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New Last Name sees Courting lean further into their absurd selves

"New Last Name"

Release date: 26 January 2024
Courting New Last Name cover
25 January 2024, 16:45 Written by Kyle Kohner

Courting's bold and genre-bending debut, Guitar Music, was an aggressive display of noisy art rock and unfledged hyperpop perfect for inducing dizzying headaches.

Upon release, the effort drew praise for its ambition and pointed commentary on class and the caustic modern mind online, but was also weighed down by its own chaos and disorganization. On their follow-up New Last Name, Courting flip the script; they have attempted to reimagine themselves by trying their hand at becoming the next great pop group. However, in doing so, they couldn't help but default to their wacky and antagonistic nature.

In some ways, Courting have cleaned up and simplified things – the lawless sonic thrills and brashness of their debut have been subdued to a palatable degree, and yet, despite straying from the hiss, hum, and dystopic energy that filled the biting air of their debut, their collective disobedient imagination manifests in a different, though equally unrestrained way.

Instead of throwing the kitchen sink at listeners with a single heave, Courting wreak shop with care-free, track-by-track genre-hopping. Hyper pop, country-tinged indie rock, brit pop, and damn-near every hue of punk under the sun – this mercurial band dabbles wherever they feel. While Courting's volatile decision to do so pushes listeners through the wringer at the expense of any perceived sincerity, it's an approach that works in their favour as the band peels itself from the yellowing walls confining the recent, progressively unremarkable wave of noisy post-punk and adjacent art rock. They still keep us guessing – not unlike their previous effort – they're just doing so with the intent of leaving an impression with each tune.

As if listening to a band's best hits compilation or playlist, Courting unleash one full-face-embraced hook after the other with no punches pulled – New Last Name is a collection of their most infectious pop songs dusted with their inevitable experimental flair. On the galloping album opener 'Throw,' Courting "throw [their] backs out" to, yes, throw it back to the angsty pop-punk of the early 2000s. It's an indulgent, guilty pleasure note to open a record on, one that combats their assertion later on 'Flex' that they're "not a pop-punk band."

If they're not a pop-punk band, then Courting is the UK's next indie pop darlings, right? Nope. Comparing anything to The 1975 is on the out for 2024, at least according to the band. But again, some of the results say otherwise and will remind listeners of the polarizing group. Hit play on the glamorous pop-rock of "We Look Good Together (Big Words)" or skip ahead to get lost in the lovelorn cliches and swooning grooves of "Emily G"; you'll hear it there, too. And here's the thing – they do the whole shiny indie pop thing better, even if written for kicks and giggles.

But the band doesn't stop there. Continuing to take cues from other genres, the bratty "Flex" has Courting harkening to the aughts when Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes were positioned at the forefront of that era's post-punk revival. Then there's the meticulously constructed artifice of "The Hills", which sounds like a Black Country, New Road song if you prompted an AI generator to write one. But that's not a jab; the track is futuristic and unravels in grandiose fashion. With the addition of skittering beats and Sean Murphy-O'Neill's vocals masked with autotune, as it is elsewhere, the cut is flashy and overdone but cathartic nonetheless. That's the deal with many of these songs – the dramatics – due in large part to the animated charisma of the band's lead. Murphy-O'Neill's vocal delivery on the record is so often melodramatic; on the one hand, you might cringe at its over-the-top pomp, but on the other, you admire his dedication to the overt while still maintaining the provocation and sarcasm indebted to the band's identity.

Even with all the genre-hopping and determination to deliver what Murphy-O'Neill describes as a record embracing the "obvious" and "things that everyone secretly wants but is afraid to admit," Courting refuses to sacrifice all complexity. They've made a record that certainly sounds fun, but its theatrical concept and lyrics about contemporary life – companionship, fame, etc – border on the absurd and indecipherable. It takes time to grasp these musings, but this impenetrability contrasts perfectly with the record's feigned pop triteness.

Courting will never abandon their ridiculous tendencies, even when leaning familiar and serviceable. The results may come across as a superficial sampling of what Courting are capable of, and yet, it's everything but. There's a distinct and purposeful artifice surrounding New Last Name that lends it enough intrigue and depth while still being able to simply say, "See, we can do this too." And you know what? They can! It's an irresistible mess made with exploratory abandon and the demeanour to show off and articulate a thing or two about expectations and pandering. Courting are less squid, shame, or insert any of their contemporaries these days; they're more Killers, Strokes, and whatever hyper-pop artist you fancy – and somehow, putting on a couple of new get-ups makes New Last Name so uniquely them.

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