Sheer Mag’s debut is one of the year’s absolute best.
Every riff on Sheer Mag’s debut studio album Need to Feel Your Love is intoxicating, a riotous blend of attitude and technical perfection that feels perfectly set to soundtrack a third movie in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused series, if he ever gets around to making one. The Philadelphia-based five-piece burst onto the scene with a trio of EPs released from 2014-2016, and they have no trouble expanding their brand of blistering rock to album length. They also display a social consciousness and political bite that makes their record not just fun but truly timely and important.
In terms of the great 1970s and ‘80s rock revival, Sheer Mag falls between the mellowed-out Rolling Stones-inspired saunter of Twin Peaks (specifically their latest project Down in Heaven) and the neo-hair metal revival of White Reaper (farther down that spectrum you’d find a band like The Darkness). Every track on Need to Feel Your Love is a rollicking delight, but instead of slamming the accelerator on the floor, Sheer Mag cruises along at, say, 70MPH. You know they’re going fast, but you never feel like they’re remotely close to losing control or letting the tempo get away from them.
Singer Tina Halladay’s vocals are barked with tremendous urgency but without ever sacrificing melodic clarity or clear delivery. The thick distortion and fuzz that the band places on them allows them to blend with Kyle Seely’s cavalcade of licks and power chords, and Halladay’s voice is often the muddiest and grittiest aspect of the mix. She belongs in the conversation with Sløtface’s Haley Shea and Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo as one of the great singers and songwriters in modern alternative rock (though guitarist Matt Palmer often functions as a co-lyricist).
She shines on “Expect the Bayonet,” a fiery political protest song that disguises its fangs with a sugary bass and guitar run that recalls bands like TOPS. “From the sorrow we created/ A fragile state of blood and whim/ Made for rich men in their white skin/ And people bolder than I/ Stood up to the lie,” Halladay sings. We aren’t used to hearing throwback rock get this real, and that makes it all the more resonant.
The album closer “(Say Goodbye to) Sophie Scholl,” an ode to a German student and non-violence activist executed by the Nazis at just 21 years old, is another sobering yet important statement on an album that is so much more than a substance-less trip down memory lane. Predictably, there’s a gorgeous solo from Seely with some wonderful hammer-on work, but it is noticeably gentler and more empathetic than some of his other moments in the spotlight, as he subtly yet crucially shifts his approach to better fit the subject matter.
Sheer Mag also experiments with genre influences outside of their patented distillation of hard rock. “Suffer Me” has a country twang thanks to thumping percussion and a Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque solo from Seely, while the album’s title track has a neo-disco bounce similar to Phoenix’s latest record. These little genre flourishes are incorporated seamlessly, and yet because Sheer Mag has established such a clear shorthand, hearing them deviate from it in any way is noticeable, the mark of a band with indelible chemistry.
Even the album’s inessential tracks like “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Turn It Up” and “Can’t Play It Cool” are an absolute joy. Like Linklater’s Dazed and Confused or Everybody Wants Some!!, Need to Feel Your Love is more than just a terrific album, it’s a world that you want to inhabit for as long possible, and one where just being around the characters is a joy. Bassist Hart Seely (Kyle’s older brother) doesn’t have too many starring turns, but his chugging bass lines provide a little more linear momentum that keeps each track churning along.
What ultimately elevates Need to Feel Your Love above so much good, but not great, ‘70s rock revival music is that you don’t need to be fluent in the music it’s inspired by to be enamored with it. Anyone who appreciates politically conscious music, righteous fretwork or simply the sustained high of a band firing on all cylinders will find plenty to love and revisit time and time again. It’s an album that should inspire listeners to not only dig into great hard and glam rock of the past but also to be more sentient and politically aware humans of the present. This balance isn’t an easy one to achieve, and it’s what makes Sheer Mag’s debut one of the year’s absolute best.