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Male Bonding
Endless Now Michael Dix , September 5th, 2011 08:18

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I'm not one for nostalgia; I'm far more interested in hearing something new than something old (or, even worse, something new that sounds old), and to be honest I rarely listen nowadays to anything released outside of the current year, but as anyone who saw my review of Mr. Dream's excellent Trash Hit album will know I can't see anything wrong with a band using their influences creatively. On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with Isobel George's scathing write-up for Yuck's bafflingly lauded debut, a record so toothless it managed to make Teenage Fanclub sound edgy by comparison. All of this leaves me rather unsure of my feelings towards Endless Now, the follow-up to one of my favourite 2010 releases: Nothing Hurts, the debut full-length from Dalston trio Male Bonding. That album was, to me, the very definition of modern punk pop: fiercely energetic but executed with a slacker's nonchalance, well-crafted but not too polished, a sugar-rush with a bitter aftertaste. Endless Now is, well, more of the same, only less… exciting.

Recorded in Woodstock, NY with John Agnello, whose recent client list includes Kurt Vile, Thurston Moore and the Hold Steady, Endless Now is hardly a “big-budget" upgrade, but the difference is noticeable nonetheless. John Arthur Webb's vocals, though not exactly gruff in the first place, have been given a shoegazey sheen that makes him sound like he's sighing rather than singing; the guitars sound cleaner too, shimmering where once they stuttered. It seems petty to complain about what is technically better production - especially when the now commonplace “lo-fi" sound is one of my biggest pet hates - but in sanding down the abrasive surfaces, Agnello has stripped away the noisier elements that made earlier tracks like 'Weird Feelings' and 'T.U.F.F.' fizz. It doesn't help, either, that almost all of the eleven songs (and one "hidden" track) on offer here all trundle along at pretty much the same pace; at least on their debut the band had the decency to throw some tropical rhythms and all-out thrashers into the mix.

There are a couple of moments here where the Londoners almost live up to Nothing Hurts' promise - the hypnotic 'Bones' and spiky 'Mysteries Complete' are more than listenable - but overall, barely a year down the line, they sound like a depressingly jaded version of the band responsible for that impressive debut. Perhaps the group felt some kind of overwhelming urge to thank their Sub Pop paymasters by turning in an album that paid tribute to the glory days of grunge, but I, for one, would rather listen to a 20-year old Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth record than a pale modern imitation of one. I actually quite liked the early 90s; I loved Bleach and Bandwagonesque as much as Male Bonding evidently did, and grunge and Pavement and Britpop and Blur informed my future musical tastes as much as anything before or after. But I have to agree that stuff like this doesn't do the decade or its legacy any favours. Still, on the bright side, at least it isn't as bad as Yuck.