Five years ago, upon being gutted on missing out on a ticket to see Muse and then Nothing But Thieves, I decided to check out who’d be supporting the latter on their tour and check out the band that I’d now be missing out on. I found myself one gloomy morning on my way to college checking out that very band, Airways, and from the moment that first chorus dropped I was hooked. The song in question was One Foot, a track that blends sounds from such indie rock icons such as Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and Gorillaz, but in a very modern way a’la YUNGBLUD or RAT BOY, taking indie and punk right into the heart of the 21st century. Discovering this band as the support act of the support act of my favourite band at the time, it can’t be said anymore but, man never skip out on the opening band.
Later I managed to encourage my mates to listen to Airways because they just so happened to release a smash hit that made it onto Spotify’s ‘Walk Like A Badass’ playlist, Reckless Tongue. A song that combines the classic style of 2007 Arctic Monkeys with the indie and hip hop modernity of 2017. Just a menacing tune that makes you want to headbang in the middle of the street, shop or wherever you may be when you find yourself listening to their EP Starting To Spin. Alongside One Foot and Reckless Tongue, this EP boasted White Noise Boys a track that sparks some lowkey ska vibes, not the most conventional vibes but enough that you can hear a band like Madness or The Specials perform it. But the classic indie rock sound wasn’t all they had to offer, scratching the surface of some electronic sounds with the title track.
So fast forward a year and the Airway boys settle for Nothing But Thieves‘ guitarist Dominic Craik to do some producing work for them, which splashed a cavern of depth so visceral in the form of Blue Gasoline. God you can just taste the talent Airways have to offer here on out, it’s a dick tease the fact they’ve not released an album at this point. Combining synths to reverb-drenched guitars in a dreamy journey that makes you want the clouds to just swallow you up.
Fast forward a year yet again and we’re gifted the double single Trampoline / The End. The latter gets overshadowed by Trampoline a bit so I want to gloss over The End which is a beast of a track. What do you do when you’ve done the whole indie rock thing and the ethereal soundscape? Combine them in the most monstrous way possible. Fans of Twenty One Pilots seem to take a liking to this track in particular, so if that stuff is up your alley, make it a point to check out this one.
But then switching stuff up once again, going back to a more indie realm, Airways dropped their latest single, Out Of Luck in 2019. Which is a little while ago so I am praying this means we’re all the more closer to a debut album. Back to a faster pace upbeat style, but taking guitar inspiration from the likes of Johnny Marr but perhaps with a more disciplined surrounding, but then kicking off into another classic headbanger in the chorus.
Imma leave you guys with Alien. A song about the bands rejected US Visa’s leaving them unable to play at SXSW. Lyrically it’s actually more of a funny story, I mean I’m sure not for them the amount of money they probably lost in that application was probably no joke, but hey it made for a good song and hopefully, in a few years time they’ll be playing it to huge crowds on a headline tour through the very country that said “nah mate, not today”. I’m paraphrasing here but you get me bro.
Listen to Airways on Spotify before they blow up so you can tell your mates “I told you so”.
If there were ever such a thing as a mic drop in the form of a musical expression, Nothing But Thieves’ third studio album Moral Panic would be it. Completely outdoing themselves, the band’s modern social commentary manages to absolutely blow your socks off, make you question the morality and purpose of the socks you had, and think about how to go about choosing socks for the future. Confused? You should be, this album has so much going on so bare with me whilst I attempt to process and take in all it has to offer because man does this record go *clap* off *clap*.
The production is immaculate, somehow fusing rock, house and disco music together in a way where each element feels like it’s in a constant battle with each other, yet manages to work coherently in a whirlpool of exposure. Now Nothing But Thieves have never been a band to shy away from electronic and RnB influences within their music, ever since their debut we heard thumpers like Hostage or the title track from the band’s sophomore LP Broken Machine, which definitely have energetic electronic inspiration, but Moral Panic takes it to another level. Imagine the amount of Chemical X put into the creation of the Powerpuff Girls but on steroids, that’s this album’s DNA.
