When Ryan Needham and Liza Violet first appeared out of Leeds in 2015 as Menace Beach, their debut album Ratworld was a promising, fun slice of scuzzy indie-pop. It was certainly very much of a ‘type’ – there are plenty of snotty young bands with drawling vocals and feedback-drenched guitars out there after all – but they stood out from the crowd by the sense of fun that can only be generated by a couple of young kids messing about for the first time in a studio.
Ratworld was also dominated by its guests though – it was a veritable A-Z of the West Yorkshire music scene, with names from Pulled Apart By Horses, Sky Larkin and Hookworms all chipping in. You get the sense that Needham and Violet wanted to make Lemon Memory their ‘statement album’, and it’s certainly a record that drips in confidence, with the duo obviously unwilling to take the safe route of just making a copy of their debut.
Lemon Memory gets off to a strong start. The opening salvo of Give Blood hears Needham yelp “why do you always sing about death?” over some brutal guitar riffs that Thurston Moore would be proud of, while Violet takes over on lead vocals for the naggingly insistent organ-driven chug of Maybe We’ll Drown. It’s a pair of tracks that ably demonstrate the two sides of Menace Beach: the ferocious and the more melodic.
Those two sides are explored in great depth throughout Lemon Memory. There’s certainly more emphasis on the band’s love of drone and psych music this time round, which doesn’t always work particularly well. The album centrepiece Can’t Get A Haircut goes a bit too heavy on the bludgeoning guitars and screamy vocals, while Sentimental has bags of energy, but just becomes far too repetitive, even at just two and a half minutes.
On the other hand, Darlatroid has a introduction worthy of the Pixies and gets better and better as it goes on, while the gorgeously woozy Owl sees Violet sounding like the lost link between Bilinda Butcher and Liz Fraser. Lemon Memory certainly has more success when it focuses on Violet, her otherworldy vocals livening up tracks such as the aforementioned Maybe We’ll Drown and the closing shoegaze revival of Heartbreaker II.
Needham has his moments too, especially on the record’s most conventionally ‘indie-rock’ sounding number, Darlatoid, and Suck It Out has some sunny ’60s influences and an infuriatingly catchy chorus. There are a few too many times on the record though, such as on the title track, where you’re just waiting for something to happen, with moments where it all threatens to explode into something hugely exciting, yet just fizzles out inconsequentially.
If the point of Lemon Memory was to reintroduce Needham and Violet on their own terms without the distraction of famous friends, then it definitely does its job. It’s possibly not the massively successful step forward that it probably thinks it is, but there’s enough promise shining through to make Menace Beach well worth keeping an eye on.