Burnt Tapes – Never Better

Taking a page out of the Wonder Years playbook, London four-piece Burnt Tapes are looking to carve their niche in a genre that has seen some impressive releases over the last few years. Call it regret punk, emo, post-hardcore or pop punk, just don’t call it dishonest or contrived. No matter your feelings on this emotionally charged brand of punk, honesty, and self-reflection is always a vital part of the genre. Burnt Tapes have it in spades, and even though the mood can be a little dour at times, Never Better will surely impress listeners who fawned over bands like Boston Manor last year.

From the introductory chords of the title track, to the Sisters Cities sounding “Don’t Make Me Play Bocelli”, you feel the immediate resonance of the music. The pained sandpaper vocals are an added texture that makes you understand the ‘regret punk’ label. In the terrific “Maybe I’m a Method Actor”, Burnt Tapes deploy a more up-tempo bounce to the music, but the gruff vocals keep the song grounded from floating into a more jovial territory. They mix in razor sharp melodic punk with some great choral “whoas whoas” to boot and the results are quite the compelling song.

The beautiful yearning of “Drift Champs” is something to savor, and is the album highlight. And not just because it’s a biting self-deprecating song that boasts lines like “Hip hip hooray to all our misery / never talk about it”, but because musically, there are connections to Samiam’s best days. Melodic, wistful, and soaked in perfect melancholy.  

Never Better in its entirety is cohesive, never fractured or meandering, a little heavy at times. The music, constructed around the guitars and melodies, has a poise that has quickly become a trademark of bands of this ilk. The consistency through the album is occasionally broken up by the mixed tempos of songs like “Forty, Forty-Five” (slow verses, mid-tempo bridges, faster choruses). The results are initially jarring, but after a few listens you see that the band aren’t afraid to challenge the listener with different approaches to heartache and introspection. The album closes out with the more straight forward “Robert Cop”, before signing off with the grand “Lost in Transit”. The latter being a cut that would be at home with some of Midwestern emo’s great sounds.

The current generation of bands that are cut from a similar mold have this consciousness to them that wasn’t always present before. They all seem very much in tune with the world we live in. And their music speaks closely to that.

While it’s easy to compare Burnt Tapes to the Wonder Years, or Transit, Samiam, or Boston Manor, the truth is they stand out well on their own. Never Better is a very strong debut and one you can tattoo ‘recommended’ across its heart.

(Wiretap Records)