Album Review: Violent Soho – Hungry Ghost

Violent Soho frontman Luke Boerdam struggled to write Hungry Ghost. Their last recording came out four years ago, an eternity in the internet age, and the singer reportedly found his writing process in stagnation, tired and bored of everything that came out. The solution was to look internally at the music that they really wanted to make; while their previous work was very much indebted to ’90s alternative, Hungry Ghost no longer wades in that pool, instead diving headfirst into the early pioneers of grunge without sounding like a pure retread.

Some will compare them to Smashing Pumpkins if Billy Corgan was attempting Kurt Cobain’s howl on every song. Others will say Violent Soho are a low-calorie remake of a pop Melvins. Both arguments are tiresome; this record sounds more like a direct influence from the grunge bands left in relative shadow (e.g., Mudhoney, Green River, Screaming Trees) than it does a punk band opting to write Pixies-tinged songs.

Just like the original wave of verse-chorus-quiet-loud bands, the album can get repetitive and the formula obvious. For the most part, the production makes the songs clear; there’s guitar, bass, drums, and layered vocals. And that’s it. It doesn’t lack anything, but most of the tracks begin to blend into a shrug of “here’s another song” rather than a push-pull of standout moments.

There are exceptions, though. “Eightfold” has a chorus of call-and-response vocals more in line with pop punk and memorable lyrics: “Selling everything, chirping with a frown, England couch life ain’t the thing/ It’s a magazine, a rut stuck in your mind.” When Boerdam goes detailed and personal rather than anthemic, the words burn into the back of your brain long after last listen.

“Dope Calypso” starts off as a quiet indie ditty before building a furor (with woodblock or cowbell in the background, quietly chipping away merrily) that acts as the epitome of the album: a catchy rock number that borders on Nirvana’s “All Apologies“ — not just melodically but lyrically. Turn “All in all is all we are” into “All I say is all I know and all I know is what you made me,” and you have the song. That’ll echo hours, days, weeks after listening to it in the same way Nirvana’s hook did. No one will accuse Violent Soho of breaking entirely new ground, but they are playing wholly enjoyable music, and what’s wrong with that?

Essential Tracks: “Dope Calypso”, “Eightfold”


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