The critical – and public – enthusiasm for Honeyblood‘s self-titled debut was probably a surprise even to the Scottish duo, yet this accomplished follow up is likely to turn many more heads. With drummer Shona McVicar replaced by Cat Myers, it’s been left to Stina Tweedale to carry the weight of expectation, a task she carries off with aplomb, expanding the grunge lite of that initial blast to encompass fistfuls of bubblegum and indie rock savvy.
Those looking for spunky indie disco big hitters are well served by the likes of ‘Ready For The Magic’ yet Babes Never Die (FatCat) satisfies most when they dip their toes into newer waters. ‘Sea Hearts’ is a pleasing stab at the kind of sunny-side-up thing Beth Cosentino has made a career of, and ‘Love Is A Disease’ has Tweedale snake a sultry melody around synth bass pulses and fuzz guitars. That melodic sophistication continues with ‘Walking At Midnight’; imagine Lana Del Rey if she wearied of the soporific and wanted to inject a little urgency into her material. If we must have a highlight, look no further than ‘Justine, Misery Queen’, which finds more intoxicating melody in its four minutes than most others have served up all year. Yeah, I didn’t see this one coming either: leave a space on your end-of-year lists for Babes Never Die, 2016’s My Love Is Cool – it’s that good.
Shit Present are the kids who get into fights for doing the right thing – stepping in when the fat girl is getting teased, or the ginger lad is getting pushed to the back of the dinner queue. They wear their hearts on their sleeves – and sometimes they wind up with a bloody nose as a result – but that passion comes over in their scrappy indie-punk, making their misfit gang seem like the one you’d actually want to hang out with. Misery + Disaster (Specialist Subject) is a lean six tracker that doesn’t stray terribly far musically from vocalist Iona Cairns’ other gig in Great Cynics, focussing instead on squeezing in the hooks around which Cairns sketches vivid portraits of twenty-something reality (“Did the doctor say you lack certain chemicals? / Did he write you something to make you feel less terrible?”). It’s a simple formula that has been slowly finding an audience in the last couple of years (cf. Muncie Girls), and Misery… is worth getting a black eye for.
Houston’s Young Mammals have known each other since their early teens, giving Jaguar (Odd Hours) a cohesion that comes from playing together through the trials of young adulthood. Their New Wave-tinged power pop certainly has spark, from the snotty strut of opener ‘Crane’ to the Pretty In Pink air of the confident title track. Mid-point high ‘I’m Sleeping’ (“I’m asleep by 6.00pm”) will strike a chord with narcoleptics everywhere, suggesting the feyer elements of The Pains of Being Pure of Heart, although the White Album out-take that is ‘Mango Beach’ might stretch the patience of some. Young Mammals do know their way round a let’s-just-drive-around-the-block-one-more-time 80s vibe but Jaguar perhaps fails to sustain the bite of its initial numbers.
It was a formula so simple that you were surprised no-one had really done it before. The Donnas were four young ladies from California who took the no-nonsense swagger of The Runaways and bolted a musical junkyard of rock trash – KISS, AC/DC – to a punk-fuelled chassis. Cherry Red have re-issued Spend The Night, their 2002 major label debut – and the one most likely to take them from club shows to larger venues. Thankfully, label bosses saw no need to tinker with the formula too much, although producer David Anthony’s previous project had been Janet Jackson’s All For You.
The album threw up a clutch of solid bubblegum rock numbers like ‘Who Invited You?’ that party just as hard as Andrew WK ever did, often playing around with genre cliches and stereotypes (“I must have had too many Diet Cokes” – ‘All Messed Up’; “Your hair is so dirty it makes you look 30” – ‘Dirty Denim’) while never taking the foot off the pedal. With a bunch of bonus tracks thrown in for good measure, this still sounds like a winner. Spend The Night is an offer you really shouldn’t turn down.