REVIEW: Mallory Knox – Signals

Artist: Mallory Knox
Album: Signals
Genre: Rock/Hardcore
Label: A Wolf At Your Door Records

A number of words keep coming to mind when I listen to this album. Haunted and haunting rank most highly, but there’s also breathy, earthy, fresh, exciting, clear, and bright. It’s a welcome and riveting slice of life after a few uninspired musical starts to the year, full of brilliance and vitality and bold, loud, uncompromising tracks. Marrying the kind of mystical grace for which indie bands tend to aim (and generally miss) with the power and drive of hardcore, it’s a sublime record and a brilliant step forward for the Cambridge band. Still relative newcomers, the precision and poise in their songs is phenomenal – more established names would struggle to command such exhilarating rushes as these, each infused with a solemn but tender spirit that heartens the listener, regardless of subject matter. The album races by with barely a pause for breath and seems to end far too quickly, but it is a mark of its quality that multiple listens never exhaust its potential.

The key to Mallory Knox’s success here is the simplicity of their set-up. Readily eschewing the tricks and tokens that seem to afflict so many of their peers, they’ve created an organic and wholesome album, one that comes as much from the heart as it does from the soul. It is believable and genuine, something that seems equally informed by and representative of the boisterous and restless nature of a young, thriving band. The songs are all excellent – bar one minor diversion into more mawkish territory, they never put a foot wrong. The instrumentation is vivid and powerful, led by a multi-faceted lead vocal that matches this energetic swell while also bringing, in turn, a touch of wisdom and vulnerability to the tracks.

These nuances are clear from the outset. “Beggars” is a fantastic opener, unbridled and passionate. Mikey Chapman’s vocals match the music for flair but they are, at once, slightly more understated – muting this rush of life with something tempered and sage. The chorus is freer than the verses, which break into temporary illusory harmonies that hint at something more intimate and fragile. “Lighthouse” bolsters the opening promise. There’s a thoughtful streak to the guitars, rooting the sometimes reflective and wiser tone of the lyrics in something more innocent and wistful. This sense of hopefulness and idealism characterises the entire record, lingering resiliently amid the roar of the music and giving Signals its unique and compelling air. It is sincere and considered, neither cynical nor attention-seeking, and audiences will respond to this.

The harmonies throughout the album are stellar. “Death Rattle” uses this technique to advance two alternating points of view – rasping anger and rationality. The coolness of the second vocal gives this an early sense of distance that’s heightened by harsher, icier guitars. “Wolves” is magnificent. It’s emotion in loud angry bursts, barely contained, with heartrending vocals.

“Wake Up” is triumphant and stirring, blending abstract vocal lines with momentous rallying cries. “Misdemeanour” seems almost carnal in aggression, building into a ravaging tempest that is gutsy and fierce. “Bury Your Head” is an aside, and a stunning one at that. The piano is magical though the song itself is not without a bittersweet tone. It has the air of something beautiful and innocent, suspended in the light of something deadlier. Chapman is solemn and emotionless yet accusing, his quiet determination bringing life to the ghostly presence of the instruments. “1949” is the only track here that doesn’t entirely convince, though even that seems barely worth mentioning on further listening. Tender beginnings give way to a vociferous guitar surge in a destructive and sophisticated lullaby.

Signals is, in short, wonderful. It’s a magnificent intersection of rolling, breathy percussion and the most animated guitars I’ve heard in a long time. It’s captivating and compelling, with a cutting resonance. Snap yourself up a copy toute de suite and indulge.

SCORE: 10/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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