inkerkids, a Bloc Party-attending group from Peaslake, have taken whining inflections and refined them down to their dirtier British roots: obnoxious, exaggerated long ‘i’s, the occasional spoken lyric, rushed, urgent harmonies, and an ornery reflex—the sputter—that’s been reined in a smidgeon by respectable instrumentals. It’s a muddled, dejà-vuistic impression in the mind’s music log: American punk bands of the previous decade churning out their words to the effect of sounding British; a British band coming about ten years later with more of the same. Accents aside, what new hath been done here?
It’s confused so easily as to compel some critics to call this band “New Wave pop.” There are plenty of twinkles, fake string arrangements, and soaring howls, but that’s c/o Angels and Airwaves and plenty before them. With the help of the guitar, Winterkids have ended up sounding more like a British rock band with one foot still in our shared Anglo-American pond. There is a quintessential, modern, left-of-mainstream indie stamp on this album, for which Bloc Party and a dozen others are responsible. “Adore,” a goofy, fast-paced hypothesis about a date, has just as much in common with Bang Bang Rock and Roll as it does with Enema of the State. It’s playful by content, serious by rhythm, but negligible by melody.
Other tracks suffer similar fates. The central hit, “Tape It,” is another date narrative that escapes the victimizing and disdainful tones of, respectively, emo and punk. It’s accessible and cliché, yet thoughtful and candid: a tough-ish guy admitting he “doesn’t want to stay friends” without screaming or whining about it. He just kind of…says it. But surely there’s an even better way. Similarly, one could imagine the radio-ready wash of guitars, bass, and drums of “Who Am I Kidding?” showing up in any other band’s oeuvre. The very British female vocalist and crooning background harmonies are vaguely promising, but in the end the song is posited in a movement that is distinctly British and a niche that is distinctly sapped of originality.
What the album lacks is prescience: it’s sitting cleanly, prettily in the midst of a mainstream trend that has been stifled by quantity and uniform production. Innovation still exists, and often all it takes is diverse instrumentation, deeper narratives, and inventive rhythmic structures. Winterkids’ use of banjos, synths, and languorous melodies on their finale, “Playing Cards with Gingerbread,” borders on the refreshing, but as a finished piece of music, it feels too much like a self-indulgent, inward process that the listener can’t appreciate: self-congratulatory and progressive to the band, but nothing new to the outside ear. Even if the album is tailored not to the band, but to the impressionable Generation Z, its achievements are far too nostalgic to be taken as anything other than an insult.