From pitchfork.com: “From an early age, boys are taught to avoid wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The more you open yourself up, the greater the chance that you’ll get yourself hurt. Male Bondinglike to explore the tension between TMI and musical aggression. They kick up dust and make a lot of noise but then write of pain, jealousy, depression, and loss. The title of their fine Sub Pop debut, Nothing Hurts, was a succinct summary of their contradictions.
It took some time to get the whole picture on Nothing Hurts– for one, you had to get past the heavy British accents (to say nothing of the album’s trashcan production values). The band’s songwriter, John Arthur Webb, and co-singer/bassist Kevin Hendrick had problems with speaking up, too, obscuring some of their scattered thoughts. Some have cited this unintelligibility as a telltale sign of Male Bonding’s lack of personality; while that’s an understandable conclusion to reach, their distance ultimately comes across as a self-defense mechanism– emotional armor, if you will.
Considering the circumstances that surround Male Bonding’s second album, Endless Now, you’d assume the stage for this self-hatred and confusion would be a little more well-lit. The record was produced by 1990s-throwback-indie producer du jour John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile) and recorded in Woodstock, New York’s Dreamland Recording Studio, a converted 19th-century church. The results are (slightly) more polished, with more room for the band’s bashing guitars to stretch their legs. As a songwriter, though, Webb hasn’t changed– if anything, the new sonic spread just provides more hiding places, the dense thickets of melodic hum that drive “Can’t Dream” and early single “Bones” functioning as curtains to sing behind. His cloudy outlook is still noticeable– despite its title, “Tame the Sun” is about not being able to tame the sun– but it takes some digging through the sheets of noise in “Bones” to unearth its futile core: “Be careful what you dream about/ There’s not always ways out.”
Lest you think Endless Now sounds like one big pity party, it’s not. Nothing Hurts had a big, beating pop heart underneath its scrapes and bruises, and here the hooks are plentiful, to the point where touring guitarist Nathan Hewitt was enlisted to handle the overflow of sweet, sticky stuff. The phrase “pop-punk” has been thrown around with these guys, and with good reason (besides those Rivers Cuomo recording sessions, that is); if you took the swaying chorus on “Seems to Notice Now” and plunked it in the middle of a pre-misery-and-maturity Blink-182 album, I’m not sure how many would know the difference. A possibly more apt comparison would be Thirteen-era Teenage Fanclub or even vintage Fountains of Wayne in terms of sparkly power-pop goodness, with just a little grit (fittingly, the band’s been known to do a cover of FoW’s “Radiation Vibe” every now and then).
Comparisons to such bastions of relative “uncoolness” is a surefire way to break out of the “lo-fi” holding cell that the band complained to Pitchfork about earlier this year. Although the outgoing sonics of Endless Now represent a considerable leap in sound, it’s those same qualities that could very well repel those drawn in by the burnt-ends glory of Nothing Hurts– not because that previous record is necessarily better, though. It’s just… different. And there’s nothing wrong with that if you approach Endless Now with an open mind. Bands grow and evolve, and that means shedding some old habits for new ones– even if they’re not ready to drop all of their defense mechanisms just yet.”