March 1st. The strips of light that spill into my bedroom through gaps between the curtains feel discernibly warm for the first time in five months. The residue of yesterday’s hangover lingers in the back of my skull like something important that I’ve forgotten to do, yet somehow things feel rejuvenated; I can finally start actually “doing” rather than simply thinking about doing. The first thing I “do” is go outside and buy two bunches of daffodils and arrange them around my flat. I delete a screencap of a sad poem I’ve kept on my desktop for a year. I am listening to Personal Best.
Named after the Team Dresch album, Personal Best are a spirited power-pop trio from Bristol drawing hard on the halcyon days of ’90s college rock. They released the first two tracks from their debut, Arnos Vale, this week and they’re the kind of lovesick anthems that recall of all the parts of your youth that never lost their poignancy: crushing on the wrong person, writing bad poetry about it, getting drunk off two alcopops and snogging your friend’s ex. Usually this kind of nostalgia imbues me with more cynicism than a Bill Hicks riff, but here I am, 25-years-old and dancing around the flat in the exact same way every dumb rom-com portrays a female character “getting ready” or spending their night home alone. All that’s missing is the hairbrush-as-microphone I don’t own because my hair is two inches long.
Arnos Vale apparently “focuses on the exhilaration and anxiety of being in love, realising what you have but being scared to lose it,” and it’s hard to see how they could have nailed that vibe any harder to be honest. It’s coming out on March 30 through Specialist Subject, a UK record label home to some most unassumingly brilliant punk bands (see also: Doe, Twisted, Muncie Girls). My head is already full of fictionalised scenes of jumping around, hugging my friends so vigorously I spill cheap beer down the backs of their t-shirts.
It’s probably all down to the cyclical nature of the universe, but at the moment the UK is experiencing a resurgence of really strong music that my mum would describe as “a fucking racket.” This is a big deal for me. After years of middle-of-the-road releases, shitty show behaviour and the current state of UKHC looking predominantly like this, I think I am finally ready to re-embrace hardcore. Why? Because I heard this Lower Slaughter track after a particularly vibey yoga session (the optimum time to listen to angry music, obviously) and it’s my favourite thing to happen to punk since Henry Rollins landed a series on National Geographic. Fronted by Max Levy of King of Cats (also amazing), Brighton’s Lower Slaughter sound like a Dischord band wrapped in ’90s European screamo, and the fact that there are hardly any other British bands that sound like this at the moment is representative of how the UK punk scene is alive and well but also deeply fragmented.
If there’s one thing the British public loves en masse, it’s being really pissed off about really mundane things, as crystalised perfectly by a Good Throb track called “Bag”, in which vocalist KY Ellie channels the passive aggression of British consumer culture by repeating “WOULD YOU LIKE A BAG” over and over in a voice I imagine Darby Crash would have cultivated had he been raised in a London exurb. But from Lower Slaughter to Good Throb, the range of UK punk bands is almost too broad, too varied, for there to be a particularly strong, singular scene. Increasingly, the venn diagram of indie scenes and punk scenes is merging into one large, all-encompassing circle.
On another fun note, apparently Facel Vega—Wales’ answer to Rites of Spring—are playing shows again, so there’s hope for us yet. Will 2015 be the year UK hardcore punk returns to its senses? Will I feel comfortable going to shows featuring mosh pits again like I did as an optimistic teenager? Or will another reckless bro in a haircut windmill his fist into my nose and reprimand me for being in his way? Watch this space.
In the meantime, Leeds duo Bruising have been preventing me from careening into ennui during the working weeks of the shortest yet seemingly NEVER ENDING month of the year. Their latest track “Can’t You Feel” is testament to the power of going to a nightclub, spotting a complete stranger in a Perfect Pussy shirt and being so impressed that you decide to form a band immediately—which is precisely how vocalist/guitarist Naomi Baguley and guitarist Ben Lewis came to make music together. This kind of shit gives me hope.
Bruising will have some tracks on the second Family Portrait compilation from DIY label Art Is Hard. The first track from that comp was released in February, and it’s actually by a band from Winnipeg called Living Hour, because when it comes to DIY Canada seems to be just as broken up and marginalised as the UK. Hence why you’ll find UK labels like Gold Flake Tapes with Canadian artists on their roster. You don’t know how good you got it, ‘Murica.
Having said that, we do have Trust Fund, a Bristol-based collective who have been busy putting out some of the best indie-rock of the decade. So stick that on your trousers and lint-roll them. It’s amazing I’ve even been able to listen to anything that isn’t their debut album No One’s Coming For Us since its release last month. The last time I saw them live, I genuinely pointed at a friend of mine from across the room and sang at him dramatically like David Lee Roth trying to seduce an audience member, such is the power of their music. Ever wonder what Rivers Cuomo would be writing had critics’ response to Pinkerton not been so ruthless? That’s Trust Fund.
Considering the majority of us spent January in an emotional slump sustained by Netflix, leftover Christmas snacks and arguments about the central heating, then spent February inventing new ways to put off all the stuff we’d been putting off throughout January, No One’s Coming For Us was and is the catalyst for reflection, self-analysis and the resulting kick up the butt we needed all at once. 2015, I am ready for you. At last.
Originally published on Pitchfork here.