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Male Bonding - Endless Now

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Artist: Male Bonding

Album: Endless Now

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Sep. 15, 2011

Now that Male Bonding’s debut has been around for a year, and records from the likes of Yuck!, Milk Music and The Joy Formidable have emerged, the London band feels like part of a crop for whom 1990s indie is a conscious reference point. With a decade of separation, it’s easier to hear what has changed in indie rock since the century changed. These acts play like they never even considered selling their guitars for turntables, or their turntables for guitars. Stripping back to a guit-drum duo was never an option. West African pop and hippy folk have no bearing. Their rock skips the endless scroll of today, harkening to a time when music had to fall squarely in categories, even if the categories were an undescriptive and meaningless as “alternative”.

Sure, retro reassessment is inevitable. What’s a little different with this generation of bands is that the original context has been so stable. Record with Steve Albini, put the record out with Sub Pop, play Middle East at start of the three-week tour and Emo’s at the other end. The way they did it back in 1995. And all the intervening years. Male Bonding has been there in the last two years.

Swathes of the indie world have maintained an equilibrium that was never a given, even as the majors teeter. And artistically, more than a few of the artists that this band is likely hold dear have kept clear of burnout. When Superchunk restricts itself to speaking up only when they have something to add, they’re following through on an early ideal as relevant as handshake contracts and split 7”s. Maybe that endless now is part of what Male Bonding is referring to in the title to its second full-length.

Or maybe it’s that the songs here are hard to tell apart, and hard to remember. Dip in for 20 seconds, and they seem well played and worthy of closer attention. Lend that attention, and Endless Now sinks into the background, a slush of quickly jangling ambience. The Brits’ first record ran through familiar beats from recent history, with just enough mix of hard guitars and soft vocals to make the spot-the-influence game a challenge. This record shows a growth away from obvious reworking, toward a singular style. Chugging guitars, tight harmonies, melodic and concise solos — the recipe seems savory, but the result is oatmeal. In these hands, chugging guitars over basic song scaffolding seems old and spent rather than a return to a more focused time.

What makes this music wash out? Those first-impressions don’t hold up. The harmonies are mostly doubled vocals, slanted more toward production tricks than ingenuity. The motoring of the guitars doesn’t develop any rapport or surprise. Every lyric is built around statements of "You" and "I," devoid of personal details, but never reaching a universal sentiment, either. What good is bleating about your rote romantic disappointment if you aren’t convinced it’s the greatest psychic pain ever felt? They’ve decoded pop songwriting basics, but have lost sight of whatever compelled them to take this band thing seriously. Male Bonding arrives at a distinct voice that has nothing to add.

By Ben Donnelly

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