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Male Bonding
Nothing Hurts John Calvert , June 23rd, 2010 05:10

This year, like a game of musical name-dropping, delinquent rock has to come with half-formed production: essentially conservative acts adding a false sense of offhand indifference. 2010 is averaging about ten low-def chancers for every one of the unique groups that emerged in previous years. Consider Abe Vigoda, with their reedy squall and sublime guitar sound, or the pollen-haze weed headache of Wavves, or No Age, with game-changer Nouns an arguably seminal document of a sense of mid-twenties enchantment fading with the sunset. In recent months though, sunny fucked-radio pop is becoming noise, the white kind. Oddly, in the throes of a Stateside boom Sup Pop go and scoop this unassuming Dalston trio. The explanation? It is pretty straight forward. They may be ten-a-penny, but sometimes life is just too damn stuffy to ignore a band like Male Bonding.

Much like the world-is-our-oyster fuzz collision on Japandroids' Post-Nothing, Nothing Hurts seems launched at the very apex of youth and all its myriad ecstasies (the bewilderment, the impatience, the wonder). But equally, theyíre a more gamely, pugnacious prospect compared to that of their remote peers and their avant tendencies. Niftily merged with the 60s setting, they're as much accommodating of Bleach-period Nirvana on 'Paradise Vendors' and 'TUFF' and first wave British punk ('Your Contact' and 'Crooked Scene') as in thrall to the Smell bands, As such, the sensation of adolescent invincibility combines with the invincibility of breakneck melodic insolence.

They have the cutesy genre garnish (cadaverous cooing, swinging rhythms) but from there on a visceral low-end bulldozes through the diffuse production, and well cant they just shift, justifying the punk tag within ten seconds of frenetic opener 'Year's Not Long' with its mealy, sheet-metal guitar, unlike numerous similar acts insisting their drafty twee was made, y'know, 'punkishly'. As such, balmy, afro-tinged confections like 'Franklin' and 'Pumpkin' are crowded-out by the anomie-at-full-tilt garage of 'Pirate Key', harking back to a time when shitty production was still the property of the sincere and the righteous. Which is an especially commendable kind of tenacity on their part as, lo-fi framing notwithstanding, Nothing Hurts is also plume with saleable pop hooks, but they're effectively cutting themselves off at the knee. The embarrassment of more-ish melodies renders the loud sweetness on the likes of 'All Things This Way' all the sweeter the louder you play it; a residual talent for lush chafe from vocalist John Webb and guitarist Kevin Hendrix' days spent wrestling feedback as noiseniks Pre.

And yet, for all the speed and energy, it's only a band at the hangover end of their twenties that know what's coming. Amidst the incisory pluck, an obtuse undercurrent of glumness is at work on the plangent 'Franklin', with John Webb accepting that "All this wonít last forever", echoing Japandroids' arms-aloft defiance on 'Young Hearts Spit Fire' when David Prowse proclaimed that 'I don't wanna worry about dyin' / I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls'. The songs are straightforward like you remember being young was and recall a moment in life when time was forever, but simultaneously they encompass the ephemeral reality. This pernicious blueness is subtle but clings to the songs like tar until eviscerated by the two-chord harshness on 'Crooked Scene' and the aforementioned 'TUFF', or evaporated on the puckish pop-punk like 'All Things This Way'.

With many of their fawn-eyed ilk, the simulation of innocence makes for the very opposite of an endearing naivety. Ironically, its exactly Male Bonding's quaking rumpus that grants them the quality so coveted by their peers - an unselfconscious blithe. But neither, however, is this bohemian art-rock. In addition to the devil-may-care rush, they aspire to bring about that strong sense of unreality peculiar to the Dick Dale-era, but it remains beyond touching distance. Itís a shallow album, not shallow in a pop-art way, there's just less about them conceptually, and the noise is occasionally a needless gimmick. Also, while weíre swimming against the tide here, occasionally the songs suffer from over familiarity, and there are glimpses of a Libertines influence knocked about on 'Crooked Scene' and yet more inharmoniously on 'Nothing Used To Hurt'.

But that's immaterial in practical terms, really; when your feet don't touch the ground long enough to even wipe the sweat from your eyes. To finish, The Vivian Girls make exquisite the initially unremarkable 'Worst To Come', striking God's perfect harmony over an acoustic guitar. And then the bubbling surf withdraws to the sea. Conservatism is rarely this stirring.

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