Checking out the ear exciting single One Eyed Girl a few short weeks back, our closing line was “Roll on Burn The Beauty Queen”. That is the title of the debut album from UK grrl punksters Hands Off Gretel, and just a handful of days ago it was unveiled to quench hopes and anticipation for its potential riding on the back of its lead single. Burn the Beauty Queen is glorious, a feast of grunge fuelled punk ‘n’ roll snarling and barracking like a fusion of Die So Fluid, Spinnerette, and The Raincoats. It is an infestation of ears and psyche skilfully weaving recognisable flavours into its own distinctively imaginative exploits and more than fulfilling the promise offered by its first single.
Emerging from an early musical partnership between vocalist/guitarist Lauren Tate and guitarist Sean McAvinue and following the demise of the former’s Lauren Tate Band, Hands Off Gretel quickly started to draw attention with Tate’s ‘frustration songs’ as creative fuel. Late 2015 saw Sam Hobbins invited to play bass and drums on the South Yorkshire band’s album, subsequently become the permanent Hands Off Gretel drummer to join Tate and McAvinue, newest member bassist Joe Scotcher completing the current line-up.
In a year already seeing Hands Off Gretel release the single My Size as well as One Eyed Girl and play Whitby Goth Weekend, Camden Rocks Festival, Rebellion, Kaya Festival, and Isle of Wight Festival, Burn the Beauty Queen is the pinnacle and needs barely two minutes of opener Queen Universe to confirm the fact. Teasing, almost taunting with a lone riff initially, bait swiftly accompanied by the potent tones of Tate, the song is soon a cauldron of imposing rhythms, cantankerous riffs, and spiky hooks with bitchy harmonies adding their great snarl. It is a stunning start quickly reminding of those earlier references yet just as powerfully showing its own character of sound and invention as it stomps over senses and into the passions.
There is no chance of such a powerful bordering on psychotic beginning being followed by an antic-climax either as One Eyed Girl follows to confirm its position of one of the best songs heard this year. Grumbling in ears from its opening bassline, the track is soon aggressively challenging and seducing as Tate’s catchy yet confrontational tones align to the nagging and addictive exploits of McAvinue’s hooks and riffs as rhythms swing with venom. Again there is no escaping a Brody Dalle essence to vocals and indeed the sound but the song bounces around on its own unique terms to feed an already keen appetite for what is on offer.
Bad Egg is next, coaxing ears with a singular hook wearing an early Adam and The Ants scent before things open up with wiry melodies and predacious beats as McAvinue’s guitar spins a web of tangy melodic intrigue. Less ferocious and imposing than its predecessors, the track is dangerously bewitching, leaving a lingering imprint before Teethin’ strolls in like a gunslinger, one hiding its bite behind catchy endeavours but perpetually gnawing away with post and old school punk invention. Its exceptional persuasion is followed by that of Little Man, a haunting ballad-esque canter seemingly as much inspired by the darker explorations of Siouxsie and The Banshees as bands like Hole and 4 Non Blondes, and quite irresistible.
From its dark shadows, Hands Off Gretel go for the jugular with the punk infested and simply brilliant Always Right. It is a rousingly irritable assault, like Bikini Kill meets Au Pairs and also fiercely addictive as its virulent enterprise and piecing hooks take hold before Under The Bed bares its cranky attitude and nature with creative zeal.
Through the barbarous Oh Shit with its predatory bassline and scything riffs and the raging fire of World Against She, Hands Off Gretel prove that even their least unique offerings simply ring true with ears and emotions and set the band well apart from the field whilst tracks like Eating Simon with its Three Imaginary Boys like Cure hooks and enslaving rhythmic rumbling offer evidence that the quartet just might be one of the bands helping steer British rock to new glories ahead.
Then we have Plasters, a superb and slightly deranged piece of imagination which drawls discord, musically and emotionally, whilst casting another highly addictive web of beats and sonic hooks. The song brings seventies punk, eighties new wave, and nineties grunge into the raw and twenty first century invention of Hands Off Gretel for something quite striking.
The dark amble and warning of Push The Girl and the climactic theatre of Awfully Miserable bring Burn the Beauty Queen to a powerful close; the first sublime creative drama in the ear and its successor, from an engrossing low key unleashing, a tempest of scything beats and grumpy basslines littered with electric grooves and spiky hooks as crescendos rise and fall.
It is a great end to one of the year’s most impressive and seriously pleasurable releases of 2016. Hands Off Gretel bring a fresh excitement to music, Burn the Beauty Queen the biggest thrill.
Burn the Beauty Queen is out now and available @ http://www.handsoffgretel.co.uk/_p/prd15/4533789831/product/burn-the-beauty-queen-album
Pete RingMaster 21/09/2016
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