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Male Bonding - Nothing Hurts

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Artist: Male Bonding

Album: Nothing Hurts

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jun. 23, 2010

There’s a good formula for rock records, usually early-career records. First: Build the songs on tested beats and phrases - the "Be My Baby" thud, a Sun Records shuffle, "Smoke on the Water" halts, a hardcore 1-2-1-2 march, and so on. Second: Make sure those foundations get buried, deep. Personality should overwhelm them. Add too much fuzz or none at all, stuff it up with literary pretense or with hands-down-the-pants blurting, whatever it takes to make the familiar feel new. Competing personalities in the band make success easier. Between Morrissey’s bemused wallowing and Marr’s refusal to match the theatrics, the Smiths left precious little space to get into a spot-the-influences game. Honky-tonk and bubble gum blueprints were hidden in the final design.

The catalog of "heritage beats" adds a few new entries with every passing wave. When early Touch & Go and Sub Pop bands brought brought back Black Sabbath lurch, they were rescuing them out of the back of the warehouse. What was once identified as the signature of a single artist occasionally becomes a whole new style down the line.

Male Bonding’s debut, Nothing Hurts zips along through a lot of different floorplans, making it both familiar and unpredictable. They’ve chosen wisely from the last few decades of ideas about guitar rock, mostly from the aforementioned T&G and Sub Pop schools, taking the hardest rhythms and delivering them with a lighter touch than expected, the way Marr might have done if he was just starting out today.

If British rock has been dire enough lately to spawn the slag "landfill indie," Male Bonding escape the facelessness of NME cover boys. But with the band name, you’d expect some irony and confrontation in their presence. Neither shows up here, and the lack holds them back.

Like their U.K. counterparts Future of the Left and Part Chimp, they spin up a low-end storm that matches any post-hardcore U.S. band, without sounding American. The chimes and harmonies they put on top are disarming - pleasantly psychedelic and unexpected in such compact quarters. The songs open up, then cut off. It’s a good effect, but without any apparent motivation. A study in contrasts can be an end in itself, I suppose, but it’s got to more than the summed parts. Maybe there is no snark intended when they call it Male Bonding? Maybe these guys just want to get together and see if they can play their favorite licks just as well as their idols. Good times.

Nothing Hurts goes in the ear loud and fast. And out the other ear just as quickly.

By Ben Donnelly

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