It’s an upsetting thought anytime I say or think it, but we’re living in a post-White Stripes world. It’s either a testament to Jack and Meg White’s unique vision that no-one has really stepped up and taken over from them, or it’s a sad eye-opener into the state of affairs of the garage rock that characterised the beginning of the 21st Century. Sure, there’s The Black Keys, but recently they’ve been leaving the rawness behind and embraced soul and, dare I say it, pop. So, avid readers, may I direct you towards Band Of Skulls.
Their 2009 debut, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, was an intriguing album. It sounded like you’d heard it all before, and yet, it sounded very fresh. Perhaps it was the band’s youthful exuberance attaching itself to the old tried and tested routine of gritty blues rock. Whatever it was, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey was, and still is, a joy to listen to. Sweet Sour is very much the same; there isn’t anything particularly earth-shattering on here, but the energy and attention pumped into every song makes the album more than just an enjoyable listen.
The one aspect that really stands out, for me, is Band Of Skulls’ ability to play with dynamics. I don’t just mean the sequencing of songs on the album – although they do that with devastating effect – but the quiet-loud dynamic within the songs themselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m always intrigued by a song when it employs that tactic. Take “Bruises” for example: it starts innocuously, the verses are heavily country inspired and the pre-chorus passages are so, so quiet. The choruses on the other hand are positively turbocharged in comparison; very loud, very big and very thrilling. By doing that, every part of the song stands out and if you keep things different in a song, that song never feels tired and is highly memorable. “Wanderluster” is even more indebted to this. Even though the music doesn’t really change from verse to chorus, each part is arranged differently with a different tempo and volume so you don’t notice you haven’t changed key. The outro is basically the chorus slowed down by 1000, which is a pretty neat trick.
“Sweet Sour” and “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” are the main rock-out numbers on Sweet Sour and they’re the brightest of the highlights on the album. Both songs strut majestically as they open, a risky strategy considering “Sweet Sour” is the opener. That song doesn’t really break away from the strutting tempo, instead the intensity is kicked up a few gears as heavy, crunching guitars are added throughout the song. “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” is a different beast entirely; the chorus picks up dramatically with what sounds like an orchestra of guitars crashing into the song and exploding out of your speakers. The final chorus segues into a rollicking outro which composes itself before the very end, adopting that strut-like tempo. The whole song is like a bar fight; it kicks and screams, then struts away at the end, victorious. “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” also shows they’re also pretty tantalising as songwriters; the first chorus is always stopped shorter than the second, so you get a taste of this big, raucous chorus then it’s quickly taken away from you leaving you wanting more.
At this point, it sounds like the slower tunes are an afterthought, but they’re really not. “Lay My Head Down” and “Navigate” are both dreamy excursions that provide the perfect counterpoint to the constant energetic musical explosions found elsewhere on Sweet Sour. They’re also the ideal songs to showcase Emma Richardson’s warm and comforting vocals, and the band’s strong sense of harmony. There’s also a nice surprise at the end of “Lay My Head Down” that I won’t spoil here.
On Sweet Sour, Band Of Skulls show themselves to be well equipped to keep the garage blues/rock flame alive. Deceptively simple on the outside, there appears to be a great amount of attention paid towards the little details: song arrangements, dynamics and sounds. They also seem to know what they do best, but rather than overuse their best qualities, they employ them when they need to be employed so when they rock, they do it with style.