In recording the songs that make up Sirens, Nine Black Alps needed to ask some stern questions. When does referencing your influences become too much? When do you stop wearing your inspirations on your sleeve and start dressing in their clothes? The Manchester outfit's latest record, released on Brew Records, isn't so much a love letter to the garage rock and harsh grunge bands it adores as it is an attempt to slip into their skin. Imagine Ash, covering Ash, and you're close.
That said, the Alps don't go down without at least giving it their best shot. The best of late-90s, early-2000s British pop rock is thrown into a blender, poured out as Be My Girl, the noisy Don't Forget To Breathe and Living In A Dream. The vocals are whiny, the overdriven guitar soaked in reverb and the chord progressions predictable and repetitive: it's a great distillation of everything that the band embraces, but it's so samey that it doesn't warrant listening save for a track or two.
Across forty minutes, Siren is a blunt, full-force assault of splashy cymbals, kick-snare-kick-snare beats and heavy distortion which melds into one continuous drone. Taking notes on the album, I've finished notes on a song only to discover I'd in fact heard another full song in the process - the album is, ironically, characterised by a distinct lack of personality. The airy Phosphoresence and the gentler Waiting Room mix things up, if only by slowing the tempo, rolling back on the distortion and doing some shoegazing - that, and apparently happy to not bash through everything in three minutes of unbridled wailing.
Lacking the refreshing and defined sound of debut Everything Is… and the reborn aggression of Locked Out From The Inside, Sirens appears to be the continuation of an on/off album pattern for the Alps. Second album Love/Hate mellowed the band's sound, coming across as ostensibly muted, even as the intensity was turned up, and while this fourth record delivers on the noise, it forgets to bring some innovation along too, belittling the potential the band has to create real, enjoyable, punchy noise.
So really, if you're going to listen to a band who sound too much like Ash, why not just listen to Ash instead?