Release Date: May 11, 2010
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
It was late on Sunday, or early on Monday. It's hazy. At Dot to Dot Festival. Last year, in Nottingham. Upstairs in the Bodega. It was one on those chaotic gigs – Abe Vigoda, churning out their tropical punk thing. The atmosphere was close, crowdsurfers kept getting thrown over heads, drinks ….
Male Bonding's songs are fast, noisy, and full of hooks, a combination that might remind you of any number of things: Nirvana-era fuzz-pedal stompers, 1990s American indie rockers, Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. followers, not-quite-shoegazer English bands. Like a lot of those acts-- and like their contemporaries in No Age and Abe Vigoda-- Male Bonding started out making more abrasive music.
Listening to Nothing Hurts, I feel like it absolutely had to come out on Sub Pop, like it would be out of place on any other label. Because Male Bonding's debut album sounds exciting and unpredictable in the way that Nirvana's Bleach must have sounded to people back in 1989 -- as if it is both part of a burgeoning movement and also light years ahead of it. Because you could, at least in part, lump Male Bonding in with a new trend toward lo-fi garage rock.
Male Bonding is definitely not the first band to crank out waterlogged surf-garage jams in minute-and-a-half morsels. As of late, the lo-fi-leaning indie scene has been increasingly adoptive of Brill Building pop in their scuzzy, bedroom-recorded rock. Bands like Girls, Harlem, and Happy Birthday have all presented their takes on a bygone era of teenagerism via girl-group harmonies and the willingness to use words like “sugar,” “honey,” and of course, “baby.” Male Bonding, if anything, is a sort of a logical progression; their album Nothing Hurts is noticeably more mature (and more melancholy) than most other recent garage acts’ output.
John Peel used to talk approvingly of records that sounded as if they had made themselves – referring to music so unbridled that the guitars seemed to have wrested control of themselves back from their human owners. The debut album from London three-piece Male Bonding is one such record. Like the Canadian duo Japandroids, they are looking back to the early 90s for inspiration, to the overdriven-yet-blurry guitar sound J Mascis brought to bear with Dinosaur Jr.
As part of the tiny tidal wave of Sub Pop bands (and those from other related labels) to adhere to the same noise-pop stylistic tendencies in the last few years, London’s Male Bonding, if anything, just does it quicker than the rest. The longest of Nothing Hurts’ 13 tracks runs a mere 2 minutes 38 seconds, and with only the shortest of breaks between songs, the record takes on a harried, frantic pace that doesn’t let up until its 27 minutes end. Accordingly, it’d be easy to call Male Bonding unoriginal.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the macho implications of the band's name, Male Bonding display a unique mix of vulnerability and toughness on their debut album, Nothing Hurts. The band has played with Fucked Up and the Vivian Girls (who sing on the closing track, "Worse to Come"), and it's easy to hear the connection they have with both of those groups. Male Bonding play punk-pop in the purest sense of the term; they take tooth-rottingly sweet melodies and play them as fast and loud as they can.
It seems like Male Bonding has taken a novel approach to reinventing punk pop: Go back to the basics and look to the classics for inspiration. Sure, the band’s feedbacky, crackling lo-fi suggests that Male Bonding’s bros-in-arms would be No Age and Japandroids, but it’s probably with old-school heavyweights like the Buzzcocks and Superchunk that the young British three-piece shares the most in common. Bashed up and blissed out, Male Bonding’s impatient, hot-and-bothered pop is like a call to attention for a new generation of orgasm addicts and slack motherfu**ers, at once reminiscent of what came before it, though not so indebted that there isn’t some new underground experimentation going on here.
A (frenzied) night out with the boys Male Bonding’s idea of, well, male bonding, is crowding together inside a dingy bar-turned-venue and head-bobbing the night away, permeating the air with the stench of sweat. The Dalston, London trio make this clear in Nothing Hurts, the band’s Sub Pop debut, as voices funnel through a sonic pipe and shrill electric guitar pierces right through the noise. The album coasts through 13 songs in just 29 minutes, making for a seemingly perfect setlist of distorted, high-energy punk.
There’s more to them than just noise... It was their dirt-punk onslaughts that got MB signed to Sub Pop, but ‘Nothing Hurts’ proves there’s more to them than just noise. The best moments are the sweetest: ‘Franklin’ shimmers like the ghost of a Beach Boys demo, but the scrappy ‘All Things This Way’ and ‘Paradise Vendors’ marry doo-wop harmonies to fuzzed-out garage rock and hint at more depth than is immediately apparent.
Sub Pop-signed Brits deliver a zippy and stylish debut album. Noel Gardner 2010 A long way from being household names still, even within the confines of modern indie-rock, London three-piece Male Bonding have nevertheless enjoyed a quicker journey up the ladder than most. Only extant since summer 2008, a programme of hectic gigging and more releases than most could hope to keep up with has led to them becoming a highly rare example of a British band signed by the iconic Seattle label Sub Pop.