You Better Not Steal My Stuff, Darn Hoodlums
Yo, this be Reuben. This year, I haven’t really listened to any new music as released in 2018, as I’ve been doing catch-up on stuff from last year and a whole bunch of older stuff. As for 2017 releases I missed the first time, this record really stands out.
Coming from the exotic land of Southend-on-Sea, these guys make up probably the most exciting up and coming English rock band of this moment — for me trumping bigbois Royal Blood. Fronted by the eclectic Conor Mason, with his vulnerable stage presence combating his lung-shreddingly powerful voice, the band has a striking image; they’re indie down to the bone but they’ve got bite.
This sophomore effort Broken Machine seems to be a coming of age for the band, or at least something that points toward brilliant things as they’ve pushed more boundaries than they had before and molded their image more sharply. Honestly, based on this album and the kind of attention the band is already garnering, I could see these guys carrying the flag for British rock and filling stadiums like Muse did last decade.
Opening on chugging bass and airtight drums, breaking into an offbeat fuzzy riff atop the backdrop of a spacey soundscape, the album opens as it sets out to be: different. There’s a definite unorthodox nature to proceedings here, with a stop-start, juttering rhythm pervading the entire album, punctuated by Mason’s floating vocals, while branching guitar progressions, a pronounced rhythm section and interesting soundscapes run beneath them, in a way in conflict, but working perfectly in harmony.
That musicianship is given its room to roam and every little piece of it stands out on its own in the heavily polished, tight production. Mike Crossey’s direction here makes Nothing But Thieves’ sophomore effort sound starkly modern, like space-age indie rock, if you like, as each segment of the sound is compressed and edited to the extent that it sounds incredibly clean, punchy, and clean, but not so much so that it sounds over-produced. It fits the image of the band, and their music, perfectly. Honestly, I can’t pick fault at the mixing here.
If there is one thing I can pick fault at, however, it’s the songwriting at some points in the album. At points, it feels like they went a little too far with that unorthodox, unique feel, as Living Like Animals, to my ears, with its poppy, synth hook and harsh rhythm, just sounds obnoxious. It feels a little like they’re just trying too hard to stand out here — it’s a similar case with the titular track Broken Machine, but a strong groove beating through it is its saving grace. And then, while they’re trying so hard to impress there, they seem to go into Radiohead copycat mode in Hell, Yeah. It may sound like a bit of a bigoted claim to make, and it may not just be Radiohead it sounds like its copying, but it just seems to lack some originality. Still, I kinda love the song, it’s got an intimate melody and insightful lyrics, and I’m a sucker for that acoustic, melancholic style. You’ve also got closing track Afterlife, which does a similar thing but to a lesser extent. I think what this shows is that the band are still learning at this stage, and getting onto their own feet. They’ve got one or a few songwriting deficiencies they can work on, and although right now it’s a criticism, it’s exciting to think of how good they could be once they do fully mature.
As they are now, aside from those blips, the band show a lot of songwriting ability in this album. You’ve got the fantastic, hard-hitting opener in I Was Just a Kid, the sound-defining single Amsterdam, a lovestruck couple of songs in the catchy Sorry and the beautiful Particles, which show their ability to write great radio songs, that still stand out, and a great straight up rock song in Get Better. Then, digging deeper, you’ve got the introspective and interesting Soda, an exceptionally pleasant listen, and the brilliantly defiant I’m Not Made By Design. Throughout every song, there’s lyricism wielding done before themes of protest, love and loss, yet still feeling totally new and unique, as they take an off-road approach, connecting to disillusioned young’uns all over. Nothing But Thieves’ lyrics here are refreshingly self-aware, and equally aware of their surroundings, which, melded with Mason’s desperate cries and wails, make for powerful reading.
Oh, and powerful listening too. In just about every song on the album, there’s an awesome hook, with a crescendo of crashing chords and screams, craving for something different as they pave the way for modern rock, being both easily listenable and aptly aggressive — a potent mix indeed. Perhaps the raw power doesn’t reach the early peak provided by I Was Just a Kid‘s explosive choruses, but there is always a strong moment to enjoy, as the variety on show is great from start to finish — unless perhaps it’s Living Like Animals.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, though. This isn’t the best rock music you are ever going to hear, it’s not earth-shattering stuff, but in terms of listenable, radio-friendly rock music that you can just stick on and stick your ears into, this is some of the best you are going to hear from the past few years. There may be a couple of weaker moments, and some unoriginal inputs, and I can’t deny that I would like it to get a bit heavier, but Broken Machine is a concise, brilliant listen, and an exciting release that comes easily recommendable to anyone into music in general. In the interest of modern music, these guys need all the attention they can get.
BEST TRACKS: I Was Just a Kid, Amsterdam, Sorry, Particles, Soda
WORST TRACKS: Living Like Animals, Broken Machine
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