular rager that melts the best of 90s noise into a mangled metal nugget in the vein of later acts like Blacklisters and Hawk Eyes, and it very much sets the fast and furious tone for the rest of the EP: ‘Stray’ bears fair comparison to Blacklisters’ ‘Shirts’, with a throbbing riff blasting out against a low-slung bassline. If Shellac and Big Black are in the mix, so are The Jesus Lizard and early Pulled Apart by Horses.

Muscle Vest pack in a boatload of adrenaline and bring ALL the noise: it’s fucking ugly and monstrously brutal, and those are its positive points. It ain’t polished or pretty, and if you’re on the market for something gnarly, look no further.

‘We’ll all be dead / we’ll all be dead one day’ vocalist Dave Rogers howls nihilistically into a tempest of abrasive guitar noise that churns and grinds on ‘A Slow Death’. He’s right, of course: the question is whether we will die a quiet, peaceful death, or a horrible, painful one, shrieking in agony for the duration of those final hours. This is very much the soundtrack to the latter, and it’s almost enough to make death sound appealing. Because, well, better to go out screaming than to flicker out. The last track, ‘Blissbucket’ is a minute and three-quarters of blazing napalm, taking its cues from hardcore punk and tossing in all the jarring, jolting guitars that scratch and scrape at all angles across the relentlessly churning rhythm section. It’s fast and furious and brings the EP to a blistering close and then some. It positively burns with an intense fury, and it’s beautifully brutal. Gets my vote, and then some.

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25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The older you get, the weirder things get. On the one hand, the generational gap widens by the day, but on the other, you see thing come full circle, and faster. Growing up in the 80s, the fact of the matter is that my parents had abysmal taste in music, both contemporary and of their era. My mum would groove to Phil Collins and Tina Turner and Paul Young Van Halen and the fucking Bee Gees while ironing, while my dad hadn’t bought a new LP since Steeleye Span’s ‘All Around My Hat’. Car journeys on family holidays were a real hoot, what with Leo Sayer and 80s Cliff Richard tapes alternating with Now That’s What I Call Music 1 and 2. Philip Larking was right: your parents fuck you up in ways they don’t even realise. However, the point is that increasingly, new bands are turning to their parents’ rather cooler collections and discovering the likes of Nirvana, Pavement, Weezer, Teenage Fanclub and Pixies – and Sweethearts are a case in point.

They’re pitched as standing at the forefront of the 90s resurgence, but for some of us, the 90s never ended, especially for many of those who were in their teens and early twenties at the time and are around 4 now. Midlife crisis? Maybe. But then, for many, music stops when they hit 30, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years listening to peers bemoaning the lack of any decent new music. They’re all wrong, of course: there has been innovative and exciting new music released every year since the beginning of music. It just happens that none of the music of interest has received any kind of mainstream attention for a long time. But it’s all out there if you know where to look.

You wouldn’t call ‘If I Could I Would’ innovative, but that isn’t the point: this is a classic example of a band drawing on their influences, which so happen to reach back a generation – and distilling them into a strong and potent mix. ‘If I Could I Would’ is a melodic grunge-leaning slice of college rock, but there are some obvious indie features spun into the composition, not least of all the lead guitar part that spins its way around the rhythm section like a tripwire.

Lyrically, the song explores the limitations of desire and capability, and the song’s hook is a neat piece of circular, self-negating logic: ‘If I could, I would, but I can’t so I couldn’t’. It’s not nihilistic, just more a slackerist ‘meh’, and with its nostalgia-inducing retro musical backing, it’s the perfect summary of the listlessness of the zeitgeist.

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Chapter 22 – 24th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

On 31 December 2019, writing on Yur Mum’s explosive Ellipsis EP, I closed with the lines ‘Fuck it, for my last review of the year, and of the decade, I’ll put it out there: 2020 is going to be Yur Mum’s year. And if it isn’t, then I give up.’ There was no way of knowing that 2020 would be no-one’s year, if it could even be considered a year rather than an immense, bleak desert of time without form or meaning. If it seems as if in 2021 we’re now just starting to emerge from a long dormant spell, it’s perhaps worth realising that it’s already the end of June and we’re past the longest day.

Still, it’s been a while in the gestation, but Yur Mum having scored a deal with Chapter 22, finally get to unveil their second full-length album, Tropical Fuzz. Apart from ‘Sweatshop’, the lead single form the aforementioned Ellipsis EP, this is a completely new set of material, penned since they cut back from a trio to a duo in 2019, and it feels very much like an album, a cohesive work that’s been planned and structured, with the second half comprising noticeably shorter songs as it builds up and races to the finish.

‘Banana Republic’ comes belting out of the traps with a colossal lumbering riff, the gritty, grainy bass and thunderous drumming tight as you like. There’s such a density to the sound that it punches you right in the stomach, and the production captures that live feel magnificently.

‘Black Rainbow’, premiered at the start of the year, marks a change of tone and tempo, with its slower pace, and more theatrically gothic feel, it’s a dark, brooding beast of a song that showcases another facet of Anelise Kunz’s vocal range.

It’s on third track, ‘Crazy’ where they deliver on the pitch of ‘more cowbell, more fuzz’, as drummer Fabio Couto goes all Blue Oyster Cult and Kunz grinds out a doozer bassline while coming on like Courtney Love, with a drawling sneer and full-lunged roar, and they pack the belters in back-to-back, the driving alt-pop of ‘Dig Deep’ is a fast and furious two-and-a-half minute harmony-filled rush of adrenaline. They step up the volume and fuzz another few notches with ballsy grunger ‘Kiss and Tell’.

