Genre: Grunge, Shoegaze, Slowcore
Favorite Tracks: “Butterfly,” “Stuck in the Middle”
Grunge is enjoying a resurgence, and in 2022, bands are getting creative with it. Some are blending it with Helmet-style alt-metal, some with ethereal shoegaze, some even with pop-punk, while others play it straight (to varying degrees of success). But certainly, with ETERNAL RING, LA’s Milly have done the most with it, throwing in a little of all of the above, with a helping of slowcore, emo, and jangle pop for good measure. The result is a record that feels both more expansive and more grounded than anything their peers have attempted.
The first thing that jumps out about ETERNAL RING is the band’s newfound bite. Where their previous EPs mostly dealt in shaky, dark soundscapes only occasionally prone to explosive fury, the first seconds of opener and lead single “Illuminate” demonstrate that Milly have gotten far more comfortable embracing the thick, pummeling riffs so emblematic of the style. But part of what helps the band stand out in such an increasingly oversaturated genre is Brendan Dyer’s soft, unobtrusive vocals. As much as it might sound like the world is crumbling around him on the chorus of “Illuminate,” Dyer’s voice is steady and measured, and his melodies feel more indebted to the imminently hummable indie rock of Alex G than the howls of Kurt Cobain. Indeed, the refrain of “Marcy,” otherwise drowned out in feedback, is in Dyer’s hands a pop rock earworm where it could easily become a corny butt-rock hook.
In the record’s closing pair, Milly return to the slower, more dreamlike sound that marked their early releases. The difference here between the one-two punch of “The End” and “Carousel” and OUR FIRST FOUR SONGS is the self-assuredness with which they handle these songs. “The End” is tense and wobbly, a patient guitar line always teasing a climactic overdriven bridge, but instead the band only strips things back further and further as the song winds down, a slow disintegration similar to Duster’s recent work. ETERNAL RING’s finale “Carousel,” by contrast, flirts with Americana as Dyer turns in his softest, most delicate vocal performance yet.
Between those two poles—the heavy crunch of “Illuminate” and the slow evaporation of “Carousel”—is where Milly turns in their absolute strongest work. The middle third of ETERNAL RING sees the band let loose with their showiest, most frantic guitar work (“Nullify”), demonstrating their ability to toy with faster tempos than ever before, as well as their prettiest on centerpiece “Butterfly,” a dream pop gem that gradually unravels into a showy, bleary burst of distortion. But the nine-minute “Stuck in the Middle” is the showstopper, a romp through every style and emotion the band has ever channeled before, awash with crackling guitar lines and the most impassioned, uncharacteristically urgent vocal delivery Dyer’s ever put to tape. Each new minute of the song pulls it in a new direction, and the track as a whole (almost a fifth of ETERNAL RING’s runtime!) is a testament to the band’s mastery. Their previous discography, impressive as it was, never displayed the confidence that “Stuck in the Middle” alone exudes. ETERNAL RING doesn’t just establish Milly as the best band in grunge, it establishes them as one of the best bands making guitar music. If this is their BLEACH, there’s little doubt LP two will be a NEVERMIND.