Review by Mark Bartlett.
As 2017 draws to its conclusion, it’s becoming more and more apparent that this is a banner year for underground UK punk. Trends in music are cyclical. I personally feel the current hordes of identikit easy-core bands are about to succumb to a new wave of diverse, substantial and purposeful punk rock bands, much like how the hair metal and gimmicky glam of the late ‘80’s was melted away by Sub-Pop, Epitaph, Reprise and Fat Wreck Chords. We’re lucky to be in a musical climate where you can see an amazing home-grown punk band every week without fail (and without spending a lot of money either!).
Manchester 3-piece Aerial Salad’s debut album Roach has (in my estimation at least) leaped right to the top of the pile in a year choc-full of quality releases across every sub-genre in the UK punk spectrum.
It’s a perfect storm of everything I look for in a first release; it’s focussed, confident and passionate. It boasts muscular production that stands toe-to-toe with major studio albums, and it’s filled to the brim with total belters. Everything here sounds large, from the stadium-sized drums to the rich crunch of the guitar work on offer, as well as throaty, full vocals that sit perfectly within the mix. Overall it all sounds pretty immaculate.
Before this review reads like it’s entirely gushing praise, it’s important to address the few flaws that steer Roach away from perfection. Aerial Salad are shooting for a sound that marries huge, early Green Day hooks to the raw grit of Jawbreaker, and they succeed, but as consequence Aerial Salad aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here. We’re in the strict territory of 3-chord punk rock and the quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamics of Nirvana. It’s derivative. I could also argue that the song-writing here is somewhat formulaic, with classic pop-punk chord patterns that we’ve all heard many times over.
It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Aerial Salad, despite binding themselves to a strict sonic template, are utterly convincing and assured at every point on Roach. Vocalist/guitarist Jamie Munro has a really strong understanding of how to reel in the listener. His voice has a raspy drawl that emulates both Billie Joe Armstrong’s snotty enthusiasm and Kurt Cobain’s angsty inflections.
While Munro isn’t necessarily the most dynamic vocalist, he massively overcompensates for it by being able to consistently deliver giant vocal hooks, and is really adept at creating suspense and drama. Opener Habits and Problems demonstrates this perfectly with the opening lyrical gambit of “I’m sick and tired of always working weekends; now I have to live my life in the week,” establishes the tone well. As a story-teller Jamie does a great job of presenting some difficult subjects like mental health and suicide, and presenting them in a relatable and direct fashion.
Leave Me Alone is a thrilling, short burst of angsty ire that sounds like a forgotten gem from Nirvana’s lost song vault. Roach continues in uniformly excellent fashion until it reaches standout track 97. From this point we have a collection of truly brilliant songs to enjoy.
My favourite track is Worst Case Ontario, which demonstrates how Aerial Salad can take a generic 3-chord punk template and still deliver an invigorating couple of minutes. It has my favourite couplet on the album with, “Seeing your face gives me chills, and I know you’re not taking your pills.”
Check My Mind opens with giant drums and the biggest change of pace. The aforementioned loud-quiet-loud dynamics burst into the album’s most jubilant chorus, the whole song is very reminiscent of the best of 90’s chart alt-rock (in a good way).
Another highlight, Alone Forever provides my favourite riff, which is a funhouse mirror take on an atypical pop-punk intro. Success talks about what it means to be in a band in the social media age and includes the excellent lyric, “There’s people in my life that I call friends that I’ve never seen. They’re going through the same drunken dream as me.”
Aerial Salad’s Roach is in the running for punk album of the year. There’s not much more you could ask for from a debut, and they’ve firmly cemented themselves as one of the UK’s best pop-punk bands here. It’s full of young fire, great songs and has the production to back it up.
I have every confidence that maturity will make Aerial Salad an even stronger band in the years ahead. As it is, Roach stands tall against many more experienced bands and is up there with Iron Chic and The Smith Street Band in terms of 2017’s quality releases. That’s a pretty mighty achievement.
Roach is released on Alex Wonk’s new label Plasterer Records on November 3rd, just in time for their live show with PEARS.
They’re embarking on a nineteen date, three week mega tour with Wonk Unit on November 10th so there’s plenty of chances to catch them a pick up a copy. Keep your eyes peeled for an interview with Jamie Munro, coming up on Shout Louder next week!
Review by Mark Bartlett.