Hello friends, pull up a chair, crack open a beverage and get comfortable in The Listening Booth because I’m about to do some rambling. I’ve realised that if you were coming to these articles looking for actual reviews, you’d often leave sorely disappointed. They’re closer to extended therapy sessions where I try and capture my emotional response to an album. I’m telling you this because that approach is horrifically self-indulgent, so if you aren’t interested, I don’t want to waste your time. Otherwise, this week we’re diving into a new release from Blood Youth and a couple of oldies from Mineral and PJ Harvey. Enjoy!
Music is a cyclical thing. Bands rise up inspiring kids to mimic them before those youngsters find their own voice and rise up to inspire the next generation. It doesn’t really matter what is in the mainstream or the underground, there will always be people discovering reggae or metal or punk or country or pop and falling in love. It’s how this shit works.
And, as someone who is still on the earlier side of the life spectrum, I have grown up with a generation of bands who were inspired by music that came before me. The metal bands I grew up on grew up themselves on Metallica, the punk bands on The Clash and the rock bands on AC/DC. They’re all bands I love, but they’re not my bands. It’s only in the last handful of years that music has started to appear inspired by my loves.
All of which is a really long-winded way of introducing Blood Youth, a band who sound like a lot of stuff that I like. Take a sprinkling of early Linkin Park, a shitload of Slipknot, run it through Funeral For a Friend and voila! Blood Youth’s Starve is on the menu, would you like parmesan with that?
Which, if I’m honest, originally brought out the snob in me. When ‘Spineless’ came crashing in sounding like the song Slipknot couldn’t write anymore, the pretentious side of me wanted to rebel. It wanted to scoff and moan that Blood Youth are just a mish-mash of their influences, blended together and recycled for fools who aren’t as musically literate as me. Then, I went in for round two, gave myself a slap and pointed out that I needed to stop being a cunt.
Because Starve is really good. Yes, there are a load of other bands bouncing around in there, but it still sounds fucking awesome, so who gives a shit? While you’re screaming along to ‘Cut Me Open’ are you really going to be bothering about who it sounds a bit like? Quite frankly I’d rather listen to songs like ‘The Answer’ than the newer works from the bands who influenced its nu-metal vibe. Banging songs are banging songs, and sometimes you need to take the critical hat off to appreciate that.
Because, and this is probably the crucial part, there is enough here to suggest Blood Youth are on the cusp of entering that next stage. The unsettling ‘Nerve’ is the perfect example, as it shows them growing into their own skins, and finding the music that will inspire that next group of bands to pick up their instruments. If that’s to happen, twats like me need to shut up.
Anyone who has read a few of these articles (thanks, by the way, that’s genuinely lovely) will probably have figured out that I love a bit of emo. Its mainstream explosion hit my teenage years, and I grew up on the commercial emo bands of My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday (no diss to them, they’re just very different to the origins of the genre). Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all grow out of it either, and I’ve since travelled back in time to find out what bands inspired the bands that inspired me.
Which brings us to Mineral (one day I’ll get straight into actually talking about a band), one of the many emo bands who broke up before it became the musical genre everyone wanted to cry with. They are a name that has been lingering on my ‘ones to listen to’ list for a while but got thrust into my headspace by the fact that they have been releasing new music, eleven years after their last album. That felt like a sign that it was time to give them a shot.
But my fucking God do I wish I got around to it sooner. About ten years sooner if you want to put a timeline on it. Teenage Stuart would have fallen head over heels in love with The Power Of Failing. Teenage Stuart kind of was head over heels in love with The Power Of Failing, he just didn’t realise that a lot of the bands he was listening to sounded exactly like this.
For in this album’s angsty alt-rock I hear so much music that I love. If you took the sheen away from bands from Death Cab For Cutie and gave their guitars a bit more kick, they would sound a lot like Mineral. I discovered while doing my research that Jimmy Eat World did a split EP with them back in 1997 and fuck if that doesn’t make all the sense in the world. They are JEW’s rawer, fuzzier brethren. Much like Jimmy, the emotional intensity of tracks like ‘If I Could’ and ‘Parking Lot’ doesn’t change the fact that at their core, these are fucking great alt-rock songs.
Which is why it’s not just the ‘proper’ emo bands that Mineral brings to mind. Listening to this album, you can see how this scene eventually birthed a Taking Back Sunday. Sure, by the time that band got big they had all the bells and whistles and sounded a lot less 90’s than this does, but it comes from the same cloth. It’s emotionally vulnerable music that is fun to listen to and clicks with the part of my brain that needs to be understood. I listen to it, and it doesn’t matter that I’m no longer an awkward teenager who is scared of everything, it still works (probably because I’m an awkward adult who is scared of everything). That I can go out, discover a band like Mineral and still feel like that gives me all the warm fuzzy feelings, even as they sing about being sad.
PJ Harvey is one of those musical names that I have long known but never known anything about. In my head, she’s always been associated with sexual tension and murder, but that’s entirely down to the ‘Henry Lee’ video, so it’s probably not enough to base a musical opinion on. I think I also have her in the same category as Kate Bush, but then I don’t really know anything about Kate Bush, so that didn’t mean much. Basically, I knew she existed, but didn’t have a clue what she was.
However, in recent months I’ve heard people like A.A. Williams being compared to Harvey and, as I went into detail on last week, I think Williams is jolly swell. So, much like with Mineral, I figured now is as good as tomorrow, let’s finally get round to discovering just what it is PJ brings to the table.
And I have no idea if her debut album, Dry, is the perfect starting place, or if it’s reflective of her career, but I can safely say that there’s more to it than sexual tension and murder. A lot more, because this is a fucking fantastic album. From the woozy dream of opener ‘Oh My Lover’ to the tumbling down the stair quality of ‘Joe’ this is outstanding alternative rock packed with driving guitars and songs that make you want to move. It’s so far from the image of PJ Harvey that I had in my head (aka it sounds nothing like ‘Henry Lee’) that I had to check a couple of times to make sure I was listening to the right person.
Where the genius of Harvey shines through is in the lyrics. I’m not going to bother quoting them to you, these things never sound as good out of context, but this is the kind of album you can go back to time after time, honing your interpretations of what she is saying. I read a fantastic article by Sian Rowe where she talked about their meanings changing for her through her life, and it sums up what turns a great lyricist into a genius. These songs obviously mean something to Harvey, you can hear that in her raw emotional delivery as there are times when she sounds like she’s about to explode. Yet, those same words can be interpreted to mean whatever the listener needs them to at that time. Bluntness is occasionally essential, but for music to stand the test of time, ambiguity is often key.
It’s all made even more breathtaking by the fact that this was her first album. There is a whole career for me to explore after this and, from what I’ve heard, it’s a wide and varied one. Perhaps, in among all that, I’ll even stumble on something that makes me nod my head and muse ‘ah, yes, that’s what I expected’. Who knows, all I can say is that I’m incredibly excited to find out.