Music journalists and fans have been throwing around the cynical “Rock is dead!” narrative for years, but at this point it’s a lazy narrative. Sure, listen to contemporary rock radio for 10 minutes and you’ll want to personally destroy every guitar on Earth before the next Imagine Dragons can materialize. But so-called “real” rock is far from dead — it’s just more modest than it used to be (but no less fiery).
2017 has produced no shortage of good rock, and two albums in particular are sensational. As an esteemed crustacean colleague tweeted a few days ago, “I like how White Reaper and Sheer Mag said ‘fuck it’ and made ultra unpretentious guitar oriented rock albums.” And it’s true; it’s hard to express how refreshing these albums are in 2017, when “disco-rock” (shudder) is becoming a bona fide thing. But while White Reaper’s new album recalls rollicking British pub-rock in the very best way, Sheer Mag goes after boisterous, aggressive hard-rock of the ’70s with nuance and pristine production.
Need To Feel is a rare “summer album” which forgoes the gentle, twee, lo-fi aesthetic that has afflicted indie-rock for much of the 2010s. Vocalist Tina Halladay’s ferocious voice is probably not for everyone — it’s razor-sharp, like a hyena or a female Bon Scott, albeit less growling. Turn it up too loudly and you might shatter your windshield (a risk you should be willing to take). But Halladay has the range to nail monster hooks that play masterfully off guitarist Kyle Seely’s riffing, which ranges from thrashing ’70s rock to spacious ’90s indie.
The band capitalizes on this magic with no shortage of absurdly catchy, balls-to-the-wall rockers, like the retro “Rank and File,” groovy “Need To Feel Your Love” and anthemic “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Then there’s “Expect The Bayonet,” a protest anthem that goes for the jugular. It might be my signature song if I were running for political office: “You’re on the last leg of your defense / So you better atone / Or you’ll surely regret / And if you don’t give us the ballot / Expect the bayonet” (I mean, it’s a better rally anthem than “Fight Song“). Halladay crushes the hook here, and it might be Need To Feel‘s most remarkable moment if that weren’t what she does on every single track.
Rock ain’t dead, and with Sheer Mag joining the parade of exciting and creative new acts, it seems pretty damn healthy to me.