Around my home area of Cambridge, local rock quintet Mallory Knox are somewhat of a treasure, being one of the biggest and freshest names in post-hardcore since the release of their debut album, Signals, in 2013. It was the release of their sophomore record, Asymmetry, in 2014, however, that saw the group establish a significant name for themselves, and ever since, their logo, which first appeared on this album’s cover, has been a common sight on teenager’s t-shirts around my hometown. Mallory Knox’s somewhat pop-orientated approach to alternative rock and post-hardcore certainly explains the band’s broad appeal, especially amongst the younger generations, but I personally had always found their music to be a bit too rudimentary to leave any significant impression on me. On the group’s previous two albums, I found the songwriting to occasionally be wanting as a result of a lack of creative scope, and I also simply felt that the band weren’t doing anything at all new with this sound, providing very few elements of their music that made them particularly discernible from the large amount of other acts working within the same paradigm. I saw no reason for this to change on their new album, Wired, and, indeed, this new release hasn’t changed my opinion on the band all that much. This being said, a fair amount of songs on this record exhibit some improved compositional chops that work well within a relatively more pop-inclined approach to songwriting, and I certainly found Wired to reveal more substance beyond the surface than Mallory Knox’s previous output. Therefore, whilst this new album is undoubtedly a flawed release, it has at least improved on the foundation that the group have laid out for themselves thus far in their career.
One such song that impressed me in this regard was the opening track, Giving It Up, which simultaneously displays Mallory Knox’s tweaked sound on Wired, which leans significantly more towards pop rock than their previous releases, whilst also exhibiting better songwriting and performances than on their last two albums. A large amount of both of these observations arises from the vocal performances, with frontman Mikey Chapman conveying what stands out as amongst his most impassioned and generally forceful deliveries on a Mallory Knox song to date. The vocal section is also where a lot of the pop appeal of this track resides, particularly as a result of the falsetto backing vocals and woah-oh lines that could most definitely be imagined atop a softer instrumental. Indeed, what’s particularly impressive is the fact that Giving It Up features one of the heavier and more post-hardcore-influenced instrumentals on the entire record, also making use of some of the most ambitious instrumental choices with the myriad guitar effects that are employed, and yet none of the pop appeal of Chapman’s compelling vocals is lost. This is largely as a result of the production, which, although I have issues with it later on in the record, on Giving It Up, is loud and powerful, whilst not losing the clarity needed in the vocals to carry a song of this vein. The succeeding track, California, in keeping with its title, is a bright, well-written pop rock tune that is successful for similar reasons as its predecessor, standing out as one of the most dynamic songs in Mallory Knox’s discography thus far. The first verse features a great call-and-answer section between the main guitar part and the rest of the band, with Chapman’s strong vocal performance continuing throughout, whilst the second verse sees a complete change of direction, with Chapman providing a completely different vocal melody as the backing instrumentation switches up to play more of a supportive role. Although I feel that Chapman’s vocals should have been made more prominent in the mix over the chorus, as to more effectively capture and convey their tuneful, poppy hue, California, too, impressed me upon my first listen of Wired and I’ve found that its charm is yet to wear off. Indeed, these two first tracks from the album display Mallory Knox’s ability to write fluid and cohesive songs that convey some really interesting and entertaining ideas like few of the band’s previous songs have.
All this being said, after the first few tracks, Wired assumes a much safer and more predictable approach, featuring a bevy of songs that I find to have similar drawbacks as the quintet’s previous output, particularly relating to distinguishability and memorability. For You, for instance, follows a rather rudimentary blueprint for an archetypal pop rock track, even displaying somewhat of an awkward pop country sound over the chorus. The end product comes across as Mallory Knox’s attempt to write a song in the style of a pop rock band like Train, with the result simply sounding predictable and unoriginal. The two ending tracks, Come Back Around and Mother, give rise to similar reservations, especially as relates to the fact that the performance from the band, particularly Chapman, is rather insular as to lack any clear qualities that would distinguish Mallory Knox from other alternative rock groups, which has ultimately been my salient reservation for the band thus far in their career. This being said, the aforementioned songs are amongst the few that seemingly display an evident lack of original or well-presented ideas, with the majority of the rest of Wired being perfectly competently written and performed and displaying the odd quirk, but nevertheless adhering to a seemingly cut and dried formula when it comes to songwriting in this style. The title track, for instance, features some solid guitar riffs, some good grooves and a nice use of accents during the verse, whilst Better Off Without You has a blistering intro, courtesy of the wailing guitar licks and punctuated drum fills that come together to form a simple but strong rock sound. Then again, these songs are ultimately rather predictable in their structuring and progression, which reduces their impact to a degree, and this also significantly reduces the extent to which Wired separates Mallory Knox from their competition.
Ultimately, although the best moments on Wired display a honed and more mature approach to songwriting, much of the record reads rather similarly to Mallory Knox’s previous material, in that the group still seem to lack a definitive musical identity. This being said, the best moments on this record are really quite good and, although they are far from establishing a discernible sound for the band, they at least convey a heightened eagerness to push the boat out at least slightly. Above all else, songs like Giving It Up and Wired point to the fact that the Cambridge quintet’s development of a more individual sound could come primarily from Chapman’s vocals, which are particularly bold and impressive on these cuts, but unfortunately become a lot more safe and elementary later on in the tracklisting. In terms of the appeal that Wired conveys with regards to an average pop rock fan, this is certainly a relatively entertaining release for the time that it’s on, although the extent to which a listener will be compelled to revisit it afterwards is less evident. At the very least, this album alludes to better things for the band should they choose to pursue more ambitious endeavours on future material.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10