The pairing of the jarring, ribcage-rattling ‘Sweatshop’ and the raucous hard-rock attack of the title track makes for a killer finale.

Each song feels fully honed, distilled to its optimal strength, with no fat or faffing about – this is, of course, one benefit of being a two-piece: there’s not a lot to faff about with – breakdowns and extended solos simply don’t work with such a minimal format, but where Yur Mum really make it work for them is that they achieve a maximal sound. And that sound is a driving, punky blast of energy that feels great.

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4th June 2021 (Knight)

Kids… every year they get younger, right? It’s a poor quip poorly executed, one that cropped up when I was teaching at a university as lecturers joked about how every year the students got younger. Bands who aren’t yet old enough to drink at the venues they perform tend to be met with an equal blend of awe and scoffing. Both are equally unfair: why should anyone assume that age is a measure by which any musician should be judged? Being wowed because of ability that’s advanced ‘for their age’ is as discriminatory as commenting on how a band from the 70s are still ‘good for their age’. It’s also a criticism of sort, as if they’re not actually good on their own merits.

So instead of either being wowed by their youthful talent or knocking them for being a bunch of millennials with an agenda, let’s see what this quartet consisting of Noah Lonergan (vocals and guitar), Amber Welsh (bass), Michael Barlingieri (guitar), and Harry Heard (drums) are actually about.

They speak for Gen Z, with songs about global warming and toxic masculinity to racism and corruption. And yes, we need bands with conscience, and we need bands who are politically engaged. THIS is how the future happens. Anyone who decries a ‘woke’ agenda and bitches about ‘snowflakes’ can fuck off, because we know they’re all middle-aged, middle-class white men with a comfortable platform from which to decry ‘cancel culture’.

Polarized Eyes met in primary school and came together as a band in 2018. Tom Robinson loves them, John Kennedy (Radio X). Jack Saunders at Radio 1 also rated their single ‘Real Boys’, and they will probably dig this too.

It’s just shy of two minutes of guitar-driven, there-chord punk energy that’s pure punk, coupled with the raw power of grunge. Ther’s some wicked reverb going on with the vocal, and Lonergan belts it out with real force – but there’s something more to his voice than that, masking it one you want to hear more of. It’s a rush. It’s also a straight-up killer single by any measure.

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26th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Yes! Yes! Yes! This single cut from London four-piece Ravenfangs is appropriately titled. Clocking in at two and a half minutes, it’s an explosion of fizzy, grungy, overdriven guitars powered by angst and frustration, Recapturing the spirit of Nirvana and blending it with a certain punk sensibility, it’s lack of polish is a significant part of the appeal.

This is the best of DIY, and this is what happens when people have had enough. They don’t hang about, they don’t wait for opportunities or offers – they get on and make their own and do it all themselves. It was the emergence of punk that saw bands first shun the conventional industry-centred models, and the age of home recording and the Internet has finally rendered the production and release of music an egalitarian, open proposition.

The beauty is that truly anyone can pick up a guitar – hell, you don’t even need that, just a laptop or a phone these days – and offload all that emotion, everything that you need to vent, and put it out there.

Starting off with a thick, buzzing bassline played with a gut-punching urgency, ‘Rage’ crashes in full throttle with everything else all going hell-for-leather all at once. It’s unpretentious, unpolished, and exciting because it’s real, a sneering blast of righteous alt-rock, and packs a proper punch with no pretence, no pissing about. Raw, rough, ready, this is where it’s at.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Videostore continue to make the most of lockdown, with the pair banging out a second mini-album, comprising three of their recent singles along with three brand new tracks. Does the title have a significance? Does the end of lockdown mark the end of Videostore as Nathan and Lorna return to work and also reconvene with Argonaut? Perhaps time will tell, but for now, this is a document of the effects of life in confinement – or, as they put it, ‘what happens when you are locked down with Disney plus and Taylor Swift and Spacemen 3 CDs for company.’

It’s an interesting blend, but also a hybrid that works and is distinctively Videostore: scuzzed-out lo-fi pop songs that articulate ennui and nostalgia with a rare energy. As ever, it’s the contrast between Nathan’s worldweary monotone baritone and Lorna’s light, lilting, airy tones that really distinguish and define their sound.

It starts off with single cut ‘Superhero Movies’, a lively blast of choppy guitars where they ruminate on the disparity between movies and life, whereby everyone aspires to be a superhero from the comfort of their sofa. Media and unattainable aspiration is also the focus of ‘Your Perfect Life’. ‘Halfway There’ is a middle-aged lament that finds Nathan mulling over the passage of time, and in its downtempo mood and delivery, I’m reminded of The Fall’s ‘Time Enough at Last’, and even the semi-spirited call of ‘techno techno techno techno’ and a swerve into synth territory near the end can’t lift the melancholy mood – that’s a job for the blistering Pixies-like blast of single ‘Your Mind’, which stands out even more in context.

Low-key single ‘Anglepoise’ marks another return to Brix-era fall stylings, and there’s something affectingly sad in the sound of tiredness, of defeat. The last song, ‘Go’ is the biggest surprise of the set. It’s not a cover of the Moby track, but it is an all-out electro dance banger. It’s incongruous, so say the least, but there are some trademark squalls of noise among the trancey synths and insistent beats.

They Closed Down The Videostore may only contain six tracks, but it’s their most diverse work yet – and if the store remains open, the indications are they’ve no shortage of ideas to pursue.

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