By Sam Lawson
The Alkanes described their sound as: “Biffy Clyro, Arcane Roots, Oceansize and Muse in a Bar brawl… kinda…”. I’ve span some Oceansize and Arcane Roots records in my time, and we’ve all heard Biffy Clyro and Muse on the radio and TV (for some, begrudgingly so) so for me it wasn’t difficult to try and get a grip on the kind of thing I could expect to hear when I let the band’s debut EP rip through my sound system.
It has to be said that Alkanes are your staple underground band. They have a glossy press package, all of the right social media sites, they post on Facebook at the “peak reach” times and they’ve got thematic colour patterns for all of their artwork, shoots and so on. These bands are ALWAYS one of two things. The first being: incredibly talented, well produced, sought after and they have good social media consultants and/or present to support the aforementioned talent OR they’re all shine and no shoes.
In terms of songwriting this EP has something about it that interests me in that no two songs sound the same at all. The opening track – ‘Pulling Teeth’ has an interesting sound to it. This first track starts with a gritty chord progression that I like a lot. I’ve not sat at my keyboard or guitar and tried to figure out how it is played yet but it’s certainly in a minor key. The chorus has a really catchy vocal melody which I really appreciated, I honestly don’t think there could be a better hook for this piece of music.
In terms of composition it’s clear that this band are all about feel, which is great. Gary Wilson (Drums) certainly isn’t your traditional drummer. He plays what he hears in the riff. There’s a certain drum fill that he is using before every chorus in this track, which numerically doesn’t equate to the time signature of the song (the whole “pre chorus” section turns out to be a bar of 7/4.. If you were wondering..) but the band clearly made the conscious decision that it was what fit best and felt natural to them. Overall this first track is a bit of a banger. It’s the perfect opener to this EP and of that, I have no doubt.
The second track on this EP ‘Persistence to Existence’ is another strong track in terms of its composition up until the middle 8 section. I think this song loses its strength but gains the strength of what could have been a completely different, yet equally decent song. It’s always risky making a very drastic and sudden change to a different riff that hasn’t been introduced in the song before that point. I’m a long-time lover of progressive music so it’s not that i’m new to the concept but when you’re writing the kind of music that Alkanes are, perhaps it would’ve been better to use a riff that was derived from something that had been used earlier in the song. Even a variation of the verse or chorus part would have gave the song more flow, I feel like when that middle 8 starts i’m listening to something entirely different and sadly even though the chorus refrains shortly after, it doesn’t seem to remind me that i’m listening to the same track as before.
The third track is the title track, which often means that the overall theme behind the content on the release in question (if there is one) is about to be lyrically summed up and perhaps shine some light on the meanings of the other songs as well. This time however, that isn’t the case. Alkanes provide us with an instrumental track here. In my opinion, this song would have benefited from some vocal performance purely because I don’t think that the riffs are strong enough to stand alone. It’s not that they aren’t good rock n’ roll riffs because don’t get me wrong, they certainly are. When a band who are quite clearly very good at writing catchy hooks substitute that for a chance to create a jam track, they can often start finding themselves writing music that they struggle to perform vocals over the top of. There’s a nice little clean-ish section in here that I did like, it has a really staggered 8th note feeling to it, which still felt comfortable and very loosely reminded me of something Omar Rodriguez Lopez would play.. Perhaps.
‘Brown Tape’ is my least favourite song on this release in terms of songwriting. I know that at a live gig, I’d be tapping my foot to this one because it’s groovy (baby). The chorus is let down by it’s vocal melody, there can be dangers when you write based on feel and feel alone, occasionally your melodies can be just a little bit flat or sharp. With some fine tuning on the vocal track here, maybe another take, this chorus could have been a monster. The middle 8 is nice though, with some more Bill Ward-esque synchronised grooving from the trio. There’s a pretty little chorus refrain on a clean channel leading to the last hook in there as well which grows into a pretty nasty indie-pop sounding riff, I liked it.
