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Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour


4/5

Band of Skulls refer to themselves as “the Swiss Army Knife of bands” in the biography on their website. That’s about as accurate a description of their new album, Sweet Sour, that can be given. Over the course of ten tracks, Band of Skulls showcase an admirable versatility, whipping out a variety of tricks and touchstones to craft dynamic rock ‘n’ roll.

Sweet Sour’s title track bursts strong out of the gate with showers of Queens of the Stone Age-esque stop-start guitar riffs that move into deluges during the choruses. “Sweet Sour” serves as an aesthetic statement for the rest of the album. Throughout the course of Sweet Sour, Band of Skulls swing between whispering sweet nothings into your ear and shouting those same nothings in equal breath. “Lay My Head Down” shows just how good Band of Skulls can be using this approach. The song proceeds as a slow-burning ballad of sorts, with sugar harmonies between vocalists Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson. As the track unfolds, the sugar drip solidifies into points of tension, teasing with the promise of big guitars. Those big guitars don’t come until the song feels as if it won’t resolve into any sort of crunch. When they do come in, they come big; large doomy riffs spread out over a bed of noise that eventually wind back into those same sugar harmonies to close out the song. “Lay My Head Down” shows just how well Band of Skulls can balance out their songs without necessarily reverting to verse-chorus structure.

A lot of the sweetness Band of Skulls muster comes from vocal harmonies that are scattered liberally throughout the album. At points they mirror the aching longing that Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker conjure in Low, but Band of Skulls never dip into that slow-core territory. Perhaps the best band to compare the dynamics of Band of Skulls with is Vancouver’s Black Mountain. Both bands utilize similar male-female vocal parts mixed into a heady confection of soft-loud rock recipes. Also while on the subject of Canadian rock comparisons with the UK Band of Skulls, it’s worth pointing out how much the song “Hometowns” echoes the tone and subject matter of the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.

None of this is to imply that Band of Skulls’ Sweet Sour suffers from its comparisons. Rock ‘n’ roll has ever been built on a foundation of its influences; Led Zeppelin constructed their songs from the bones of blues traditionals. Sweet Sour rocks and soothes in equal measure, sticking strong to the core concept. Band of Skulls provides a solid argument for the relevance of rock ‘n’ roll without having to resort to traditionalism.

+ Aiden S.

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