The Buzzcocks refuse to change and that’s just fine
by Matthew Blackwell
The idea of aged punk bands releasing new albums isn’t revolutionary. But unlike their contemporaries in Wire, who reunited after 20-odd years of inactivity and released a steady stream of albums that pushed their sound forward in meaningful ways, the Buzzcocks never really went away –– and they never really grew up either.
Their latest album, The Way, picks up right where 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy left off: relatively poppy, sometimes stompy and often shouty music that sounds like late- ’70s punk (which basically defines every Buzzcocks album to some degree).
Not that there’s anything wrong with consistency, especially when it comes to punk. I’d never want to hear a “progressive” Buzzcocks album. It’s a moot point anyway because they’re all too happy to avoid attempting anything particularly new or different. And that’s good. Though Buzzcocks may be the elder statesmen on things like the Vans Warped Tour, they can still deliver the goods like bands half their age. The opener, “Keep On Believing”, is exactly the no-nonsense blast of power chords and beats-per-minute that made their name in the first place.
When The Way slows down the pace (like on “People Are Strange Machines”), the bracing impact disappears –– but a nice surprise is that it does result in something that, with Pete Shelley’s aging voice, sounds like an alternate world version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Elsewhere, “Third Dimension” is a fun, straight-ahead rock song. And then “Out of the Blue” does the exact same thing, but not nearly as well. Oh well.
Taken as a single entity, The Way is a totally enjoyable listen. There’s no getting around it, though: this is an album that sounds like aging punks reliving former glories. But you don’t buy a new Buzzcocks album to discover new horizons, right?
Alone for the First Time
Ryan Hemsworth’s style of electronic music is tricky to summarize. In a recent interview, the Halifax-bred producer said he’s just as interested in crafting songs as he is in making beats, and you can hear that growth on his sophomore album. The lead single, “Snow From Newark”, is the most accessible track of the bunch — a song about being away from the person you love, in which Hemsworth evokes that sense of longing with lyrics like “I don’t want to leave you here/I just want to be your shadow” and with delicate instrumentation.
For every melody-driven tune like “Snow”, there’s weirder stuff like “Blemish”, an instrumental track built around quirky samples (like a pick scraping against a guitar string and something that sounds like a baby cooing). The record flirts with pop, but it’s still resolutely experimental. You can listen to the songs over and over and notice different details every time. /Gillian Mahoney
The Inevitable End
Arts and Crafts
Röyksopp lit things up earlier this year with Do It Again, a much-praised collaboration with fellow Scandinavian (and faultless dance queen) Robyn. Now, they’ve capped off 2014 — and their career as a band — with The Inevitable End, which the Grammy-nominated pair has announced is their last album. (The Norwegian duo will continue to produce, but will no longer release traditional albums.)
The record follows a thematic arc lyrically, relating the blistering lows that sometimes follow a night of bliss. It’s a comedown record that still kicks, with heavy synths in minor keys and plenty of guest vocalists delivering dark introspection. A stand-out is “I Had This Thing”, a delightful juxtaposition of bruised lyrics against classic four-on-the-floor music. “What do we give up for those nights of glory?”, they ask. It’s not perfect, but this is fine electronic music for the morning after. /Jeanette Stewart
“I hate black appropriation of dead white tropes,” Dean Blunt said in a recent copy of Wire. This came amidst an interview about his latest album and its surprising foundation of indie-pop samples –– a Big Star string section, the bulk of a Pastels song, and more. But Blunt and his music have always been enigmatic and contradictory (an observation that’s now itself a white trope).
Black Metal’s tracks include a mellow hangover groove entitled “Punk”, and a blend of industrial noise and Seinfeld bass called “Country”, yet none of it scans as a goof; there may be irony, but it’s not wink-wink irony. Certainly not on “Blow”, which places mournful guitar noodling, and Blunt’s hopes to run away and disappear, alongside lines like “I just wanna say/all this money really cured my woe.” Black Metal is a fine record and a decent magic trick. /Mason Pitzel