The revitalisation of lo-fi noise pop/grunge/punk is all well and good, but so far almost all of the action of this re-emerging scene has been in America. Now, after months of pining for a British equivalent to No Age and Vivian Girls, along come Male Bonding – via the American Sub Pop label.
On the surface, the band and label seem like an ideal fit: a fast and furious trio with influences ranging from grunge, punk and garage rock teaming up with a label that brought the world bands of a similar ilk. The London-based trio have already released a couple of split singles through the influential indie label and now comes their debut album, Nothing Hurts.
What perhaps makes Nothing Hurts more than just an average debut album is that it shows off an impressive variety of dynamics. Yes, primarily the sound is heavy and fast and energetic but it’s not a one-trick pony either. Short punk bursts that are designed to make the listener jump with the turbo-charged energy levels of a maniac like Your Contact and All Things This Way successfully juxtapose with songs like Weird Feelings. It contains, amidst the throbbing bass and the reverb-drenched guitar lines and vocals, a gorgeous melody that gives a much warmer tone.
Speaking of reverb, there’s a lot of it. It’s like the band had recorded in an echo chamber that’s housed in another echo chamber. But this isn’t detrimental to the recordings. On tracks like the ever-so-slightly jangly Franklin it works in giving it a distinctive sound and character as John Arthur Webb’s vocals fit perfectly against almost tribal-sounding drums in the distance. The reverb also helps in making the vocal refrains sound far more anthemic and euphoric than they perhaps would have been otherwise. Any band can write a simple refrain like “All of this won’t last forever,” or “Nothing will change/It all stays the same,” but the trick is always to make it sound like something no one has ever heard before that can make anyone giddy with excitement.
But the main reason to enjoy this album is the sheer enthusiasm on display. It feels like the trio are going all guns blazing. It’s only a (barely) 30-minute LP but the amount of ideas and influences it crams into the relatively short running time is remarkable. They give the impression of being a band who want to show off as much as they can, yet without wanting to overdo it. The album’s title track is a fine example: a sublime couple of minutes of grunge heaven that refuses to outstay its welcome.
Some listeners might be turned off by the rapid change in dynamics. but if that’s the case then they’re probably just not having enough fun. This is at its heart a fun and exuberant album. It’s lo-fi at its finest and a contender for one of the more impressive debuts of the year so far. Fans of the genre will lap it up and with very good reason: it’s short, sharp and straight to the point.