[12 May 2010]
PopMatters Music Editor
It seems like Male Bonding has taken a novel approach to reinventing punk pop: Go back to the basics and look to the classics for inspiration. Sure, the band’s feedbacky, crackling lo-fi suggests that Male Bonding’s bros-in-arms would be No Age and Japandroids, but it’s probably with old-school heavyweights like the Buzzcocks and Superchunk that the young British three-piece shares the most in common. Bashed up and blissed out, Male Bonding’s impatient, hot-and-bothered pop is like a call to attention for a new generation of orgasm addicts and slack motherfu**ers, at once reminiscent of what came before it, though not so indebted that there isn’t some new underground experimentation going on here.
The group’s breakneck debut Nothing Hurts wastes no time with a formal introduction, going all out under the assumption that speeding things up has an exponential effect on the force of its ramshackle rock. The lead-off single “Year’s Not Long” makes quite a first impression, as pounding drums race chugging guitars to get to the end first without losing any sense of melody along the way. Then after barely a beat of a breather between tracks, “All Things This Way” comes back hitting even harder and faster with the most overt and thrilling Buzzcocks tribute on the album, what with the cooing vocals, the pogoing bass, and the revved-up guitar. And “Nothing Remains” builds to a crescendo only as a means to reach for another one, as if the band’s idea of changing things up is to pick up the pace and to seek out something relentlessly catchier.
But while you’d think the group’s hard-punching sound might be sloppy considering how it comes on so fast and furiously, it’s surprising how little wasted energy there is on Nothing Hurts, with most of any excess burned off of the album’s lean and mean half-hour running time. Staying just on the pop side of punk proper, Male Bonding has cribbed its lessons well from Singles Going Steady and Superchunk’s On the Mouth, its compact songs tightly rendered like the former, while sounding tightly wound like the latter. On “Your Contact”, Male Bonding makes the most out of a single guitar refrain and some primal rhythms, squeezing it all into a densely packed ball of melody. While the vocals on “Weird Feelings” are all about youthful confusion (“I felt like this for ages / Just didn’t know how to say it”), the song’s musical vernacular comes through loud and clear, with the prototypical power trio guitar-bass-drums dynamic clicking at full throttle. There, and on the aptly named “T.U.F.F.”, Male Bonding evokes more than a hint of Nirvana during its earlier stages, proving that the Sub Pop imprint on Nothing Hurts isn’t just a coincidence and that the grunge tag on its MySpace page might not have been slapped on with tongue in cheek.
While there comes a point towards the end of Nothing Hurts where the title might as well describe how the group’s sonic onslaught becomes a little numbing, the album as a whole is mostly a case where an irresistible force blows away any immovable objects. So who knows how long the Male Bonding boys can keep up the pace and precedent they’ve set on their debut, or whether their reckless noise pop is the sort that burns out before it can be built on. It hardly seems like the band is stressing over what’s yet to come since Nothing Hurts sounds like it’s all about the here and now, but here’s guessing that Male Bonding will probably be at least a little part of indie rock’s future.