Male Bonding is definitely not the first band to crank out waterlogged surf-garage jams in minute-and-a-half morsels. As of late, the lo-fi-leaning indie scene has been increasingly adoptive of Brill Building pop in their scuzzy, bedroom-recorded rock. Bands like Girls, Harlem, and Happy Birthday have all presented their takes on a bygone era of teenagerism via girl-group harmonies and the willingness to use words like “sugar,” “honey,” and of course, “baby.” Male Bonding, if anything, is a sort of a logical progression; their album Nothing Hurts is noticeably more mature (and more melancholy) than most other recent garage acts’ output.
Musically speaking, Male Bonding is still in über-energetic, guitar-led rock n’ roll territory. Feedback freakouts are kept to a minimum, and frontman John Arthur Webb’s voice sounds a lot more refined (and maybe even professionally trained) than the average garage singer. The production is kept scummy but mixtape-friendly, dirty but never aloof; it’s lo-fi-lite perfect for college radio.
It’s the lyrics, however, that stand out most here. While other bands in the genre would rather bury their vocals in an indistinguishable pulp, Male Bonding’s vocals are brought to the forefront of the mix, and more often than not, they’re rather genuine. There’s no hint of freewheeling good times or hipster-smug sardonicism—just truthful, unfiltered emotions: “I know you’re disappointed/I see your disappointment/I felt like this for ages/Just didn’t know how to say it.”
Nothing Hurts is a more honest, more somber take on the current garage wave. There’s no sense of silliness or sniggering irony; these songs were written with a heavy heart, and that makes the record a lot more captivating, and a lot easier to invest in.