Finally we have the closer, titled ‘Music In The Grooves’. The opening riff from this thing is easily my favourite part of the album, the lo-fi and frankly disgusting guitar tone does that riff a lot of favours. I never analyse lyrics because I’m a music critic, not a philosopher but I quite like the content being covered here. Whilst I imagine vocalist Dale Sutherland was writing about personal experiences, I felt what he was saying was relative to me and my musician friends. “Forget about the drugs and the fame, it’s not what you should be here for” is a line that resonated with me greatly. There is something about this song that bothers me, and I hear it a lot in music from bands like: Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and so on as well and that is – The verses are catchy as hell, the chorus just isn’t. There are no rules, and the meaning behind this song should remind us that there are more important things that just appeasing the thirst of listeners but I just feel like the hook could have been a lot more than it was. “Why do you care what people say? Perfection is unattainable.” If Dale follows his own advice, this review won’t come as any form of a blow to his system.
Dale Sutherland (Vocals/Guitar) brings a lot to the music here. It’s clear that he is a driving force behind this band’s sound and work ethic. I feel like the vocals may have been recorded in one day, as his voice seems to get weaker towards the end. I’ve been there, my band’s debut record was done the same way and it shows too but that’s what being broke does. Overall I think the guy writes a good riff and I am genuinely excited to hear the next release to see how far his songwriting comes from here. I don’t ever want to be one of those music critics who just spends the whole review making pale comparisons to other musicians/artists and then throwing a rating-out-of-ten at the end to make it seem legit. That’s lazy, and the work of people who clearly can’t get over the fact they aren’t making money from their non-profit, voluntary jobs as journalists HOWEVER the vocalist does give me some serious Geoff Rickly (Thursday) vibes.
Jack Molyneux (Bass) is a solid player. In rock n’ roll/heavy metal it’s often best to follow the root notes as well as the kick drum and put some fancy runs/fills where you have the space to do it and where it’s tasteful. Jack follows Dale for the majority of these riffs, it’s often difficult to stand out as a bass player when you do that; often, bass players with this approach are seen as “low-end guitar players”. His tone is nice though, I hope this is his own amp that was used, I can imagine that sounding great live.
Gary Wilson (Drums/Vocals) as I mentioned earlier, plays the guitar riff but on a drum kit instead. With a relatively decent amount of drum etiquette and formality Gary appears to not completely give into his Keith Moon style inhibitions and triumphantly sits where he should in these songs. I assume it’s him performing the screamed vocals throughout, I have to say that i’m not a fan. I like screamed vocals but this band just don’t need them, some vocal harmonies though? Yes please.
I like gritty, honest production, I really do however on this occasion it didn’t sit right with me. It sounds like the band were recorded live, playing together however I feel like that isn’t the case and that it was recorded via means of tracking. I like some parts, some riffs sound better with the more unnerving guitar tone and the vocals occasionally benefit from some hiss and pop (believe it or not) but overall, I think this could have been produced much better. The drums are occasionally out of time and I feel like based on the consistency of the performance throughout that might be a copy and paste issue rather than a drummer issue.
Overall, I like this release. It’s got catchy parts, some grooving riffs and the band seem to understand one another in a musical sense. I get the impression that what comes next, provided it goes through the mixer of a top quality studio, is going to sound amazing and it will be something that I consciously make sure I pay for and listen to regularly.
Not every band have a first release that’s this good. I hope you can see now why I feel that this band fall somewhere in between having everything down to the letter in regards to their music but in some ways, they comes across more professional than they are and they might raise some hopes higher than they should be.
Lastly, the single ‘Persistence To Existence’ was released on Bandcamp and all proceeds went to a diabetes charity for Dale’s father who sadly passed away in October (forgive me if I have that wrong) of 2015. I think that it is a wonderful thing that they are giving their hard earned money to the charity.
download it here.