Male Bonding Nothing Hurts

[Sub Pop; 2010]

Styles: noise pop, Brit-punk, fast-twitch, lo-fi
Others: Vivian Girls, No Age, Abe Vigoda, Smith Westerns, Wavves

As part of the tiny tidal wave of Sub Pop bands (and those from other related labels) to adhere to the same noise-pop stylistic tendencies in the last few years, London’s Male Bonding, if anything, just does it quicker than the rest. The longest of Nothing Hurts’ 13 tracks runs a mere 2 minutes 38 seconds, and with only the shortest of breaks between songs, the record takes on a harried, frantic pace that doesn’t let up until its 27 minutes end.

Accordingly, it’d be easy to call Male Bonding unoriginal. I thought about it — this is sonic territory that’s been thoroughly explored, and recently. But in the end I decided there’s an originality to be had in the deft distilling of a genre and all the little tendrils that branch off from it. Nothing Hurts not only recycles — refurbishes — early punk, but also everything since in a flurry of gloriously hyphenated categorizations: lo-fi (“Nothing Remains”), noise pop (“Pumpkin”), surf-punk (“Pirate Key”), grunge (“Crooked Scene”), etc. They’re all there, and more. And when the trio (guitarist/vocalist John Arthur Webb, bassist/vocalist Kevin Hendrick, and drummer Robin Silas Christian) uses these offshoots, it does so with a swagger that’s truly infectious.

Maybe it’s Male Bonding’s very embrace of the bands that surround them that gives them whatever unique character they have. The record’s echoing final track, “Worst to Come,” even features beautiful, sweeping backing vocals from Vivian Girls; they’ve created a family of noisy little bands that have joined together in their commitment to the best and the brightest short songs — they’re miniatures as part of a greater mural.

And Nothing Hurts doubtless paints a vivid picture, full of Technicolor, which I suppose is why I’m such a sucker for bands that sound like Male Bonding. From bright, interlocking guitar riffs, to kinetic bass, to the kind of drumming that’s almost giggle-worthy for all its slanted attempts at toughness (just listen to the intentionally silly cowbell in “TUFF”), its fuzz flurries together so happily! Lyrically, too, the album proves as brief as possible while maintaining a delicate balance between the abstract and the unaffected. “Pirate Key” repeats, “I see myself in color/ I see myself in light,” an indication that the highlighter shine of the album was the band’s intention. And “Franklin,” for example, explores some of the subject matter you’d expect punk — even the pop kind — to discuss. With a refrain of “All this won’t last forever,” the song not only makes good on the philosophy suggested by such brevity in songwriting, but reinforces Male Bonding’s accelerated aesthetic.

So maybe Nothing Hurts won’t be a record at the vanguard of a movement. But it certainly moves. I prefer to think of Male Bonding as connoisseurs of current noise pop, ones that have turned their avid fandom into the best possible product: a record that’s smart, repeatedly listenable, and undeniably exciting. I’d bro down with them anytime.

Links: Male Bonding - Sub Pop

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