Male Bonding – [Album]

Sunday, 16 May 2010

About twenty years ago (before Nirvana blew up), Sub Pop was a very different label from what it is now. Since grunge exploded, things have changed a lot – now, the label specializes in very clean-cut, polished and poppy mainstream indie rock typified by the likes of Flight Of The Conchords – but there was a time when the label was very much a working class outfit that helped bands like Soundgarden, The Fluid, Green River, Screaming Trees and The Fastbacks get on their feet. That's how the label made its' name in the early years.

Times have changed since then of course. As the industry and tastes change, the greater the chance gets that some band will come along to remind everyone of 'the golden age.' In this particular instance, that band is Male Bonding; the certain progeny of the original spirit and values of Sub Pop – as their debut album, Nothing Hurts, attests.

From the opening rush of “Year's Not Long,” listeners that miss the old days of Sub Pop will fall down on their knees and thank their lucky stars that the label has finally signed a band that sounds like it should be there, finally, for the first time in years. With amphetamine-fueled guitars that simultaneously recall The Replacements and Thurston Moore's solo work, the band revisits guitar rock dynamics that haven't had any justice done to them in years while, in an almost detached and serene way (think Screaming Trees' anthem “I Nearly Lost You” for a reference point), singer John Arthur Webb croons sweet dream pop melodies that will make hearts melt. In that (along with the low budget/no budget sound of the song), a multitude of images – snippets from Singles, old music videos that actually looked like they were trying to promote the band rather than just sloppy Pop Art – and a recollection that 'indie rock' was about an ethic, not a 'sound' all come back as bright as life and twice as anthemic.

After that initial high point, Male Bonding goes still further and proceeds to touch on other keystone elements from the pre-Grunge underground. The really sludgy, rubbery, driving bass that was so integral to early Soundgarden records as well as the best ones by Mudhoney drags itself from the mire for “Weird Feelings” while the marvelously childlike vocal tonality of The Vaselines shines plain as day through “Franklin” and the fairly broken, scuzzy and low-fi delivery of “TUFF” recalls the budget and needs-first production of Bleach. Of course, all of those things come to mind as Nothing Hurts spins, but calling the album derivative of anything else would be doing both Male Bonding and Nothing Hurts a grave disservice. Those sounds and the images they call to mind are simply the result of a combined set of influences; after so many years in print, the original “grunge” bands were bound to eventually exert some creative sway, and it's plausible in listening to Nothing Hurts that such may have been the effect that trickled down to Male Bonding.

Is that actually the case? Obviously, only time and future releases will tell. In the meantime, Nothing Hurts stands as a phenomenal document and a rare achievement; this is rock n' roll played honestly and genuinely, with no clear aspiration in mind other than to make a great record. That's admirable – here's hoping they can keep it up.



Male Bonding – "Year's Not Long" – Nothing Hurts


Nothing Hurts
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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