Words by Angus Bates
Telling Truths, Breaking Ties is the debut album from Norwich (London) five-piece - Millie Manders and The Shutup, to be released on October 23rd. They describe it as “highly-charged and political” which would be a pretty accurate sweeping statement of the diverse album.
Ska-Punk, or Spunk (to coin their overall genre with vulgar slang), is probably how I would best describe this group. Ska-Punk was a thing of the 90s, but it wasn’t anything like Millie Manders and The Shutups. They have taken a more literal musical approach to the idea. It’s an unexpected combination that took me a while to come to terms with. Punk naturally portrays a pessimistic and sullen impression whilst Ska is conversely upbeat, goofy and reassuring. I’m rarely posed with having to deal with both of these vibes at the same time - I’m either in a Punk mood or a Ska mood.
Now, whilst you might be outraged I’ve used ‘Spunk’ to describe these guys, the word’s primary definition is one of ‘courage and determination’ which I honestly feel describes them perfectly. In true punk form they are drawing attention to contentious issues of poverty, healthcare and bureaucracy whilst framing it in an undulating landscape that flits from almost Foo Fighters Emo-Grunge to an optimistic McBusted Pop-Punk. There is absolutely no doubt that these tracks are feel good, but they have consequential substance that really should not be overlooked.
Some particular favourites of mine would firstly be the slow roller, ‘Glitter Mix’, with its ballad like piano and more exploratory vocal melody. I was also drawn to ‘Bitter’ with its dirtier riff and ill-disciplined vocals which were really nicely balanced with the synth lines throughout. I do fucking love a riff and these guys really pulled this off and tapped into my partiality for this.
A quick word on Millie Manders (who I assume is the vocalist). Her multifaceted ability to swing from Rap-talk and hard-edged Punk vocals, to graceful and aesthetic melodies is hugely captivating. It’s likely the most effectual aspect for me because it draws you in to the messages they are portraying throughout. You aren’t shouted at into submission the entire time and neither are you smoothly sung into a premature disengagement with the music. She keeps you on your toes and I love that.
I certainly think they are more pop punk than anything, but the Ska vibe is explicably inexplicable in a lot of their tracks. By this I mean it is most definitely apparent, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. They haven’t quite cohesively married the two genres. All I can hear that encompasses Ska is the odd walking bassline and the horn sections. There is no accented offbeat rhythm, a notorious characteristic of Ska, that really secures its place in these songs, so I just feel it’s a little lost. A band I can think of who have done this somewhat successfully would be The Suicide Machines who found a better balance, but even then I struggle with the concept.
To be more specific, the Ska brass parts are what I’m mostly wrestling with. There is a section, however, in “Here We Go Again (Black Dog)” where the horns are used beautifully in a “Regular John” Queens of the Stone Age style. There was also a perfect opportunity for the Ska Horns in “Poor Man’s Show”, but this song still works great without. I’m not saying lose the horns, I just feel like they could have been used more appropriately. But, in my opinion, they are needlessly wedged over Pop-Punk choruses which detracts from the experience somewhat. Ultimately, whilst the guitar riffs and straightforward drums are what drive their songs, the dynamic vocals provide adequate eclecticism to give the listener enough to think about. BUT, despite my own dissection of this, I can guarantee that these aspects would be right up a lot of peoples’ proverbial street.
Millie Manders and The Shutups are a flawless pop-punk band who play with many, many more ideas and styles than I think I’ve heard in any other pop-punk soundscape. I would urge anyone in this scene to listen to these guys because, unlike so many bands these days, they are trying to mix it up and offer us something different. I have nothing but admiration and approval for anyone who is out in the world doing this, especially when they speak out for social justice in the process, like these London lot do.