Though many people – even those who weren’t around when the system was - could probably rattle off several of the more popular NES titles of the 8-bit era, there was a whole world of games existing outside the realm of the familiar gray plastic cartridge. Developed by independent publishers, unlicensed NES games appeared in misshapen, strangely colored plastic housing and ranged in quality from the wonderful (Micro Machines, arguably the most fun racing title for the system) to the weird (the violent and somewhat gory early car combat gameDeath Race) to the downright wacky (the zap gun abomination Chiller, to say nothing of the handful of games based around Biblical stories).
If nothing else, the frequently eccentric content seen in these games provided a definite alternative to the mainstream titles which carried the Nintendo Seal of Approval. A musical group named after one of these dodgy “misfit toys” might be expected then to be boisterous and off-the-wall, but that description doesn’t quite fit when applied to 2015’s Ratworld, the debut full-length from England’s Menace Beach. Given the inspiration behind the band’s name, the outstanding overall quality of this release may be a bit unexpected as it tries to mine gold from the remnants of the ‘90s music scene. Sometimes designated as a supergroup due to a revolving lineup of players who cut their teeth in established Leeds-based bands, Menace Beach combines the best elements of Brit rock, alternative, and shoegaze into an memorable cocktail of feel-good tunage.
The main point of interest in Ratworld’s enthusiastic first track “Elastic” (and indeed in the album as a whole) is the interaction between co-vocalists and core members Ryan Needham and Liza Violet. Trucking along on the back of a thick bassline and upbeat guitar riffage, Needham’s fuzzed-out voice delivers the main verse on top of Violet’s warmer, airy background parts. This brisk number eventually gives way to the more laid-back and almost soothing “Drop Outs” which provides a nice “cool down” period after the more energetic opener. Slowing the pace a bit, the second track remains catchy and likable, with a slithering organ accompanying the rhythmic guitar and bass. Continuing on after the speedy noise rock of “Lowtalkin,” Violet gets a moment to shine, conjuringSlowdive’s Rachel Goswell on the soft and sublime “Blue Eye.” Arguably the most shoegazey piece here, this track drifts by as if being carried on a breeze, only achieving some semblance of heaviness in its final moments.
The album’s midpoint finds Menace Beach pulling a trio of slacker rock tunes straight out of the Seattle grunge scene. “Dig It Up,” “Tennis Court,” and the album’s title track are decent enough, but they’re fairly familiar and somewhat forgettable in the long run. On the other hand, “Tastes Like Medicine,” with its bouncy rhythm and cozy chorus, heads back into more uptempo dream pop territory and may just be my favorite track. The song’s conclusion seamlessly leads into the invigorating and sugary “Pick Out the Pieces” which bathes the listener in a haze of shimmering guitar noise. I would have been quite OK with the album ending on this glowing ninth track, but it nevertheless continues with the jerky, and frankly skippable, “Infinite Donut.” The hazy psychedelia of “Fortune Teller” is more to my liking however, and I also can get down with the shuffling alt-rock of album closer “Come On Give Up.”
Knowing virtually nothing about Menace Beach going in, I gave this album a shot primarily since it was released on the same label that gave us The Go! Team. Truth be told, Menace Beach does seem to carry on as that band did, making pleasant and appealing music, and ultimately, their debut album has a string of highlights that make sure it stands out in a crowded field of vaguely similar albums. The presence of a few tracks that I’d label as filler keep Ratworld from being an outright masterpiece, yet the bright melodies and nifty songwriting make it one of the best of the year so far in my book. This seems to be one of those records that sticks with a listener over time and it’s certainly deserving of more love than it’s received thus far. Fans of indie rock would be wise to book an outing to Menace Beach as soon as possible.
8.5 / 10
Posted July 13, 2015, 5:40 p.m.
Half a year after the release of their debut album Ratworld, Leeds-based Menace Beach have already announced a follow-up. The five-track Super Transporterreum will release this fall, featuring artwork conjured ...
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