Sub Pop-signed Brits deliver a zippy and stylish debut album.
Noel Gardner 2010-05-12
A long way from being household names still, even within the confines of modern indie-rock, London three-piece Male Bonding have nevertheless enjoyed a quicker journey up the ladder than most. Only extant since summer 2008, a programme of hectic gigging and more releases than most could hope to keep up with has led to them becoming a highly rare example of a British band signed by the iconic Seattle label Sub Pop. Nothing Hurts, their debut album, will probably not be a Shins-esque licence to print money for the label, but it's a minor triumph as a grab-bag of punky jams.
While they could scarcely be pigeonholed as a grunge revival revue, it's evident to the keen observer that Male Bonding are acutely aware of the legacy with which they've aligned themselves by signing to Sub Pop. The – really rather nice – packaging for Nothing Hurts includes a black and white poster of the band that looks like it might be a lost snap of Nirvana circa 1989. Their actual songs, while fuzz-coated and anti-commercial in their ramshackle delivery, tend to evoke youthful naiveté and carefree downtime rather than rage, gloom or desperation. A number of American guitar rock bands – Pavement, Superchunk and Sebadoh most prominently – issued records in the late 80s and early 90s without which Male Bonding effectively wouldn't exist.
Not that this zippy 29 minutes is all one-note nostalgia. Like the best bands from the contemporary UK and US scenes they lurk in – Nottingham's Lovvers, pals of theirs, or Portland's Eat Skull, with whom they shared a split single – they twist recognisable styles into fresh shapes. Partly this is done by dropping in outside influences: Pumpkin rattles along at the pace of classic American hardcore punk, yet is followed up by Worse to Come, a wigged-out folk-rock nugget strummed with clammy urgency. The gauzy glow of the prime-era shoegazing bands also looms large during several songs. Just as significant, however, is Male Bonding's ability to convey the impression that they are answerable to no-one, making precisely the music they want at this moment in time.