Band Of Skulls channels Aristotle in “Sweet Sour”
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 19:02
Picture yourself walking down the twilight strip of some nameless downtown, when you pass a small bar and restaurant, heavy electric bass shaking not just the windows of this shady establishment but also the waxed handlebars mustaches of the hip patrons. In this hypothetical cramped nightclub, most of the attendees might say, "I like this band. They remind me of the Raconteurs."
Hipsters be damned, there is truth here. Regardless, the quality of the Band of Skulls' new album, "Sweet Sour," as a whole is unscathed by this obvious inspiration. As Aristotle once said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
Band of Skulls, composed of Matt Hayward, Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson, is heavily influenced by the Raconteurs. You can hear it gushing out of half the songs on "Sweet Sour." In a weird way, this does the band a disservice.
The first couple tracks are powerful, catchy and fast, yet they never feel like anything newer than what Jack White created with The Raconteurs. The style of electric guitar, the syncopated and quick drumbeats: it's all a flashback of White's work. Not surprisingly, they have opened for the American super group The Deadweather, of which Jack White belongs. The similarities can be overlooked in this case, because the inspiration seems honest and natural, not some blatant rip-off.
Even in their heavily inspired mode, their White-esque songs have a quality all of their own. The third track, "Wanderluster," has a guitar riff that leaps back and forth between low and high notes in rapid succession like a circus performer leaping frantically, yet with controlled grace between two parallel tight ropes. Their sound is exciting enough, nevertheless, to keep the listener intrigued. And the fourth track is similarly heavy and employs the same back and forth guitar riff.
Then the fifth track surprises you.
In sharp contrast to everything before it, "Lay My Head Down" starts out slow after a long pause. The drumbeat is drawn-out and seems to only serve the purpose of keeping time. The guitar is a slow and sweet acoustic fingering, and the vocals are those of the soft feminine voice of Richardson.
This is one of the most unique and captivating moments of the album. Suddenly, instead of borrowing from Jack White, Band of Skulls is branching out on their own into uncharted territory. This song has more in common musically with a lullaby. But instead of putting you to sleep, it wakes you up by shaking you from the loud and fast sound you've become accustomed to.
From this moment forward, the pace of this roller coaster ride is set. Songs fly at you in rapid succession. It isn't a perfect pattern, but that unevenness keeps the listener on their toes.
"Navigate" is the next song to succeed with this approach. It follows the fast paced "You're Not Pretty But You Got It Goin' On," which utilizes the back and forth "tightrope walker" style used earlier in the album.
"Navigate" is a soft and soulful song about navigating the sea as a metaphor for love. The following track, titled "Hometowns," is similarly deep and somber. This one, however, is about not taking risks in love and the fear that a life of loneliness is inevitable.
The lyrics, "I was looking for the one, but I guess you'll do," strike at the listener and forces us to re-evaluate our choices in life.
The following track is ever more confrontational, and lends to the concept that song order is deliberate and can make or break an album. In "Lies," the main chorus is, "Lies are the truths that you tell to yourself." What is Band of Skulls telling us, if anything?
It can be surmised from this that Aristotle was right. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Some songs stand out more than others, but this album is best when listened to from front to back. The way tracks self-reference other tracks, and the way they are oddly juxtaposed, calm and somber next to fast and angry, makes for a captivating listening experience. Through all this, discarded is the notion that Band of Skulls borrowed from The Raconteurs.
Every artist is influenced by another artist through all mediums. What matters most is that the final product as a whole finds its own identity.