Kicking off the album we have Unperson which is a beast of a banger, the clash of robotic monotone vocals thrashed against the screams of anguish all from Conor Mason, giving this dystopian feel of dread that fits in with the world we live in or at least the very direction we’re heading in the current climate. As I said in the review for this track back in September, it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hacienda type venue and the more you listen the more it begs to be played in a club like venue through massive speakers to absolutely destroy you. This whole album is the perfect soundtrack to the end of the world. Swiftly keeping up the pace the album spits Is Everybody Going Crazy? At you, a corker we’ve had the pleasure of hearing since March that resonated with us all then, and absolutely still does now. From the menacing riffs and guitar work that cuts straight into your soul, to the melodic and rhythmic vocals that get stuck in your head, this track just heavily demands you to pay attention, gripping you closer to the edge of your seat before the chorus takes it four to the floor and gets you up to dance as the world starts to fall apart around you.
The title track Moral Panic starts off with a sudden change of tone, making you listen to this new perspective, much more a’la Graveyard Whistling, but after the first chorus when the bass kicks in, and drums pick up the tempo, UK garage-like piano lifts the song into a new ballpark that grooves with you with the haunting lines of “This is the last day of my life, yours too / Haven’t you ever seen the ocean look so blue? And if we’re running out of time, she said all of the children are so anxious they’re on edge / Yeah, it’s tense, so tense” with the choruses “Moral panic is setting in / Terror fever, it’s too late to begin”. The song almost feels as if it’s going through an identity crisis, but through that it matches the tone of the track and makes it all the more manic and exciting to hear. Real Love Song follows it and continues this changed tone but sticks with it’s set dynamic. A blissful ballad with some killer riffs that melt you down, it’s that defining song that all the indie kids will cover all year round but to it’s credit, it’s brilliantly deserved.
Next up Phobia takes control and immediately at the start gives off a Billie Eilish vibe, from the 808ish kick drum loop to the quiet whispery vocals, there’s most definitely some inspiration from the gen Z giant, but 1 minute 40 seconds in the song gives us this meaty guitar part that begins to transform the song from Eilish enlightener to regal rocking anthem, which changes tempo later on transforming the vibe of the song almost conveying the feelings of mass panic so job well done lads. This Feels Like the End takes the uptempo afterburn and sticks it on a treadmill. The electronic drums are a great addition to the tonality of this track, and make the chorus pop out so perfectly, the 00s pop-rock guitar chords and acoustic drum kit leading the way for this almost nostalgic sound to match the idea of your life flashing before your eyes before your final moments. Whether intentional or not, the sound design for this album is ridiculous and contains so much reference and meaning you can’t help but listen in awe of the work gone into making it.
We then get to experience a trio of tracks back to back with a much more calmer atmosphere. Free If We Want It is a much more chilled out dynamic, but yet again still showing some influence from the music of the 00s, perhaps subtle Kings Of Leon/Kaiser Chiefs inspiration with the chorus guitar hooks, but unmistakably Nothing But Thieves all the same. Impossible is the flipside to the coin that is Real Love Song, perhaps rivalling it’s online viral cover potential. Impossible is a sweet love song albeit with some twisted lyrics sure, but it conveys the message of how love is this heavy stigma of perfection that doesn’t seem real at first, with the quintessential emotions being flooded by lust “I could drown myself in someone like you / I could dive so deep I never come out /I thought it was impossible, but you make it possible”
There Was Sun continues the vibe but expands it, there’s more volume here, there’s more grit and it helps to convey this beautiful song. Funky melodies sung along to phased glittery guitar which almost signals the synesthesia of sunbeams into your head. This track delves into the realm of psychedelics, the ambience really forcing the space age noise out, and it’s a sound that Nothing But Thieves pulls off really well. The outro also smoothly transitions into the next track which dials the guitars up again ready for a Nothing But Thieves anthem.
Can You Afford To Be An Individual? Happens to be my absolute highlight of this album, from the dirty riff to the perfectly timed melodies, emoting more like rap verses at times, to the actual content of the lyrics being sung. And my god the absolute anger and passion Conor has when he sings is just breathtaking. The pre-chorus breakdown with vocal chopping/sampling, ambient noises and euphoric build up just really nails that Moral Panic idea through sounds before climaxing to a dirty and beefy guitar riff that sends shivers to your bones. Talking of the lyrics, in an interview the band discussed and said “It’s completely pessimistic and lunatic, the lyrics are fantastic and Joe absolutely smashed it. It’s not even saying, ‘here are the answers’, it’s just holding up a mirror like, ‘this is you. Deal with it’. It’s disgusting and ugly”. I can’t really do it justice but I mean just listen to the song and hear for yourself. “So, how’s it bеing a prisoner of your own illusion? Upon a pedestal, revelling in your own confusion / I see you hide behind your altar or your constitution, but you can’t live forever in your own echo chamber” This song isn’t about subtlety, being so politically charged specifically at the state of America currently, but because of that it doesn’t need to be. The point is subtle political songs about what’s wrong with the world and its inhabitants have been done, and not enough has changed, we need more We Didn’t Start The Fire’s and Love It If We Made It’s because the message isn’t clear and it’s not sinking in.
