Smiles or not, this 'good-looking crew in nice jackets and cocktail dresses makes unpolished, violent, gorgeous noise.'
When I first listened to Glaswegian foursome Sons & Daughters, I had to check out the photos page on the band's Web site just to see how seriously I should take them.
"Repulsion Box," their most recent album out on the most excellent Domino Records, is chock full of spit and threats and drama. Some have called it hokey, others called it unhinged. Their frill-free punkabilly songs touch on such light topics as suicide and scorned lovers, their voices and instruments addressing each wrongdoing with such earnestness... are they serious-serious or is there a smirk hiding behind the scowl? I sought answers in their faces.
They're not smiling, or at least not much. I'm sure they smile when they hear a good joke or when the cuddle kittens or something, but from the looks of it, they may very well eat kittens. They're a good-looking crew in nice jackets and cocktail dresses and make unpolished, violent, gorgeous noise. If their swarthy attitudes are all in jest, I'm happy the joke's on me.
These two sons and two daughters, who will finish a lengthy world tour in December, channel college radio favorites from the Cramps to the Pogues to Nick Cave. It all begins with primary vocalist Adele Bethel's gruff, unsophisticated howl: girlfriend's one pissed-off banshee (Banshee?). I imagine she keeps a death list on a piece of steno paper, "Kill Bill" style, and she hones in on it when she steps to the mic. I want her at my lunch table and I'd like to buy her a round.
Drummer David Gow (who, like Bethel, came from sadcore outfit Arab Strap) could file his nails while he thumps the kick drum and he'd still sound awesome. Front-mixing the drums was a wise move for "Repulsion Box" as it keeps a steady, speedy rate for its entirety without exhausting the listener. "It's a ride" they sing in their first single "Medicine," and thanks to Gow, it is.
Scott Paterson makes for a brave vocal counterpart to Adele's voice, his firey brogue making songs like "Rama Lama" hotter. Ailidh Lennon rounds out the crew with some bouncy bass lines.
While the band itself isn't what you'd describe as subtle, some moments dominate the whole affair making one feel as if they're privy to an inside joke. The guitar tuning is off, just so, in "Taste the Last Girl" and reminds me of the lines in the Police's "Message in a Bottle." The harmonies during the chorus of "Gone" are so endearing while hand claps chase finger snaps in the instrumental bridge. "Red Receiver" is intimately lo-fi and the band goes a cappella (with exception for a tambourine) so that Adele can tell us all about a bride who's never going to get her groom.
Their very best is heard in "Hunt": it comes to boil in its first seconds with big, angry distortion and a very serious 2/4 beat. They stomp the floor, thus urging their canine howls and whipping the song into a frenzy -- only to break down every other stanza. A shit-kicking slide guitar rears its hillbilly head as she sings like a proud blasphemer:
"The sweat pours in like an ancient grin and laughs like a suffering one/It's colder now as my mouth runs out/How many times are we taken over?/I – I'm innocent!"
Yes, you are! From what, I don't know! I don't care! "You are innocent!" Dammit, Adele, I am! Say it again! And she does.