Never has a band’s name seemed so universal. When you get past the pretense, the lofty goals and the dreams of champagne and groupies (or at the very least, a spot on a year-end list), being in a rock band is really about the bonding experience. Every guitar, bass and drums combo has spent countless hours in windowless rehearsal rooms strewn with guitar picks and empty beer bottles. There’s the gigging, the soundchecks, the hours of wasting time goofing on Sabbath and Thin Lizzy riffs, and making more beer runs. I have fond memories of it myself, and without the camaraderie, the shared love of making a joyous racket for 8 to 12 hours each week, there wouldn’t be bands like the U.K.’s Male Bonding.
A ragged, yet streamlined punk rock trio high on hooks and reverb, Male Bonding has all of the qualities that make young garage rock bands so much fun to listen to. Not a single track on their Sub Pop debut Nothing Hurts reaches the three-minute mark, yet each one has more than enough meat to hold its own. Robin Silas Christian, Kevin Hendrick and John Arthur Webb pack each one of their explosive punk rock anthems with firecracker intensity and a none-too-subtle sweetness underneath. In fact, their press sheet references Flipper, Ride and Teenage Fanclub, and the 13 tracks on Nothing Hurts essentially sound like those three bands smashed together into a noisy, giddy and highly compressed package.
Leadoff track “Year’s Not Long” has already found the band turning some heads, due to its infectious, staccato power chord riffs and unforgettable melodies. Yet it’s merely a teaser for the action-packed offerings that follow, from the giddy bass rumble and high-pitched riffing of “Weird Feelings,” to the blissful dream pop stomp of “Franklin.” The surging chorus of “Crooked Scene” has all the makings of a great alt-rock single, not to mention fodder for awkward indie rock dancing. “Nothing Used to Hurt” layers on the noise pretty thick for almost a solid minute, but transforms dynamically into one of the catchiest tunes of the entire set. Yet just when it seems tinnitus is imminent, the band closes the album with “Worse to Come,” an acoustic ballad that features the gorgeously echoing backup vocals of the Vivian Girls.
The raw, unpolished nature of Male Bonding’s two-minute raveups and throwdowns has led to a few suggestions that they’re the worthy heirs to the grunge throne, though that probably has more to do with a press photo in which they slightly resemble Nirvana. More than actually sounding like grunge, however, Male Bonding take that genre’s elements and slingshot them into something more fresh and unique. Certainly, it’s still three guys making a fierce, melodic noise out of guitar, bass and drums, but this is as fun as power chords, reverb and a little attitude get.