Music

Menace Beach: Ratworld

Feedback-laden '90s touchstones are in full effect here. Too bad strong songwriting is in shorter supply.


Menace Beach

Ratworld

Label: Memphis Industries
US Release Date: 2015-01-27
UK Release Date: 2015-01-19
Amazon
iTunes

Menace Beach’s debut album, Ratworld, is full of ‘90s alternative rock touchstones synthesized into a short and sloppy 32-minute blast. It would be a lot of fun if their songwriting were better. As it is, there are a few highlights here and the rest of the record is at least short and relatively painless.

The song “Elastic” is probably the most overt reference to a single ‘90s band. It can’t be a coincidence that this crunchy and catchy track contains a prominent guitar riff with a tone pulled straight from ‘90s English band Elastica. Elsewhere, opener “Come on Give Up” begins with a relatively hooky melody in the verse and follows it with a ho-hum chorus. But more importantly, the song is constantly on the brink of being overwhelmed by feedback-laden guitars that undercut the hooks. This would be a clever musical move if Menace Beach were writing sugary sweet melodies that needed toughening up, but these melodies aren’t that catchy. Instead the effect all that feedback has is to dilute the middling hooks into a soupy mess. It doesn’t help that singer Ryan Needham mostly sings through filters that distort his voice just enough to plunge it directly into the sonic mess.

On the other hand, the one time this auditory haze works for the band is when they slow it down, drop the drums completely, and go full shoegaze on the song “Blue Eye”. At almost four minutes, it’s the longest track on the album. This gives the song time to build as more layers of squalling, droning guitars gradually join the mix. What really makes the song click, though, is Liza Violet’s pretty, cooing vocals. Unlike her counterpart Needham, her singing is pure and clear and that contrast gives the song a good sense of melody even if it isn’t a particularly catchy one.

“Tastes Like Medicine” works because the band has a pair of strong melodies and lets them stand on their own. The simple and catchy verses, with their lightly strummed guitars and shimmering keyboard chords, could be vintage the Cure. They follow this up with a crunchy but bright chorus that allows unfiltered Needham to harmonize with Violet and make both singers sound better in the process. The short and sweet “Pick Out the Pieces” is another track with no drums and layers of guitar drones, but its anchored by more harmonized vocals and a good chorus that gives the song a recognizable center amongst the noise.

But that’s three, maybe four good songs out of 12. Everywhere else, the listener is left picking out individual bits of tracks to focus on amongst the piles of guitars and mediocre riffs and hooks. “Ratworld” has a prominent, interesting snare drum beat running through it, but not much else. “Dig It Up” has a cool distorted organ sound but the song is otherwise completely unremarkable. Closer “Fortune Teller” attempts to bring many of these elements back for a big finish that uses big drums and prominent organ above fuzzed-out bass and guitar. But the only bit of the song that really works is in the verse where Violet repeats the word “away” in a descending melodic pattern. Everything else is just more of the same sonic mess. The handful of tracks that work on Ratworld demonstrate that Menace Beach has potential. But the rest of the album shows clearly that while the group has a distinctive sound, they just aren’t there yet from a songwriting perspective.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.