There’s a fair few bands knocking around at the moment who fall into a category I like to call the ’how the fuck are they on a main stage at a festival category’. Alt-J, Interpol, Phoenix, Tame Impala, The Maccabees, Elbow, Arcade Fire, The Vaccines, Florence and The Machine, I could keep going on, but at every festival bands like these pop up just under the headline slots, maybe even filling the sacred spots on occasions, and I have no clue why. Some such as Florence have a couple of hits under their belt, Arcade Fire have a few awards to their name, but let’s be honest, you can certainly question their status in the food chain of pop music. The reason the above all wangle their way to the top is because that self-confessed indie prick back in school used to begrudgingly tell you that they’re hip at the moment, while secretly creaming their pants at the attention. From where I’m standing, Alabama Shakes are another prime example of this type of band.
With an opening paragraph like that, it’s impossible to see that I am unbiased in this review, and I don’t blame you for thinking so- I just needed to get that off my chest. However, I assure you I’m genuinely reviewing Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Colour as honestly and openly as possible. Sound & Colour was released earlier this month and it marks their second full release.
The US-group are remarkably distinctive, like nothing I’ve heard of, at least nothing like I’ve heard when all the different sounds are going at the same time, on the same LP. The baselines bleed into trip hop ala London Grammar like on Gimme All Your Love, guitar’s dip into The Black Keys’ garage rock, such as with Dunes, and minimalist R&B-style renditions feature on Over My Head. While all these elements differ and variate, there’s one thing cementing the whole sound together- lead vocals courtesy of front woman, Brittany Howard. However, I’m not entirely convinced that this is a well executed feat.
On tracks such as Don’t Wanna Fight she gets to grips with the track with optimum fire and that fiesty gusto we should come to expect. However, on the majority of the LP, Howard’s vocals refuse to conform to the instrumental accompaniment, and often rub off as a dire attempt at a FKA Twigs’ impression, clashed contrapuntally with music reminiscent of somebody like the aforementioned Black Keys. It leaves a good amount of the LP feeling horribly thrown together. Sound & Colour feels absent of consistent chemistry or synchronisation.
On the whole, I felt underwhelmed but optimistic. Three or four tracks on the LP are memorably strong, the production is particularly likeable, and often Alabama Shakes’ ingenuity is certainly something to write home about. The 808-powered Over My Head is a beautifully minimalist chill-ride crying out for Howard’s vocals and it works incredibly well. But unfortunately, tracks such as the aforementioned, Shoegaze and Miss You are unfortunately not enough for me to think ‘this is a great album’. Despite a lot of character, inventiveness and charisma from the US-group, in places the connectivity between vocals to production, are horribly miscalculated.
Verdict – WWV