[Transgressive; 2012]

In November last year Welsh band Future of the Left released their Polymers Are Forever EP before they unleash their follow-up to 2009’s excellently boisterous Travels With Myself And Another. Disappointingly though, despite some appealing and strangely humorous moments, it was a rather forgettable affair, especially when compared to their full lengths. Being an EP though, it was hard to hold anything against the Welsh band, who were likely just putting some tracks out there that don’t quite deserve to make it on to their third album, due sometime later this year.

Still, that EP was at least as twice as good as 2012’s Tough Love from English quartet Pulled Apart By Horses, which is to say that even Future of the Left’s mediocre material is better Pulled Apart By Horses’ self-proclaimed better second album. I know the comparison between the English and Welsh groups seems a little narrow minded, but when listening to Tough Love there’s a constant voice in my head repeating the question, “why don’t you just listen to Future of the Left instead?” I tried to go on and ignore this voice but it made a very convincing case: Future of the Left are funnier, have more interesting and engaging music, rock out at least three times as hard as Pulled Apart By Horses do, and, despite their vicious guitar and vocal attacks, are a pleasure to listen to. The English band, on the other hand, are nearly always dull, bland, and very hard to be interested in.

And the reason it’s hard to engage with the majority of tracks here is that they offer no memorable flair, and instead seek to just go for big, fat, texture-lacking guitar rock outs that feel like they have no real end or purpose to begin with. Tracks like “Bromance Ain’t Dead,” “Some Mothers,” and “Wolf Hand” go by so loudly, it’s almost embarrassing how forgettable they all are. I could forgive the heavy moments if they even sounded like they were attempting to bring something individual to the table, but instead it sounds like they plugged their instruments in, turned the amps right up, and just churned out one song after another, while lead vocalist Tom Hudson screams near enough every word without sounding like it’s at all necessary.

To be honest though, I can imagine these songs making a suitably rousing racket in a live setting, or at least enough to induce a crowd of seventeen-year olds to mosh about like they really hate the world. On record though, nothing spectacular comes across and they sound almost horribly bland at times. When they do try a different route into their usual melange of noise, such as almost math-rock breaks on the awfully titled “Night of the Living (I’m Scared of People),” or the vaguely distorted guitar intro on closer “Everything Dipped In Gold,” the same result is waiting within the track’s playtime, ready to unimpress.

There are one or two moments when they hit on something quite good, but being so few they feel like passing moments of reliefs as opposed to stand-alone good tracks. Opening track “V.E.N.O.M.” does have a chorus that’ll find its way into your head, but it wears thin after a while, then towards the end of the track they actually hit on a good jam that feels dynamic, but it barely lasts twenty seconds. “Epic Myth” rescues itself from its uninteresting opening guitar melodies as Hudson voices wavers about the word “leave” in a simply kind of awesome way. It’s ironic though that that one word is perhaps the most engaging lyrical moment on the whole album. In fact, the only other line I can recall is the opening one to “Wolf Hand,” where Hudson admits “As a kid I was a dick / Nothing changes.” It’s almost humorous, but the only reason I could ever laugh at it is that the backing vocals sound like the other band members are slyly confirming this sentiment when it’s sung in unison with Hudson later on the track.

One of my main gripes with Tough Love though, is related to a point above: while this record might sound good live, it doesn’t sound good in the studio, and I can’t help but feel this is down to the fact that the band sound like their utilizing nearly no benefits of actually being in a studio. The majority of tracks sound their stuck in mono, like everything take is clumped together in the middle in an attempt to be more relentless. When the stereo screams on penultimate track “Degeneration Game” or the buried keyboards on “Give Me A Reason” crop up at the end of the album, they sound more like a desperate gimmick to keep you engaged than the band actually trying a new set up.

Earlier-mentioned closing track “Everything Dipped In Blood” does sound like the band are trying something else – in this case, a few moments of open space and, perhaps, atmosphere. Predictably though, it falls flat and doesn’t really end up in territory vastly different to anything else on the album. When the vocalists take turn in singing “I can’t see anything,” I can’t help but feel the words ringing true. When I look ahead, I don’t see much for this band; their future’s bleak.