Written by: Dave Cantrell
It’s nearly impossible to begin any review of an album coming out of Dunedin – or anywhere in its antipodal vicinity – without some mention of that modest New Zealand burg’s outsized pop history and some version or another of the rhetorical ‘How do they do it?,’ often insinuating water content. I’ve done it (and, of course, am not-so-cleverly doing it again right now), nearly everyone that’s lifted a pen to praise the likes of the Verlaines, The Clean, Bailter Space ad (nearly) infinitum has done it, it’s become a journalistic tic of the most insidious variety. Most often that card’s pulled out for the simple sake of background, sometimes it’s to establish the writer’s bona fides, but whatever the reason please forgive us. We aren’t meaning to seem lazy, it’s just that, contextually speaking, the story’s gravitational pull is simply too great. And this recent release from Fishrider Records, the EP-assembled debut from Males, will do little to ameliorate this (likely untreatable) condition, even as it draws its punch and influence from well beyond the city’s limits and in fact can’t even keep itself in the same hemisphere.
Males do in fact hail from the fertile fringes of Otago Harbour and are comprised of two impossibly young men, guitarist/songwriter/singer Richard Ley-Hamilton and bass racer Sam Valentine (who also, in the fine modern Dunedin tradition of rock ‘n’ roll incest, drums for the next-reviewed Trick Mammoth), and, though the native verve is plenty present, the noise these lads make has more in common with their antecedents far north of the equator, the power pop and pop punk of heartland America and the sprightlier practitioners from the UK’s golden age of DIY (1978-83 or so). Taking that amalgam we’re presented with a sound that’s half a slice Vaselines, half a slice Big Star, a crossbred result that aligns them (and this makes sense now I think about it), sonically if not lyrically, with the likes of Idlewild and their more successful copyists Arctic Monkeys. The production, by Chills keyboardist/post-grad sound engineering student Oli Wilson, doesn’t hurt in the least, giving it a boosty sheen that already has the record hitting the CMJ playlist.
Plugging in and jumping off instantly with an O’Neill-esque panache, opening track “Pre-Roll” quite literally bursts with a tightly-coiled, hooky, controlled mayhem that reflects a command of the zinging pure pop rock playbook that belies their tender ages (they’re both 21), much similar, in fact, to the type of nous displayed by Derry’s favorite sons on their initial outing. Filled with punky backbeat, frolicsome guitars and enough why-ye-ooh-la-lala‘s to satisfy your inner ear’s sweetest sweet tooth, it’s a minute-forty-four of ‘Here we are, good luck resisting us’ and indeed the addiction is swift and unrelenting every track thereafter.
“Lucky Too,” showcasing Ley-Hamiltons’s garage falsetto, as angelic as it is devilish, doubles the ante of that opener, double-tracked guitars playing immediate melody tag, Valentine and (added) drummer Ben Madden amped up like they’ve taken Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan and injected it straight into their bloodstreams and by this point, even this early into the record, anyone that thought any remnant of power pop had long since gone extinct is remembering another recent review in the pages of CITC, putting that together with the fact they’re all of a sudden ricocheting uncontrollably about their room and realizing that, not only were they very wrong indeed but have possibly found the key to eternal youth.
From there M M M/RRR never really lets up. Sure, “Madeline” smoothes the pace down a notch but it’s a smokescreen, the track’s as innately bustling as its peers, just as the Single Of The Year-worthy “So High,” while teetering confidently on the edge of pop confection perfection, throbs with an underchurn that might’ve echoed off the walls of Maxwell’s circa 1980. Otherwise, it’s just one finger- (and, if you’re not careful, neck-) snapping gem after another. There’s such an abundance of adrenaline and craft on this record the pair could make a tidy living just selling the surplus they no doubt have tucked away in the closets of their bedrooms and basement rehearsal spaces.
“Weakness,” with its pinging phase-shifty opening giving way to an eruption of teenage insouciance is, considering the runaway somersaulting pace, the sheer kinetic joy, quite possibly the most misnomered song title in Dunedin history. The album’s themes, not unexpectedly, run the post-adolescent gamut, chasing love and/or being chastened by it, trying to figure out exactly where lust fits in – “Weakness”‘s central pivot – and how, should one even want to, one goes about carving an adult life from the swirling whirlwind of unadulterated fun that being 21 generally is. On this last point, broadly speaking, Males punt, instead putting their heads down and churning out gnarly great little rock gems that sweaty great little rock clubs all over the world were made for. In that spirit comes the economic, pouncing, and driven “Over And Out,” feathered with crystalline lead snippets; the punky effervescence of the splendidly-titled “Marion Bates Thievery;” the hurtling charge of “All Up From Here,” Ley-Hamilton and Valentine both wrapping happy larynges around the line ‘back in the world that I adore’ with enough vivacity to suggest that no case of homesickness has ever been so exuberantly cured.
Franticness with a deft touch, an embarrassment of impeccable melody hooks, Males Males Males/RunRunRun is still another entry in the premier debut class of a very prolific 2013 and certainly the liveliest. Kind of record that, really quite literally, makes you feel aliver than alive.