ALBUM REVIEW: Asylums – ‘Genetic Cabaret’

Southend-on-Sea alt rock outfit Asylums return this month with their third LP, Genetic Cabaret, released on the band’s own independent label, Cool Thing Records. It’s both testament of their dedication to the DIY ethos that they’ve built their name on, and also to the concept of the album as an art form. In an age of cherry-picked playlists and streaming culture, there feels a real sense of pride in the craftsmanship of this album’s twelve tracks, and how they stand together as a single piece of work.

Here on Genetic Cabaret, Asylums sound more refined and vital than ever before. It’s the sound of a band who has honed their craft over years of hard graft, and here it pays off in spades. Bolstered with support from legendary producer and audio engineer Steve Albini (In Utero – Nirvana / Rid Of Me – PJ Harvey / Surfa Rosa – Pixies,) they roll out track after track of career-best material, the record hurtles breathlessly from one number to the next. It’s a lean, fat-free record delivered with bristling passion, kicked off by lead single ‘Catalogue Kids,’ which crackles along with intensity and vibrancy. It’s proved a clear hit so far, earning airplay on the likes of BBC 6 Music, Radio X and Kerrang! Radio. Further tracks such as ‘Platitudes,’ ‘Yuppie Germs‘ and ‘Clean Money‘ capture the pop-punk perfection that marked out acts like Ash and The Cribs at their creative peaks, and with such a firm grasp on melody these numbers stick in your ear from the very first listen.

Asylums always seem to operate best when tackling subject matter that is steeped in adversity, and in the two years since their last record: 2018’s cracking Alien Human Emotions, a series of turbulent world events, specifically Brexit and the Trump presidency, flooded the band’s consciousness, and in turn fuelled inspiration and grounding for this new record. Addressed without hesitancy, and powerfully communicated through laser-sharp songwriting, in tracks like ‘Who Writes Tomorrows Headlines‘ (“Even if the pain you feel is waiting at your door/ You better fight the fear they designed to ignore”) and ‘A Town Full Of Boarded Up Windows‘ (“A prison cell with a sea view, can distance some home truths”).

Alongside the outrage and shrewd observations, there’s also room on this record for more profound and reflexive statements on parenthood and growing older. Vocalist and guitarist Luke Branch became a father during the writing of this record, and this seems to have had a significant impact on his songwriting. In his own words, “During writing and rehearsals, my wife fell pregnant and the huge emotional impact of that got me thinking about the world I was bringing our child into from a new perspective. I examined political history, human biology, generational divides and emerging technology in equal measure. The resulting album feels leaner musically, harder-edged and with anger and empathy in equal measure.” You can hear these thoughts reflected in ‘The Miracle Age,’ where Branch sings: “In a broken time, can you hear our words? Do you sympathise with the worst of both worlds?”

Throughout the record, there’s a refreshing urgency that prevents the band from ever sounding like they’re covering old ground or repeating themselves at any stage. They have a Pixies-esque ability throughout the album of being able to twist and turn a song on its head at a moments’ notice, whilst maintaining a consistency that keeps the listener connected and engaged. It’s the individual components that stood out as impressive on previous works that now seem to gel together on a deeper, more coherent level. Bass and drums seem more entwined, guitar lines crackle with just that extra bit of energy. And though the trademark edge and ferocity that marks out Asylums’ sound is as present as ever, there’s a keenly observed sensitivity and self-awareness that grounds the album lyrically, providing a depth to their music that eludes many other bands.

Early plaudits for Asylums hailed them as “Blur if they were raised in Seattle or signed to Sub-Pop;” or “the excitement you felt when you first heard Buzzcocks or Manics.” Years of graft and a passionate embracement of the DIY ethos has given them a gravitas that lends their latest release real weight. They put it best, in their own words: “Asylums have learned how to articulate their hearts and weaponise their conscience.

Genetic Cabaret will be released on Friday 17th July via Cool Thing Records – available to Pre-Order now.

Find Asylums on Facebook and Twitter.

Callum Mitchell-Simon
Writer and presenter based in Manchester. Contributor to several music sites, and also on air every Monday @9pm on Salford City Radio, playing a host of new and unsigned acts.

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