Album reviews: new from Yuck, Steve Mason, Anthrax and Jack Garrett
Grunge pop, folktronica, heavy metal and ballads go under the spotlight
With obvious influences of Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub and most notably Dinosaur Jr, English grunge pop noise rockers Yuck arrived on the scene in 2011 with their acclaimed self-titled debut full of unapologetic 1990s guitar rock. Citing a decision to “focus on other things” frontman Daniel Blumberg quit the band before the disappointing follow-up Glow & Behold, and a spark of energy left with him. As Yuck’s new leader, guitarist Max Bloom shares a more than similar vocal talent to Blumberg, but the band now seem in a desperate search for a new identity.
Often though Stranger Things feels more like a B-side tribute album dedicated to all of their fuzzy heroes, a nostalgic back slap to Red House Painters, Superchunk and My Bloody Valentine, the yearning title track reeking more of The Lemonheads than Evan Dando’s ripped jeans. But there are certainly standouts: lead single Hearts in Motion is fun melodic punk, while As I Walk Away and the playful Cannonball buzz with the diluted spirit of their debut.
Meet the Humans
Produced by Elbow’s Craig Potter, the third solo album from former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason arrives after a three-year hiatus, and the sunny melancholy running throughout these 11 tracks of pop-folktronica points to a new hope and positivity. Mason’s mental struggles, on the cusp of The Beta Band’s blossoming success were well documented, but having relocated to the warmer shores of England’s south coast after 2013’s dark and confrontational Monkey Minds in the Devils Time, his Meet the Humans glows with a spirit of personal reinvention. “It’s all personal, every single thing that I write is completely personal – all of it. There’s not one, really one thing that isn’t about me; it’s all little entries to a diary.
It’s all about me,” Mason said recently. While Water Bored and Through My Window ache with a beautiful tenderness, lead single Planet Sizes pounds with a buoyant urgency. In his glorious hushed tones Mason repeats “The universe is mine” as the chorus triumphantly soars, but its on the big-hearted indie anthems Like Water and Alive that the songwriter confidently hits his creative stride.
For All Kings
Hailing their 11th album as the “most metal album we’ve ever made” is quite a statement from 1980s thrash metal stalwarts Anthrax, considering their 30-plus years in the headbanging business. Alongside Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, Anthrax were once considered one of metal’s “Big Four” (although with a pop edge), but nearly three decades on from their iconic Among the Living, are the East Coast speed metal exponents relevant anymore, or are they simply rethrashing past glories? Featuring new guitarist Jonathan Donais, the follow-up to 2012’s Grammy-nominated Worship Music, is unmistakably Anthrax, an ageless blend of the heavy and melodic that never dares stray from their comfort zone.
Denouncing religious extremists, Evil Twin is certainly old-school fast and frenetic, Joey Belladonna’s clean and powerful vocals slicing through the raging guitar riffage, as bassist Frank Bello states, “it’s a track that begs to be played live”, and while, like much of the album it’s solid and occasionally furious, it’s often less than spectacular.
With a stack of recent awards fighting for space on his mantlepiece (including the Brit Awards’ critic’s choice), singer and multi-instrumentalist Jack Garratt rides gayly into town on the back of a well-oiled hype machine, with his self-produced debut album Phase. It would be too easy for the 24-year-old British singer-songwriter to drown under the weight of expectations following the chart success of the singles Chemical, Breathe Life, Worry and the stark gospel of Weathered, all which rightfully appear here, but Phase confirms Garratt as one of the hottest talents of the year. Mixing the emotive balladry and introspective soul of Ginger Sheeran and walking hatstand James Bay, with lush textures of British garage and jungle, Garratt demonstrates a wildly imaginative and colourful pop palette.
From the smouldering R&B of The Love You’ve Given to the club-inspired Far Cry and Fire, Garratt’s vocals dance effortlessly between a sharp falsetto and a melancholic after-hours growl over a kitchen-sink collection of beats, breaks and loops.