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Reviews

Sheer Mag
Need To Feel Your Love Noel Gardner , July 13th, 2017 10:24

Need To Feel Your Love is a debut album by a young band who’ve existed in earnest for no longer than three years, so in principle the future will offer Sheer Mag the chance to flourish, stagnate, triumph or fuck up as they wish. Already, though, it’s apparent that we could have been talking about a different record, in a very different context. A five-piece from Philadelphia, Sheer Mag are embedded, culturally and ethically, in the American DIY punk scene; their music, though, chiefly mines classic rock, new wave and powerpop tropes, and even the heroically cruddy recording fidelity of their three previous EPs couldn’t mask the abundance of radio-ready hooks.

Were they differently minded, or more apt to have their heads turned, the group could have melted in the face of major label interest, and Need To Feel Your Love could have been recorded on a budget with six figures instead of four. That’s speculative on both counts, I grant you, but certainly this LP (released on Wilsuns, Sheer Mag’s own label, and pressed in Europe by Static Shock) is no radical departure from the occasionally brilliant seven-inches that got metaphorically frisbee'ed thousands of miles beyond Philly. Imagining what a slickly produced, legitimately pop Sheer Mag album might be like is a diverting parlour game, but what we got instead is way too good for it to trouble ya more than fleetingly.

They may have been at pains to limit its potential appeal, but Sheer Mag sound more than ever like a band for the people here. Their protest-song tendencies, previously heard on ‘Fan The Flames’ (about the creep of gentrification and arsehole slum landlords) and ‘Can’t Stop Fighting’ (about rape culture and street harassment), emerge instantly on Need...: ‘Meet Me In The Street’ describes “throwing rocks at the boys in blue” during Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. A killer hybrid of boogieing proto-metal and handclap glam, there’s some looped crowd chanting for added ‘We Will Rock You’ stadium populism, and a dash of ‘Street Fighting Man’ conferred by reading that Christina Halladay, the band’s singer, didn’t attend the protest herself. Not that it detracts from anything, really: her lung-swelling wail-rasp is one of the most distinctive and life-affirming rock voices out there right now. ‘Expect The Bayonet’ is about white supremacy and black emancipation, as opposed to Halliday’s own militia declarations, but set to a Ted Leo-ish jangle with a soaring comet of a chorus, its sentiment doesn’t ring at all false.

If anything, Sheer Mag are more obviously relatable when they mine the snakepit of human emotions. They do songs about falling in love (‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, not a Depeche Mode cover but a half-cousin of ‘What You Want’ from their first EP); falling out of love (the title track, a choppy near-Dexys soul-rocker with 80s VHS production); being taunted by the hollow promises of love (slight, sub-two-minute folk turn ‘‘Til You Find The One’); not putting up with dullards (‘Turn It Up’, which in every respect could be Lita Ford circa 1984 and is this album’s sky-fisting highpoint) and finding respite in legends and/or hotties of one’s acquaintance (‘Rank & File’ and ‘Pure Desire’ respectively). They’re not just a crack musical unit – Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer, especially, have developed into a guitar duo to rival prime Thin Lizzy – the quintet feel like a great band-as-gang for our times. Morally upstanding without being dour or didactic, in control of their own image and destiny and capable of tuning to the key of life – Sheer Mag might not care for the industry’s greasy pole, but you are hereby invited to treat them as superstars in your mind.

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