Hot Milk – ‘The King and Queen of Gasoline’

By Ian Kenworthy

Last year Hot Milk released a hit single called ‘Split Personality’ – listening to their new EP it seems strangely prescient.

You know, perception is a funny thing. Browse a band’s social media and you’re never sure exactly what you’re seeing. Manchester’s Hot Milk are mischief makers or so their socials would have you believe, they love posting a deluge of so much posing and pouting you wonder how they have the time to play any shows, let alone record new music. They seem to be burn it down, live fast, die hard party animals. They seem to be on the verge of stardom. The problem is, you can’t tell if they’re genuinely massive or they’ve just cropped an empty venue out of their many, many gig snaps. As if to counter your scepticism, last week they turned up on the USA show Jimmy Kimmel Live promoting new EP ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ so yes, they’re the real deal, they have the hype, but does this new music live up to it?

If you’ve missed the social media circus, Hot Milk’s first EP leant toward pop punk and was bright enough to catch people’s attention. It had personality wrapped around likeable electronic-flavoured songs and a Teflon sheen. Their follow-up singles were grittier and more real, a sound they capitalised on for their second EP, last year’s ‘I Just Wanna Know What Happens When I’m Dead’. The results were biting, catchy, all over better, and big enough to catapult them into a record deal. With a label behind them you’d expect something bolder and along similar lines. And yes, that’s what you’re getting but not everything is as it seems, so hold tight – it’s a bumpy ride.

The ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ charts the adventures of its titular characters, which is a grand idea but with only six tracks there isn’t much room to explore the idea, making it a concept record in spirit and press releases alone. So, what do you get? After pressing play it’s hard not to be hit by a wave of disappointment. The opening track is languidly paced, very much like Fall Out Boy’s dad-rock era but without the maturity. It’s bland in a way their previous work wasn’t and it doesn’t help that it straight-up steals the lame prechorus from their own song ‘The Good Life’. It’s an opener that doesn’t so much knock your socks off as pull on a pair of slippers and while not an irredeemable mess, it’s aimed straight at the middle of the road.  This is all the more irritating because, bluntly, the EP’s first two tracks are an absolute chore but once you’ve waded through you’ll encounter what band are actually good at it becomes extremely satisfying.

If you’ve enjoyed Yours Truly’s recent output, the EP’s latter half has a similar sound, albeit with an adolescent boy/girl dynamic. There’s an undeniable draw to ‘I Fell In Love With Someone I Shouldn’t’ and, as it was written by a male/female duo, it practically has No.1 Shipping Anthem written all over it. Compared to what comes before, it’s rowdier, sleezier and feels like an actual song. This is also true of tracks four and five and although ‘Chloroform / Nightmares’ features experimental synthscapes its huge vocal ties its separate elements together, making for a grand and satisfying outro.

Hannah Mee and James Shaw are Hot Milk, the band is basically a duo, but the line-up is rounded out with Tom Paton and Harry Deller to make them appear as a full band. That’s interesting in itself and it’s noticeable in the way the songs are written; drums and guitars frequently drop in and out to be replaced with loops or beats and often the songs feel like collages pasted together. When it works, it’s really arresting like on ‘Bad Influence’, which weaves between different styles but never loses sight of itself, and ‘The Secret To Saying Goodbye’, which is an anthemic slice of pop-punk. On ‘Teenage Runaways’, however, the sections overlap like a stilted compilation of Avril Lavigne tunes, lurching one way and then the next, meaning it struggles to hold any momentum and fails to connect with its subject matter.

During a recent interview Shaw admitted having to submit songs to their new label without being quite ready. This is interesting, as is the title track’s co-writing credit given to scene veteran John Feldman. Maybe it’s cynical but this might explain the EP’s dual tonality. Generally, however, the EP sounds chunky and slick, exactly as you’d expect from a band being elevated by a label.

 ‘The King and Queen Of Gasoline’ knows what it wants to be but not everything clicks into place just yet, leaving it as a mix of essential anthems and tedious missteps. When Hot Milk are allowed to be weird little pop punks, they’re fresh and exciting but the transformation into big rockstars ends up feeling rather forced.

IAN KENWORTHY

Three more album reviews for you

LIVE: Leeds Festival 2022: Sunday

Kid Kapichi - 'Here's What You Could've Won'

LIVE: Leeds Festival 2022: Saturday