In the privacy of a world-class studio with legendary recording engineer and sound alchemist Steve Albini (In Utero by Nirvana, Rid Of Me by PJ Harvey, Surfa Rosa by Pixies; too many stone-cold legends to parenthesize), Asylums have recorded new album ‘Genetic Cabaret’, their genius follow up to 2018’s acclaimed ‘Alien Human Emotions’. Whilst recording, the band split their time between Chicago, whose big honest soul superseded the garish horrifying pantomime of Trump’s America, Norway and Germany, where Brexit shame was temporarily suppressed like a bad nightmare. The 4 pieces are now back on the floundering isle of chaos that is home, nails bloody from picking the real from the farce and bursting at the guts with tales of runaway adventures, magpie wisdom and furious hope. Asylums have big new things to say.
Originally described as “Blur if they were raised in Seattle or signed to Sub-Pop" or “the excitement you felt when you first heard Buzzcocks or Manics”, the development of Asylums has taken them into a brand new sonic space – a combination of anger and experimentalism, of whispered secrets and musical mood swings. For those that need a “for fans of...” reference - think Fontaines DC and METZ gene-spliced with The Flaming Lips and Spiritualised.
Moving on from the neon ride of the first album ‘Killer Brain Waves’ and the bold exploration that was ‘Alien Human Emotions’, ‘Genetic Cabaret’ is a seething tandem of beauty and ire. To theme it is to expect a riot to keep within the lines but look forward to political puzzling from protesting hearts, a pop-punk pop at the establishment, a demand for something else. This is a band of brothers who have realised they are not boys anymore. Gone are the days of kicking stones about their seaside town. Asylums have learned how to articulate their hearts and weaponise their conscience. The prelude to parenthood (vocalist/guitarist Luke Branch recently became a father for the first time) brings a new vital urgency to their work. These are the times to demand more, not just for yourself, but for the future.
“Genetic Cabaret was written during the most turbulent time I've ever experienced socially and politically in the UK,” says Luke Branch. “I'd stay up late every night binge-watching the news and political punditry and write songs all day. During writing and rehearsals, my wife fell pregnant and the huge emotional impact of that got me thinking about the world I was bringing our child into from a new perspective. I examined political history, human biology, generational divides and emerging technology in equal measure. The resulting album feels leaner musically, harder-edged and with anger and empathy in equal measure"
It’s been a huge 18 months for Asylums. As recent recipients of the prestigious and hard-to-score PRS Momentum Fund, their next leap forward seems gilded, greased, and good-to-go. Current single ‘Catalogue Kids’ finding a warm home at BBC 6 Music, Radio X and Kerrang! Radio, as well as playlist adds at Deezer and Spotify and nods from The Independent, Kerrang! and Louder Sound has only increased expectation and excitement for album number 3.
Asylums story is the blueprint not only to a DIY existence in music for 2020 but to an understanding that what others perceive to be weaknesses (mental health challenges, making guitar music in a climate of pop, the low financial return of recording and touring in the streaming era) are actually the strengths that keep band, and their following, going when many others have stopped. Asylums are the ground-stomping stallion of the stable that is Cool Thing Records, a creative collective of relentless DIY happen-makers based in Southend, a seaside town with an illustrious musical history of working-class trouble-makers and dreamers.
Plugging into the universal WTF, and still frothing with the fire that makes their live gigs feel like a javelin attack of lightning-bolt joy and rollicking effervescence, Asylums aren’t staring into the abyss, they’re lighting torches. They’re passing them around. They’re telling us to go with them; angry, curious, purposeful, hopeful.
Available on green vinyl