Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise Pop, Noise-Rock
England’s nicest punks return with another set of romantic bashing. The Dalston trio have scrubbed up the lower end of their fidelity with handclaps and whoa-ohs, but retain the guitar-strangles and dreamy melodies that gave last year’s Nothing Hurts its street muscle. Even at their most abrasive (see the aluminum-scratched “Before It’s Gone” or the six-minute mile of “Bones”), Male Bonding can’t help but balance themselves on an axis of sweet melody.
Like a lot of noise-pop bands that debuted in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Male Bonding stripped away much of the surface static and buzz on their second album. While too many of their contemporaries lost something in the process, the trio gains clarity and catchiness on Endless Now. Working with producer John Agnello, the promise the band showed on Nothing Hurts snaps into focus, revealing singalong melodies backed by bracing rhythms and embracing harmonies.
From an early age, boys are taught to avoid wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The more you open yourself up, the greater the chance that you'll get yourself hurt. Male Bonding like to explore the tension between TMI and musical aggression. They kick up dust and make a lot of noise but then write of pain, jealousy, depression, and loss.
London-based trio Male Bonding deservedly won plaudits for their tuneful and uptempo punk on last year's debut, Nothing Hurts, but failed to translate that acclaim into significant sales. Their second album once again combines the muscularity of 80s post-hardcore types Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr with the dynamics of breezily sunny three-minute pop songs, this time to even better effect. Opener "Tame the Sun" sets the tone, racing by in a blur as harmonies and infectiously melodic hooks tumble over one another, while "Carrying" and the six-minute "Bones" raise the bar even higher.
For all of the acclaim that London’s Male Bonding got for their 2010 debut Nothing Hurts, it was hard to ignore that they were treading some very well-worn paths. Their countrymen Yuck got a lot of cheeky guff for sounding like indie rock’s greatest hits, but the same revivalist strains poked out of Male Bonding’s mix: Evan Dando vocals, Lou Barlow bass lines, Pavement hair cuts. We’ve been here before, and we know it works.
Let’s not kid ourselves here: overwhelmingly great is the debt that [a]Male Bonding[/a] owe to the luminaries of grunge. The sound that the London three-piece have cultivated over the past three years is so reliant on that genre you’d be hard pushed to find much evidence that their music was created in 2011. But what prevents this admittedly sycophantic trio from being just another fawning parasite on music of yore (which at times they come quite close to being) is the elegance with which they mesh the aggressive ardour of [a]Dinosaur Jr[/a] and the fuzzy fury of early [a]Nirvana[/a] on some rare occasions on ‘[b]Endless Now[/b]’.
Something interesting has risen out of the glut of lo-fi bands that has covered the independent music landscape over the past couple of years. Most of those bands (read: the best of them) ditched the tape hiss and basement scuzz for sharper production. Bands like Male Bonding—and label mates Dum Dum Girls—sound too good to stay lo-fi, and smartly broke out of that ghetto into bigger sonic territory.
If the Oi! punk scene had spent a year traveling, it might come home sounding a little like Male Bonding. The Dalston trio live in a place where it’s OK to attack guitars like it’s 1981 - provided you remember you’re not playing in a ghost town anymore, but a place where the indie kids now like to picnic. It’s a formula that’s hard to resist, and the crossing of brainless rockouts, John Webb’s surf vocals and drums that sound like a they’ve kidnapped Steve Albini has won fans outside of East London (last year’s debut Nothing Hurts almost scooped them the Guardian First Album award).
English fuzz-punkers Male Bonding signed with Sub Pop prior to their 2009 debut, Nothing Hurts, and since then, the four-piece have been trying their hardest to recapture some of the highest moments that the big name label has produced. While their early recordings reveled in the lo-fi world that seemed like a necessity for the band’s idols (who often times couldn’t afford anything else), this year’s Endless Now finds the band more comfortable with the realities of their status. While their songs still recall some of the blander Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, or even, to a skewed degree, the instrumentals of Nirvana, there’s a newfound element of clarity in the mix.
Full-length No 2 from the founding fathers of London's latterday lo-fi rock scene (see Mazes, Yuck et al) ticks some typical second-album boxes: first time in a proper studio, longer songs, more overdubs … and not quite as good. There's no big stylistic departure: frantically paced noise-pop thrashing is still the form. But whereas the scree-crazed scrabblings of their first album, Nothing Hurts, hit on lots of appealingly weird chord choices and sparky rhythmic tics, Endless Now seems relatively free of dynamics and invention, too often lapsing into blank power chords and indifferent hooks, like Wavves minus the melodic sugar-high.
Reader, the excitement of the wild osculations featured on Male Bonding’s Bruce LaBruce-lite clip for “Year’s Not Long” has yet to leave this jaded reviewer. Sadly, however, if I were to say that I come to bury Male Bonding, not to praise it, I would be referring not only to a certain genre of feminist-backlash literature (Robert Bly, I’m looking at you), but also to a group of English lads on their second outing. Following the trend pursued by other bands of their moment (ahem, Vivian Girls), Male Bonding have pursued the path of a lengthier follow-up (at 36 minutes, they’ve added 10 to the playlength of Nothing Hurts) and a couple of longer songs (including the somewhat predictable six-and-a-half-minute workout) — perhaps in order to show what they’re capable of? But where Nothing Hurts was a brief explosion of raucous, rambunctious energy with an emphasis on the punk in post-punk, Endless Now seems to lack focus.
When Kurt Cobain listed punk as a musical influence for Nirvana, this is perhaps the sort of punk he had in mind. The musical urgency present in Male Bonding’s music is, in fact, not quite unlike that of the one-time Sub Pop artist. Yet whereas Cobain wore his emotions on his sleeve and could tap into a primal ferocity at any given moment, the vocal delivery by lead singer and guitarist John Arthur Webb is one that opts mostly for harmony and constraint.
I'm not one for nostalgia; I'm far more interested in hearing something new than something old (or, even worse, something new that sounds old), and to be honest I rarely listen nowadays to anything released outside of the current year, but as anyone who saw my review of Mr. Dream's excellent Trash Hit album will know I can't see anything wrong with a band using their influences creatively. On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with Isobel George's scathing write-up for Yuck's bafflingly lauded debut, a record so toothless it managed to make Teenage Fanclub sound edgy by comparison.
Less Endless Now and more Perpetual Yesterday, with all the ennui that implies. Jimmy Martin 2011 Dalston three-piece Male Bonding's rise to relative glory was swift: one minute, so it appeared, they were hammering out lively, boisterous three-chord shows in their friends’ kitchens, and the next they were a seldom-seen British signing to the illustrious Sub Pop imprint, for whom they debuted with 2010’s Nothing Hurts LP. Yet for all those who were taken by these perpetual underachievers' unassuming pop suss and heavy-lidded grunge stylings, just as many punters were generally left puzzled – despite a cheerful melding of fuzz-pedal energy with melodious yet agreeably off-key vocals, both Male Bonding’s sound and their success seemed to be allied with a curious fashion agenda, a retreat from the here and now to the check-shirted slacker chic of the early 90s.