What do you get when you get when you combine the bassist from Sikth, the guitarist from Gallows and the drummer from Nervus? A rockier Radiohead, apparently. …Oh, and one of the best albums of the year so far.
Rounding out Gold Key‘s line-up is Spycatcher vocalist Steve Sears, who produced the last (and best) two Gallows records, and who has also worked with a stack of UK hardcore acts, including fellow Sikth/Gallows collaborations, Krokodil and (possibly) The Hell. Sears’s vocals, which seem far more affected here, compared to what I’ve heard of Spycatcher, bear obvious resemblance to those of Radiohead’s oft-imitated Thom Yorke, which is normally enough to turn me off completely. Yet, while Sears’s vocals certainly take a bit of getting used to, they also contain a lot more obvious and varied emotion compared with Yorke’s trademark, disinterested drawl.
The added oompf and variation of Sears’s delivery is carried through the rest of the band, who likewise take Radiohead’s sullen template as a starting point, before running it through a more up-beat alt-rock filter. The result, to my ears, is far more compelling than anything Radiohead have ever come up with, even if it doesn’t attain—nor is it aiming at—the same levels of complexity and innovation. The ultra-depressing lyrics and overarching concept of their latest record, Panic Machine, also clearly draw from Ok Computer (1997). Yet, whether it’s an emotional dirge like “Shallows”or “The Best of Luck”, up-beat rockers like “Don’t Sleep” or “Mechanical World”, something more mellow, such as “Enceladus”, or the combination of all three approaches on personal favourite “Human”, Gold Key always manage to put enough of their own spin on things, so that their sound comes across more iterative than derivative.
There’s also an underpinning of 90’s alternative that comes through mostly in James Leach’s bass playing, whether it’s the Jane’s Addiction style undertones on “Trick of the Light” of the Janes Addiction, the Tom Morello-esque bounce at the end of “Fly into the Sun”, or the general Failure-like atmospherics that permeate the record. In fact, although the album’s lyrics decisively point toward Ok Computer, the Radiohead album to which Panic Machine perhaps bears most sonic resemblance is the often overlooked and (even as a detractor of the band) underrated Hail to the Thief (2003), with it’s more straight-forward, guitar-driven, rock aesthetic.Point is: whether you’re a Radiohead fan or not, Panic Machine is more than worth your time.