We didn’t think this Manchester trio could get much gloomier than the “graphic imagery of severed limbs and stabbings as metaphors for deteriorating relationships” that filled their debut Yucca. But oh hiya melancholy, menace and despair, and what’s that theme? A damned soul in a pact with the devil? Gulp, okay. Milk Maid’s second album in a year sees songwriter Martin Cohen ploughing darker depths, but it’s never a downer when the music’s as sweet and self-assured as this.
Mostly No – it was never going to be yes now was it? – is a brilliant modern British noise pop record; its majestic scuzz hitting the kind of dizzy visceral and melodic heights we can only hope for from Splashh, and which slacker kings Male Bonding have also mastered in a relatively short career. ‘Dopamine’ is the perfect opener. “Telephone…ahhhhh…ahhh…ahhh…ahhhhhh” sneers Cohen, and we can’t make out the rest as a deluge of gritty squall, pounding drums and squealing riffs rushes in. It’s hard-hitting and has the ill-advised allure of that pouting pretty kid with the bad attitude and big lashes, the one you can’t keep your eyes off.
“I hope you don’t freak me out till I’m gone” Cohen continues on the refrain of ‘Do Right’; the second track – along with ‘Drag To Find’ and ‘Your Neck Around Mine’ – proving much more sing-able, these gorgeously infectious gems cloaked in the deliciously distorted vocals, warm hiss and screech of home recording. Brilliant as they are, it’s ‘Bad Luck’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Old Trick’ and all of their thundering sonic strops and tumbling riffs that show just how far Milk Maid have developed as songwriters in a mere matter of months. Incessant gigging has left them with a real swagger.
And gritty ballad ‘Stir So Slow’, and acoustic tracks like ‘New Plans’, ‘Pictures Of Stone’ and ‘No Good’ show a different side to the three-piece completely. While quieter, sometimes just driven by a tambourine to keep the beat, the band’s compelling intensity never once lets up. ‘Pictures Of Stone’ is particularly haunting in a rough, too-many-issues-to-mention kind of way, and ‘New Plans’ finds the frontman lamenting “Barely a good man, I made some new plans that didn’t include you”. Milk Maid are stunning when they’re at their most vulnerable.
Bits of Mostly No call to mind the Jesus And Mary Chain, then it’s channelling Dinosaur Jr and Ride, winking at Gross Magic and Crocodiles and occasionally even invoking Beck’s beautifully stripped-down, heartbreak-driven Sea Change. Pieced together by the tortured mind of Martin Cohen this makes for something rather wonderful indeed.