Sheer Mag Need to Feel Your Love

[Wilsuns RC; 2017]

Styles: rock, DIY, guitar, punk, lofi
Others: Cheap Trick, A Giant Dog, Royal Trux, The Band, Steppenwolf, Thin Lizzy, Diarrhea Planet, Alabama Shakes, The Stooges,

Need to Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag’s first full-length, is perhaps this year’s most calculated and thoroughly effective summer album. By moving through a consistent array of riffs, hooks, and grooves, Sheer Mag augment their previously thin discography with little variance from the path. That small discography had already convinced a vast majority of listeners and show-goers of the band’s magnitude and prowess, and it’s fair to say that any prior fans of the band’s affirmative DIY rock would be hard-pressed to find anything to be truly disappointed about here.

Need to Feel Your Love’s 12 tracks carry the torch lit by the first three EPs (I, II, and III, like Zeppelin, but smaller) but use the space of the LP to stretch out and unpack influences. Whereas the songs on I, II, and III presented a vaguely familiar yet unheard amalgamation of classic rock radio (a sort of non-affixed nostalgia), Need to Feel Your Love uses length and quantity to test the outer limits of the band’s sound, indulging in genre play to varying degrees of success and honing in on more specific lyrical themes.

Such genre play can be heard to surprising success on tracks “Need to Feel Your Love,” “Pure Desire,” and “Milk And Honey,” which indulge in slower R&B, Motown, and southern rock grooves. This feat might stem from each style’s illumination via the qualities that have always been at the band’s heart: brilliant harmonic motion, playfully melodic riffing, jolting syncopation, Halladay’s dexterous voice, and an overall heartwarming sincerity. The riff opening “Can’t Play It Cool” quotes “Crazy Train” with a smirk and — in a matter of moments — shifts that song’s neurological darkness to a wacky TV-theme rock shuffle. The brevity and subtly behind this maneuver allows “Can’t Play to It Cool” to pass as a playful melodrama nonetheless.

Unfortunately, such genre indulgences come apart at moments that feel over-considered. The chugging hard rock of “Meet Me In The Street” is a somewhat uninspiring opener for the album, lacking the joyful surprise and buoyancy of later tracks and earlier hits (“POINT BREEZE,” “FAN THE FLAMES,” “BUTTON UP”). Its boggy guitar-centric bridge opens up to a series of half-step modulations that I can’t help but hear as parodic. “Turn It Up” makes a similar impression when unprecedented gang vocals emerge to beckon listeners to heed its title’s suggestion. The effect is a little quirky, cheapening the wit and blunt lyricism behind the song.

Despite these divergences, Need to Feel Your Love is musically propulsive and provides evidence to the talk that a guitar band in 2017 can be a source of ingenuity without pulling excessive tricks and mutations upon the craft. “Expect the Bayonet” adorns its constantly revolving harmony with a simple noodling but electrifying lead guitar melody. Its construction is nothing but thoughtfully brilliant, in the same way that the best Sheer Mag songs are1. Its level of harmonic wit is at work on many of these songs and leads Sheer Mag to their most successful moments on an affective level.

Likewise, “Suffer Me” opens with comically virtuous guitar noodling. Flawless bass counterpoint follows. The whole thing is executed with such ecstasy that its effect lingers over the mid-tempo hoedown it precedes, despite their connection via complete non sequitur. The guitar work and songwriting here, as in other cases, is not flashy or excessive, but it is indeed better than anyone asked for it to be. Sheer Mag stand as a band to be followed, appreciated, and endlessly enjoyed, a source for rock beyond its limitations and conceits.

1. To provide a brief outline of its harmony, it begins with a fairly stable progression — I-vi-II7-IV (A-F#m-B7-D) &mdash which provides the foundation for the guitar’s hook. From there, it turns to the song’s verse, which essentially teases E Major as a key center, the dominant of the songs actual tonic A. This looks like this: IV-iii-ii / vi-ii-vi-ii-I. As listeners. we expect the vi followed by the ii chord to lead to the V (E Maj), but it does not. This creates a feeling of tension that carries the verse through to the pre-chorus, which finally allows that E Major chord, albeit for just a moment before it quickly moves back to the A. The big trick is when the verse’s beginning syncopated motif (IV-iii-ii) is used to bring us back to that stable opening guitar hook.

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