The most celebrated figures of early 1990s alternative rock were enigmas and iconoclasts, tortured souls or wayward poets raging against machines that weren’t always clearly defined. Not every member of the Alternative Nation bled for their art, however. Behind the genre’s complicated stars were bands less interested in challenging the establishment than in just making cool noises with their guitars, acts like Superchunk, Elastica, and the Breeders. What these bands lacked in mystique, they made up for through sheer sonic abundance, amusing themselves with unfettered hooks, giddy tempos, and stylized riffing. With their fuzz-kicking guitars and modest attention spans, those bands serve as the guiding inspiration for the young Leeds group Menace Beach, whose full-length debut Ratworld bottles and concentrates the exuberance of that era’s alterna-pop.
Menace Beach are in good company mining these sounds. Over the last few years the same intersection of early ’90s alternative and indie-rock has inspired vital releases from Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, and Joanna Gruesome, but Menace Beach are even more committed to their specific set of influences than those groups. Their closest peers, in that sense, are Yuck, another band that’s so fully internalized their record collection that their music becomes a form of roleplay. When singer/guitarist Ryan Needham merrily sings “Fuck everything you ever wanted to be” on Ratworld opener “Come On Give Up”—flanked on backing vocals, as he almost always is, by his eager co-lead Liza Violet—he’s channeling every unassuming alt-rock singer who ever softened a barbed lyric with a chipper, slightly dweeby delivery. Casual self-loathing was just as much a part of the fabric of ’90s alternative as whimsical tonal juxtapositions, and Menace Beach don’t shy from either.
Like many of Leeds’ buzziest rock bands, Menace Beach have ties to Hookworms leader Matthew “MJ” Johnson, who produced their album at his increasingly busy Suburban Home Studios. Johnson also serves as a sometimes member of the band, but little of Hookworms’ psychedelic menace carries through Ratworld. The only hints come from the warped organs piped into “Dig It Up” and “Fortune Teller”, and even those songs are so bombastically poppy that they go down easier than anything in Hookworms’ playbook. Johnson is smart to stay in the background, rather than risk interrupting the simple, sugary chemistry between Needham and Violet. They co-wrote the album together, and Ratworld reaches puppyish levels of excitement every time one of its choruses unites them. Theirs is the rare lead vocalist/backing vocalist dynamic that feels like an equal partnership, with Violet’s injections propelling these songs nearly as much as their rubbery bass lines or pogoing guitars.
Violet takes just one solo lead on Ratworld, and it’s the album’s biggest departure, a song so personal she confided to Rookie its working title was “This Is My Song”, because she didn’t want anybody else to hear it. It’s the record’s one moment of true vulnerability, but like every song Menace Beach write, it’s also an homage, in this case to the smoldering, reverb-saddened ballads of Galaxie 500. Here the familiarity that usually works in the band’s favor cuts against them. When the song’s dreamy haze breaks into a shower of corroded guitars, there’s no surprise; that’s how these kinds of Galaxie 500 appropriations always play out. On an album that otherwise so joyfully captures the exhilaration of alternative’s recent past, it’s one of the rare moments where Menace Beach’s borrowed sounds don’t deliver the same charge they did the first time around.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFJog