Their bandcamp page has tags ranging from “alt-pop” to “progressive rock” to “pop punk”. Their description on the very same page simply reads “Riffs. Drums. Bass. Vocals.” Somewhere between these two descriptions lies the sound of this Brighton based three-piece Hot Moth, a band with an ear for a catchy tune and a smarter head for songwriting than your typical fledgling rock band.
The first thing you notice on debut EP Small Fires is, as the description suggests, the riffs. “Rhino” batters down the starting gate with a chunky guitar and bass lick brimming with classic rock swagger and indie disdain. From the moment Matt Sparkes’ smooth, urgent vocals kick in the song becomes a tumbling rush of hooks, each phrase fighting to outdo the last for catchiness. Sparkes delivers each line like its life-or-death, driving the chorus home like a wedge between the eyes. The “progressive” side of the sound first rears its head in the cureveball of a bridge; a slew of jazzy, stop-start riffing that expertly deconstructs the songs opening moments. It’s nerdy enough to hearken back to King Crimson’s first LP but not techy or protracted enough to derail the song. Punchy and immediate without ever being obvious, “Rhino” is a real winner.
“I Miss the Missed” follows a less conventional structure, its bombastic intro quickly giving way to gentle alt pop verses and chiming clean guitar. Through the back-and-forth between loud and quiet there’s a continuous gathering of momentum, like waves working their way up the beach. When they finally breaks into the stompy, shout-along chorus and subsequent instrumental rock out Hot Moth scratches a musical itch that only big, loud rock’n’roll can. “Levelling the Tales” features flashier guitar and drum work and some neat little changes in direction, but its best hook comes in the verse as screechy guitar and stabbing bass trade blows with a sugary sweet vocal melody. “Levelling the Tales” showcases the kind of subtly clever songwriting Hot Moth excel at: the kind you don’t notice until the fifth listen because you’re too busy enjoying the music to analyze it. Hot Moth’s slight progressive inclinations manifest themselves very differently over these three tracks but the root cause is a band that takes the basic building blocks of rock and adapts them into fun, fresh new ideas.
You could probably name any rock band from the past couple of decades as a reference point for Hot Moth’s approach. Oceansize, White Stripes, Smashing Pumpkins and MCR all spring to mind at various points, as well as the pop sensibilities and bouncy riffing of the massively underrated House of Heroes. Really though this isn’t music that needs namedropping to understand. It’s riffs, drums, bass and vocals; it’s rock. And it’s catchy, clever, stylish rock- played with skill and sung with conviction. Knock yourself out.