In 2018 after five years straight of touring and turbulence and releasing two LP’s; Southend-On-Sea based four-piece Asylums took six months off. Following a successful application for a grant from the PRS Foundation to make a new album, the band recruited Steve Albini (PJ Harvey, Bush and The Pixies) to produce Genetic Cabaret and headed to Chicago to record their third offering.
Despite stressing how the “rock band has become a valid communication tool again, getting bodies in a venue, turning up the volume and spitting lyrical venom that communicates a shared emotion feels like a crucial release again”; Asylums has proven extremely resilient during lockdown accepting the new normality and trying to enjoy the journey.
Opening with “Catalogue Kids” one detects a back to basics of Asylums hungry, riotous and bustling adrenaline-fuelled sound that was captured on their debut Killer Brain Waves which does not falter as “Catalogue Kids” gives way to “Platitudes”. The diverse energy of so many acts comes to mind when trying to define Asylums sound: My Chemical Romance; InMe; King Nun; Rival Schools; Pixies; My Vitriol; Hell is for Heroes as well as Supergrass and King Adora occasionally. This plethora of energy is extended lyrically on the single ‘A Perfect Life in a Perfect World’ where frontman Luke Branch opens with the line “Watch the clock ticking backwards/ There’s a sun that never comes out”.
Increased diversity within the tracks begins to become noticeable on “A Town Full of Boarded up Windows” which is a tad more quiescent and a few BPM slower but still has the ability to galvanize adolescent adrenaline which is reminiscent of Rival Schools “Good Things”. “Clean Money” is probably one of the most anglicised tracks as Branch vocals sound like Gaz Coombes and is an unusual musical fusion of Supergrass’ and King Adora.
The energy and momentum continues through the remainder of Genetic Cabaret, however, the collective sounds of the previous bands mentioned dominates. Playout track “Dull Days” placates the listening experience by replacing the drums and bass with breath-catching reflection and deft oxymoron’s including “it’s easy but complex” ending Genetic Cabaret on an unexpected but welcome note.
The energy Asylums offer is undeniable which deservedly earned them a slot by Billy Bragg on the Glastonbury Leftfield stage in 2018. Whilst frontman Luke Branch has said “The sentiment of ‘A Perfect Life In A Perfect World’ has taken on a different meaning for me over the last month or so which has led to us deciding to release it now,”; one feels that Genetic Cabaret is not entirely an evolution of Asylums as a band, but instead presents Asylums as if they were re-debuting themselves and reflecting upon how they would have done Killer Brain Waves if they had their time again.
Whilst Genetic Cabaret is Asylum’s strongest LP effort to date; one feels that the opportunity to present their collective evolving musical maturity has not always been seized as the piano, strings, brass and additional bass are largely absent. Nonetheless, Asylums should definitely not dismissed or underestimated as Lance sings the words “That author could be me” on “Who Writes Tomorrows Headlines?”; it still could.