Boston Manor has been on quite the evolution since their debut album ‘Be Nothing.’ came out in 2016, to say the least.
The UK outfit’s first shift was quickly moving away from their pop-punk beginnings in exchange for a moody brand of explosive alternative rock on their breakthrough ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’. This move was the best decision the band ever made, casting a fictionalized portrayal of their hometown in a gripping atmosphere and addictive choruses. The follow-up record ‘GLUE’ was just as good, recharged with unhinged aggression. Both albums’ main detractions ultimately lie with the sheer length of the outings, consisting of 13 tracks each but not with the music itself.
Continuing to do the unexpected, the band signed to a metalcore label and dropped their softest material to date on the electronic laden ‘Desperate Times, Desperate Pleasures’ EP. While this certainly fixed their length issue, the release felt like a step back from its predecessors.
Now the band has released ‘Datura’, the first in a two-part album series that follows a natural sonic progression from the EP, but with the gloomy world-building aspects that made ‘WTTN’ such a thrilling listen. Following a dusk/dawn theme for the two parts, this record is the darker of the two, inspired by the nights that followed frontman Henry Cox’s struggle with alcoholism during the height of the 2020 pandemic.
Focused on creating an immersive atmosphere rather than individual tracks, ‘Datura’ invokes imagery of a bleak post-noir English downtown on a stormy night, lit dimly by the fluorescent neon signage of closed businesses. The interlude “Shelter From the Rain” reinforces this setting, cinematically bridging the gap between the record’s later tracks with a moody, yet whimsical soundscape through its rain-filtered 3-minute run time. Boston Manor’s claustrophobic world looms large during the track, giving a new sense of cohesion and nailing home the atmospheric exploration that is ‘Datura’
The opening title track and the dramatic “Floodlights On The Square” set the tone for the project, using analog synthesizers to drive the narrative forward with a sense of paranoid desperation before leading into the raging lead single “Foxglove”. In a moment of self-directed anger, the track gives the rather subdued project a burst of energy instrumentally. It’s the darkest song on the release, confronting Cox’s self-destructive tendencies with bitter hopelessness and the sting of regret.
The brooding synthesizers of “Crocus” cut through the fog with an industrial flare before the emotional closer “Inertia” explodes in its final moments, with a fire that burns out into the sound of rain. The latter’s final seconds fade as wailing guitars become distant sirens, leaving the listener wanting to hear what is to come in part two.
Clocking in just shy of 27 minutes, the project is hard to define as an EP nor an album knowing it’s only the first half of a two-part story. Even though the release is crafted to intentionally leave the listener wanting more from the band, this ultimately leads to the record feeling unfinished, affecting its cohesive feel in the end. The project excels incredibly in creating an immersive and dense atmosphere in both samples and its instrumentation (the anthemic “Passenger” even feels washed away in the rain). However, the individual tracks don’t stand as strong on their own outside of the tracklist.
‘Datura’ is a step in the right direction for the band following their most recent EP, but for all of its borderline pretentious ambition, it struggles to live up to the high points of the band’s past. Boston Manor is at their best when they hone in on crafting shadowy atmospheres with an emphasis on incendiary instrumentation. ‘Datura’ excels on the former better than ever before, but it’s lacking the intense instrumentation that drew me to the band in the first place. Overall, It’s a commendable release from one of alternative rock’s most tumultuous and constantly evolving artists, even if it isn’t their strongest piece as a whole.
Boston Manor‘s fourth album ‘Datura’ is available now on all streaming services via Sharptone Records. Watch the new music video for “Crocus” below.