Before We Drift Away closes the album and starts off with definitive Radiohead vibes that is a complete breakaway from the chaos that just ensued with Can You Afford To Be An Individual, like the comedown from a high. The twinkly guitars juxtaposing the staccato violins almost exist as an example on how two completely different and intense emotions and attitudes are pinned against each other all throughout Moral Panic, finally come together in a opposing ended dance, tied together by the final choruses of overdriven electric guitar, dropped off ambiguously to the jangly guitars from the beginning and Conor’s vocals singing “I don’t wanna grow old” ending the album on a note for retrospective.
I think in years to come people will look back on this album in two ways. One being its very of its time, the systematic themes it discusses and the messages it gets into your head, but also see it as an album ahead of its time. I guess it’s up to us as a species what we do from now for the future, whether it’s the division between classes, climate change or a global pandemic. To go forward with hope and ambition for a better tomorrow, in amongst the Moral Panic we are living in now, there will always be hope for those who seek it. But to finish off I mean what more can I say? Nothing But Thieves have made a fantastic album here, from the new sounds delved into, the smooth as hell production, the stench of the present day topics it digs into to just the absolute quality of songwriting that Conor Mason, Joe Langridge-Brown, Dominic Craik, Philip Blake and James Price have completely nailed down to a ‘T’. Only time will tell, but I think this may already be one of the greatest albums this decade has to offer. It’s young, prevalent, dirty, ambitious rock that’s sure to brighten up your day, no matter how dark times may be.
Nothing But Thieves have without a doubt been making their mark on the indie and rock scene since their self titled debut album in 2015, with Moral Panic their follow up to the bands 2017 album Broken Machine due for release in October this year. With the lead single Is Everybody Going Crazy? Being a fabulous alt rock anthem that really felt it was written with the worldwide pandemic in mind, and the indie ballad that was Real Love Song, showing again the new sounds to expect from the upcoming album, with tighter production, brilliant riffs and catchy hooks to obsess over. The band dropped the third single, and opening track of the upcoming album, Unperson at midnight and really shows the talent this band has to offer.
An absolute stomper that’s sure to end up in your playlists and be the soundtrack to your Autumn, something that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hacienda type venue, but all the same fit right in with the hardcore scene of the last half decade. The boys behind the bangers are known for their quirky craftsmanship, with comparisons to Muse and Radiohead thrown around, and heavy hip hop inspiration within the rhythm sides of things. But Unperson shows the band expanding upon their well established sounds, with heavier hard rock guitars, electronic soundscapes, psychedelic undertones and RnB style vocals, when combined give an unmistakable Nothing But Thieves sound, but with a chaotic vibrant dystopian twist, harking more to the music embedded within a Sonic The Hedgehog game. But don’t let that fool you, this is not ‘background’ music, this is punchy, in your face rock, which makes you want to headbang and dance around your room like a young punkish Morrissey but minus the modern statements that make you question your parents record collection.
The statements written within the song see Conor Mason cry out about the abundance of people, in a modern world where demand beats supply not only with material goods, but with living, breathing people, making him question a godlike figure, convinced he’s an ‘unperson’, someone not fit for ‘public consumption’. With the internet and the millennial ‘woke’ culture, this feels like it reaches out for the kids lost in the mix, the people with desperate dissatisfaction with the world they live in, where good morals and right or wrong is too often brushed under the carpet, leaving you a whimper in a crowd, referencing being ‘another clone of a clone’ and how they ‘didn’t sign up for this’ The song reeks of the frustration of the young voices being drowned out by regressive ideology, and it’s fantastic, making it so much more impactful that way. It’s a statement begging to be heard and it definitely leaves its mark.
The song may have just dropped, but it passive aggressively invites you to come in, and really listen to what it has to say, ‘This is not what you think it is, it’s worse’, alluding to the change that is inevitable to come, which may even hint towards the changes within the bands sound too, not just it’s social commentary. Another absolutely menacing track, that leaves you grinning in suspense for the release of the album on October 23rd.