Album Review of Lemon Memory by Menace Beach.
Release Date: Jan 27, 2017
Record label: Memphis Industries
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Fuzzy, British indie rock outfit Menace Beach follow up their 2015 debut with Lemon Memory, a set of ten dazed incantations rebuking what the band describe as a "citrus-based curse" placed on their house. The cursed house in question belongs to Liza Violet and Ryan Needham, the Leeds-based musicians who form the permanent core of Menace Beach's otherwise rotating lineup. The genesis of Lemon Memory can be traced to the small Balearic island of Formentera.
When Leeds slackers Menace Beach first popped their head above the parapet with 2014 EP ‘Lowtalker’, focus tended to fall on their indie ‘supergroup’ status. With members of Hookworms, Pulled Apart by Horses and even Mansun’s Paul Draper dipping in and out of their line up, the band connected the dots between the Leeds scene’s gnarlier corners and threw up doses of playful grunge in return. Through 2015 debut ‘Ratworld’, follow up EP ‘Super Transporterreum’ and now ‘Lemon Memory’, however, the group have proved they’re more than the sum of their parts.
Even in an era in which 90s revivalism is the default mode, Ratworld, the debut album from Leeds sort-of-supergroup Menace Beach, felt particularly beholden to its influences: Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Galaxie 500 et al. Yes, it was a lovingly constructed facsimile, fuzz-swaddled and full of hooks, but a facsimile nevertheless. Good bands soon get bored of such mimicry, though, and follow-up album Lemon Memory sees Menace Beach expand their horizons.
Back in the heady days of 2015 when the world seemed a slightly more hopeful place, Menace Beach’s debut Ratworld proved a heady, scuzzy delight - packed as it was with Ryan Needham’s ‘90s college rock inspired dirge-pop and laced with Liza Violet’s glorious, plaintive vocals. This time around we're on the receiving end of what is very much Violet's record; a strange, woozy creation that capitalises on Needham's sense of awkward melody and brings to the table a sense of otherworldly oddity that sees them escape their influences and get to world-building in earnest. The nihilist chant of lead single "Maybe We'll Drown" pairs beautifully with the filthy/floral "Suck It Out" - both are instantly memorable, tuneful, vaguely troubling.
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.
Leeds’ own Menace Beach certainly manage to live up their name; seemingly comfortable surroundings with lashing of suspicion and that sense of the uncanny. Wrapping a classic rock sound in a modern psych blanket, the young quintet have shown some impressive progression on Lemon Memory, following from 2015’s Ratworld. Opener Give Blood comes on like a transfusion of clean stuff to a dying nervous system; it’s necessary, vital and refreshing.
Menace Beach are not unique. They’re not one in a million; they are more like one in ten. The rock genre is littered with bands that play a similar brand of fuzzy, ‘90s indebted rock music, yet Menace Beach do have something special: swagger. It’s that exuding confidence, that ever elusive ‘cool’, and that’s what seems to separate the leaders from the pack, right? It’s what made the Strokes stand out in the early ‘00s, and it’s what brought the Artic Monkeys to our attention a few years later.
Reasons to like Ratworld, the first album from Menace Beach included: fuzzy guitars, variation without incoherency, self-aware fun to be had in their refusal to try too hard to be that original (backhanded though that might sound, it makes the record genuinely fun and really likeable). Who’d’ve thought a bit of consistency and confidence would be the last thing this band would need? Second effort Lemon Memory makes me reasonably doubt whether I really liked Ratworld in the first place. On opener ‘Give Blood’, the sort-of duo's on-the-nose approximation of their own genre - complete with Gallagher-esque whinge - combined with the (here unwittingly) absurd rubbishness of the lyrical hook “Why’d you always sing about death?” sound like Vince Noir in a neo-grunge phase.