The unfussy Nothing Hurts, UK punk melodicists Male Bonding?'s 2010 debut, had a charm no acquisition of maturity or fame could duplicate. How bold, then, for the Londoners to wait scarcely a year to censure themselves to sophomore slump accusations; that confidence makes Endless Now a delight, even if it falls short of its predecessor.
The trio continues to trade in pop Americanisms, but this time out they ditch SST distortion in favor of the sprightly surf guitar (see single "Tame the Sun"?) of the Barracudas, or Jan & Dean if they dug feedback. Newly clean vocals tower over blissed-out psychedelia, realizing the California fantasies Nothing hinted at, on the druggy mood swing "Can't Dream" and the bouncy handclapper ?"What's That Scene." As before, they prove unlikely masters of the mournful ballad on "The Saddle," which at 1:37 makes one long for more, despite the thrillingly brash fuzz that follows on "Channeling Your Fears."
These more accomplished, distinct new songs offer a case study of the Well-Balanced Rock Band, a rarity in 2011. It's more a sharpening than an evolution, and do we really want our most unabashed pop rockers to ?evolve? anyway?
Iceage: New Brigade
(What's Your Rupture?)
Here's some aggressive rock & roll you might get behind even if you didn't connect with the more celebrated David Comes to Life by Fucked Up. This twenty-minute, thrashy slice of Danish punk rock has a certain gothic clarity and youthful fire that make the guitar-and-rhythm attacks they offer seem new again, the way Male Bonding made melodic punk seem new again last year. That, in the end, is what we're all here for -- some raging, great guitar rock, which can feel like a relief after the wave of Bon Ivers and Toro Y Mois of late.
Only one of these ruthless tunes exceeds three minutes, and many of the rest don't make it to two; all are played with scrappy abandon like the sun won't come up tomorrow. And there are melodies here, even if the songs run together and don't really provide any pop respite -- you will get much more out of New Brigade if you hear it all at once than if you take bits and pieces out. You're urged to do so, and one assumes they're a hell of a live show too. See, twentysomething kids with attitude still have everything to teach the rest of the rock & roll world in 2011. Some things never change.
Moby's gradual transformation to agreeable if slight ambient musician continues; there is no sense of communal joy and arm-waving beauty as on Play, still and always his baffling, mammoth masterpiece, but this obliquely pretty music has an urban desolation highly appropriate to a lonely evening -- indeed, much of the record was recorded alone in hotel rooms.
Beats are not the point of Destroyed, but this being a Moby record, they're here -- far more arid than on his more familiar work of the past. "Be the One" builds to a shady dance clmax, and "After" tries somewhat weakly to be a club track. But it's "Blue Moon," casting Depeche Mode as an unlikely ancestor to Moby's easy listening, that integrates his previous sound most seamlessly without betraying the album's more foreboding isolation theme; the "Porcelain" clone "The Right Thing" just feels completely incongruous. As Moby moves ever closer to pure synthetics, thus away from the facets of his music that once made it unique, he becomes less major as either a rock or dance musician, more of a niche product who does what he wants. He seems content now explore the past and himself; even the more unusual-for-Moby cuts, like the endearing lounge piece "Lie Down in Darkness," are stuck firmly in the past. "The Day" is uncomfortable and glorious, a tricky collection of giant hooks still covered in regret and dread -- but it's a pure-pop move. Only the Four Tet-derived "Victoria Lucas," soul surrounded by squalor, really approaches any current notion of electronica.
When Moby attempts to revise glory days of trip hop and trance on "Sevastopol," you feel he's mining the territory of his most vivid memories, aching for them like a man permanently lost -- we all know that feeling to an extent, and that's why this music works. Destroyed seems as personal as Moby's best work, certainly far more so than better-selling failures like 2002's 18, but the record is much, much too long, like many of its predecessors -- much of the last third is redundant. If Moby focuses a bit more next time out, he could regain his status as a man to watch; he certainly has something to say.