Ever since their single “Itch” first came up on my Discover Weekly playlist back in July of 2015, I’ve been eagerly keeping tabs on UK alt.-rockers Nothing But Thieves. I remember the long wait that we U.S. natives had to endure to hear their self-titled debut (some 3 months after it hit shelves across the pond), and I remember chatting with them when they played their first headlining show in Indianapolis nearly a year ago, so when the time finally came for this second full-length, I was more than a little excited to hear it. Now that wait is finally over.
Right away, it’s clear that the Southend rockers are not messing around. “I Was Just a Kid” is a high-octane rocker with a phenomenal riff, the latter which quickly becomes a common thread on Broken Machine. Sometimes that riff drives the song, like on the lead single “Amsterdam,” while on other tunes it simply feels like part of a whole, such as the upbeat “Get Better.” The most note-worthy, and incidentally heaviest, riff on the entire record though comes with the blistering “I’m Not Made By Design.” Here, frontman Connor Mason’s almost-operatic vocals make a stark contrast with the intense musical backdrop. Mason really belts it out though on the opener “I Was Just a Kid” and the powerful mid-tempo banger “Particles.”
At times electronics effortlessly slip into the mix, like with the first two cuts and “Get Better,” but there’s always an undeniable rock sound to Broken Machine, even on the more subdued tunes. Take “Sorry” for instance: it’s one of the slower tracks from the record, and yet it’s still relentless. I didn’t notice this at first, but after listening to it more and more, “Sorry” has actually become one of my favorites from the album, and in my opinion is one of the best songs the band has ever written from either of their albums. “Particles” follows in a similar vein, as does “Soda” and the minimalistic “Hell, Yeah.”
My two absolute favorites on the record though come in succession and fall toward the front end of the album. First comes the standout title track, which is held together by an entrancing groove and an infectious half-time feel, but even that doesn’t quite stack up next to its immediate successor, “Live Like Animals.” The guitars are vicious and the electronics make things incredibly dancy. Add in a phenomenal drum groove, and “Live Like Animals” screams mid 2000s post-punk, making the brief but stellar orchestral-like moment on the song’s bridge almost feel like an afterthought. The powerful closer “Afterlife” boasts a darker feel, thanks to the song’s key signature and its haunting riff. It’s a fantastic way to finish things, and yet, with the nature of the disc, “Afterlife” is far from the highlight.
With their sophomore effort, Nothing But Thieves is certainly feistier than they were two years ago – the songs are edgier, groovier, and at times, darker. And yet, some of the best moments from Broken Machine come on its slower, more subdued cuts. Everything about Broken Machine just feels like a complete rock record, and even though it may not be perfect, the fact that these Brits haven’t gotten huge in the States yet is beyond me.