Even in today’s instant download, Bandcamp upload world where even Beyonce can drop an album out of nowhere while you went to bed early for work the next morning, 2 years from your first ever gig to first ever album is a pretty quick turnaround. But for Leeds’ Menace Beach, that’s exactly what happened. At times featuring members of Hookworms, Pulled Apart By Horses and Sky Larkin, sometimes it feels that more’s been said about the actual lineup than the music itself. 2 years and following on from last year’s impressive Lowtalker EP though and here we are with Ratworld, Menace Beach’s first full length statement of intent.
Initially, Menace Beach certainly carry out that promise present on their EPs with opening tracks ‘Come On Give Up’ and ‘Elastic’ setting the tone. They have an undeniable look and sound of ‘cool’ in as far as looking at your shoes for half a performance can be. Between the mixture of noise and fuzz, and Ryan Needham and Liza Violet’s enticing vocals, there’s a feeling that you should be walking around some urban decayed landscape wearing your black as night shades listening to this album. It’s a hard thing to pull off but they do it, perhaps thanks to the real slick production work of Hookworms front piece and all around indie jack of all trades MJ, who once again perfectly understands the sound that a band wants to achieve and continues to prove his chops as the go to producer for your feedback induced band.
It’s been difficult to pin down the sound of Menace Beach and their peers around the Suburban Home Studios scene given how throwaway terms like ‘indie’ and ‘pop’ are now. With Menace Beach there’s certainly a little debt being paid to psychedelia (usually dreaded enemy of this here writer) as well as classic pop and the garage bands you’d find on the inside sleeve of a Back From The Grave compilation.
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Those two tracks are followed by previous EP tracks ‘Dropouts’ and one of the best and heaviest moments of the album in ‘Lowtalkin’. The fact that ‘Lowtalkin’ is such a strong track, a 2 minute non-stop whirlwind makes it a shame that Menace Beach decided not to pursue more of that on the album itself. After this the album begins to have some issues, starting with the bizarrely out of place ‘Blue Eye’ which despite being the only song on the album with lead vocals from Liza Violet is quiet, understated and drenched in more reverb than a Kevin Shields shirt. It’s not a bad song but it firmly belongs in the album as a closing track and as only the 5th track it causes some easily avoided pacing issues, especially when the next few tracks aren’t the band’s strongest.
At this point the album can start to feel a little repetitive in sound and that’s not helped when we’ve already heard repeated tracks from previous EPs with ‘Tennis Court’ also appearing in this middle chunk. I’m in the firm camp that as good as your EP tracks are, unless they’ve been massively changed they should remain EP tracks, especially in this day and age when they’re more easily accessible (do a little research and there’s an instance where I’m a massive hypocrite saying this but moving on…). With nearly half the album consisting of EP tracks it feels a little bit like a kick in the teeth and I’d much rather have waited that little bit longer for a fully original album.
What makes me think I would have preferred that wait is well is that this is by all regards a Summer album being released in Winter. The songs are made for sun-filled, Americana landscapes, not a dreary Monday morning with showers on and off. It’s difficult to be in the proper mood for that kind of music and in turn I feel like I may be being a little harsh on the album. It’s not as if Menace Beach had gone dormant since last year so I would have happily waited a few more months for a better timed release and more album-debut tracks.
For all I’ve complained though, it is a decent album to listen to and it does get better on repeated listens. ‘Pick Out The Pieces’ is a slower song that would have been better in ‘Blue Eye’s tracklist position, and EP track or not ‘Fortune Teller’ does end the album nicely, bringing things full circle. It’s definitely the heavier moments that come out on top here and if the band picks a direction to go from here that’s certainly would be the one that I’d be privy to.
Although it can take a little while to get into, Menace Beach’s Ratworld is a good debut album from the Leeds based group. While it may destined for warmer climates than these frosty winter mornings, the fuzzy crunch of the album with its odes to indie of both sides of the Atlantic’s past do make for an entertaining listen, as does the slick production of MJ behind the curtain. It’s let down a little though from some repetition especially in the middle chunk of the running time and perhaps simply being a victim of the incredibly high standard that have already been set by their peers in the same community making it look just that little bit less impressive in comparison. Taken on its own though, Ratworld is a promising debut with hopefully bigger and better things to offer in the future.
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