Release Date: Jan 27, 2015
Record label: Memphis Industries
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For Menace Beach, sometimes, things are just meant to be. If you read anything about Leeds’ latest and greatest, it’ll probably centre around their rotating cast of luminaries - a who’s who of their local music scene’s brightest stars. The past records of core members Ryan Needham and Liza Violet won’t be too far away either - neither new to the party, their previous incarnations were always brilliant, and yet for one reason or other never quite broke through that final barrier.
Ratworld, the highly touted debut from Leeds group Menace Beach, is a fuzzy, sugar-crusted indie rock platter with a '90s problem. Fortunately, the band's founding duo of Ryan Needham and Liza Violet wear their influences well, and their apparent affection for everything from chugging, Pavement-like slacker rock to wobbly, Slowdive-era shoegaze is framed nicely by some quality songwriting and pleasingly loose production courtesy of part-time bandmate and Hookworms frontman Matt "MJ" Johnson. Lead single and album opener "Come on Give Up" blends big-time hooks with laid-back snark and "Elastic" really lays on the charm with its thrilling summertime chorus.
“The wheels have gone and fallen off,” announces Ryan Needham on the Nirvana-ish title-track of Leeds scrappers Menace Beach’s debut album. It’s a recurring theme on the gritty, low-slung ‘Ratworld’, which finds the five-piece cackling nihilistically as everything around them crumbles into disarray. “Lately I’ve been wondering if the world could break down”, begins the Britpoppy ‘Come On Give Up’, before urging, ”Fuck everything you ever wanted to be/ Come on, give up, get lost with me”.
The most celebrated figures of early 1990s alternative rock were enigmas and iconoclasts, tortured souls or wayward poets raging against machines that weren’t always clearly defined. Not every member of the Alternative Nation bled for their art, however. Behind the genre’s complicated stars were bands less interested in challenging the establishment than in just making cool noises with their guitars, acts like Superchunk, Elastica, and the Breeders.
The latest debut LP to drop off the stellar conveyor belt of the Leeds rock scene is from a band that quite simply love the 90s. Menace Beach bring with them a snarling fuzz that nods as much to the heydays of brassy Britpop and woozy shoegaze as it does to the sneering overtures of grunge, cramming an awful lot into a sprightly record spanning a little over half an hour. Stylized riffing and bumptious hooks are governed informally by a volatile ramshackle of teetering tempos, making for a hugely exciting record and a modern, scuzzed-out take on an array of archived sounds.
Leeds has always had a vibrant music scene and, in recent years, it’s turned into a hotbed of promising rock groups. Pulled Apart By Horses, Hookworms, Eagulls and more have built their careers by endlessly going on tours and their releases to date have tried, as best as they can, to capture that energy. They’re also bands that clearly have a lot of respect for each other; for all the differences between them, they are united as one.
We’re living in a bit of a second golden age for lo-fi, Nineties-indebted indiefuzz, all stompboxes and slightly distorted vocals, spidery lead lines and big hooks buried under wavering dischord. At the very centre of the nu-grunge quake are Menace Beach, who do it better than most. Leeds duo Ryan Needham and Liza Violet have been at this for a few years now, joined by a revolving gang of support players picked presumably because they were passing the rehearsal studio carrying the right kind of fuzz pedal.
The Leeds band Menace Beach evidently love the 90s. Indeed, their debut album suggests they loved pretty much any band with tight jeans, scruffy shoes and a couple of distortion pedals who released a record on an indie label in the first half of that decade. Ooh, look! There goes Pavement and here comes Slowdive! Don’t like them? The friendlier end of Sonic Youth will be along in a minute! It’s all likable stuff, and done with love and enthusiasm; and the woozy, lurching chords of Dig It Up are thrilling.
Menace Beach’s debut album, Ratworld, is full of ‘90s alternative rock touchstones synthesized into a short and sloppy 32-minute blast. It would be a lot of fun if their songwriting were better. As it is, there are a few highlights here and the rest of the record is at least short and relatively painless. The song “Elastic” is probably the most overt reference to a single ‘90s band.
As if to beat their critics to the punch on the 90s revivalist complaints, Leeds fuzz pop band Menace Beach took their name from an old Nintendo skateboarding video game, which also neatly sums up their bratty approach to bubblegum grunge. Throwback factor aside, there is a lot of shameless fun on offer, though little imagination. But what they lack in originality they make up for in hooks and enthusiasm.