ALBUM REVIEW: Asylums – ‘Killer Brain Waves’

Album craft these days seems to have become an even more complex art. As, ironically, their place in music consumption is becoming less and less certain. Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal et al. have begun to breed a more lean-back playlist culture – why limit yourself to one band’s long form when you can experience multiple artists’ tracks curated to be just as coherent as the old fashioned album?  Some artists simply stick to putting out ‘mixtapes’ as an alternative, whilst increasingly there seems to be a bewilderingly tone-deaf trend of putting out overly long and bloated efforts (looking at you Honne, James Blake, The 1975, Drake…). Whilst some of those in the brackets are massive stars who can justifiably demand this kind of attention (or shrug it off when criticised), when it comes to emerging acts and debut albums a certain degree of humility is required to effectively seize the moment. Thankfully, Asylums seem to ascribe to this point of view delivering a sizzling and feisty debut LP ‘Killer Brain Waves’.

The first point to note is that, of the twelve and a half songs presented here, a full seven have been previously released. Some may claim that this is an unimaginative ploy, however the result here is much the opposite – like seeing a band live, the buzz you get from the opening strains of a song you recognise keeps you won over through the frenetic 37 minutes and 3 seconds that this record offers (the concise timing worn as a badge of pride on the album’s b-movie esque front cover). By punctuating the record with road-tested ‘hits’, a la Shura on her fantastic recently released debut (that’s really where any similarities end…), the tracks worming their way into your ears for the first time feel more manageable, and therefore more likely to stick with you. This is a simple trick seemingly lost on a fair few new artists, Wolf Alice being the chief offender recently, by dropping the majority of their pre-album favourites from the album’s tracklisting.

Beyond the album’s make-up then, what about the songs?? Well, the thing I like most about this record is that you can’t hear the band thinking. There are no moments where you are left feeling that the band are being disingenuous or cynical in their decisions, mostly it sounds like they are just cracking out the songs as fast as they can a few moments after they’ve written them. This offers a genuine edge to tracks that are brimming with vitality and honesty. None of this is to say that the tracks/band are in anyway shallow, as in fact the lyrical content is extremely thoughtful, frontman Luke Branch spitting out his societal and political fury with spirited yelps.

Sonic highlights include the opening triple salvo of ‘Second Class Sex’, ‘I’ve Seen Your Face in a Music Magazine’ and ‘Joy in a Small Wage’ plus the points where Asylums trade off their name and go-full-crazy  (‘The Death of Television’ and ‘Slacker Shopper’ being the best examples of this). ‘Missing Persons’, a track that was dedicated to Viola Beach at their electric Flying Vinyl Festival set earlier on in the year, ensures that there is an emotional element.

Perhaps the one point where I find my mind wandering and where the LP has a bit of a slowdown in intensity is during the slightly dirge-like ‘Monosylabic Saliva’ and b-list brit-pop of ‘Born to Not Belong’. However, where these tracks are found wanting, the contrast they provide for the invigorating opening of ‘Necessary Appliances’ is pointed. This is the track I would pick out as my favourite, and the one that typifies the Asylums sound, both musically and lyrically, the most assuredly.  Whilst not always a fan of hidden tracks, the short and chilled yet off-kilter ditty that follows closer ‘Slacker Shopper’ is a pleasant change of pace – one that could perhaps have arrived earlier on in the record, but to force this point too hard might be a bit churlish.

Overall then, a triumphant opening gambit from Southend-On-Sea’s favourite purveyors of acidic, psychotic pop-punk – recalling the sugary energy of Johnny Foreigner in their heyday, or like a darker version of Superfood on speed, Asylums demand your attention.

Asylums’ debut album ‘Killer Brain Waves’ will be released on 29th July. For exclusive bundles and signed copies, head here.

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