Release Date: Jul 14, 2017
Record label: Revolver Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Sometimes, good rock'n'roll records are all about feel, and Philadelphia five-piece Sheer Mag's debut is a case in point. The first hint comes from its cover, an aeroplane heading through blackened clouds towards a faraway sun, with the band's crudely drawn logo in the top left corner. It has the instant impact of a classic rock sleeve, the kind you'd see a balding guy who still maintains a straggly mullet sporting on a faded t-shirt.
A fter an equally five-star compilation of their first three EPs earlier in the year, Philadelphia quintet Sheer Mag continue their run of soulful, strutting garage rock classics. Whether they are indulging in Ramonesian street fighting, Thin Lizzy peacocking or jangling Mac DeMarco soft rock, some of 2017's most tenacious earworms burst from every player. They're all anchored by irrepressible singer Tina Halladay, whose reedy hollering strains beautifully through a lo-fi mic.
Any album that kicks off with a riff uncannily like the Hollyoaks theme tune (honestly, compare the two) is already off to a flying start, and Sheer Mag's debut proper - 'Need To Feel Your Love' - doesn't disappoint. Chucking together shamelessly glammy Thin Lizzy vibes with a giant dollop of vitriol aimed at oppressive systems, these Philly punks have a knack for colliding angry bite with a gleeful, smirking sense of defiance. And though Sheer Mag cherry-pick their influences from all over the shop, really, they sound like nothing else out there.
Over the past couple of years, Sheer Mag has run one of the tightest ships in music. The Philly rock quintet released three 7" singles in three years, each with four songs, grainy black-and-white punk-flyer cover art and a distinctive retro band logo. They named these EPs I, II and III, and then compiled them into a self-titled 12-song LP with that logo stretched all the way across the cover.
Over a trio of four-song EPs released annually since 2014, Philadelphia's Sheer Mag established a unique sound that fused '70s stadium rock and world-weary soul with punk grit and a DIY ethos. Forgoing social media and a publicist, the band garnered a devoted following (and a late night TV debut on Meyers) the old-fashioned way: by touring relentlessly across North America until word of the band's taut rhythm section, the guitar interplay of Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer and the magnetism of frontwoman Tina Halladay's melodic rasp reached both coasts. Need to Feel Your Love harnesses the strengths of Sheer Mag's earlier work and builds on it significantly.
Sheer Mag is built on contradictions. They're an overtly political band that spends at least half its time playing naked love songs—or, more often, lust songs. Their furious guitar assaults, mom's-basement recording aesthetic, and grassroots promotional style are as punk as it gets. And yet their songwriting is largely based in the mid-1970s forms—Thin Lizzy-style arena rock, soft rock, and disco—that punk was originally intent on destroying.
Rooted in punk and DIY ethos but with an unabashed love of all things 70s rock, raunchy metal and pop, Sheer Mag is a band made from a thrilling mix of contradictions. Over a period of three years, they released a string of excellent EPs bursting with brash and, at times, confrontational but undeniably catchy rock that simmered with sneering punk attitude, and split the difference between sociopolitical songs that felt like honest to God manifestos made for the frustrated working class and good old fashioned songs about heartache. Much like Detroit proto-punk greats the MC5, their spirited music gives you the impression they really believe in the power of rock'n'roll to change the world around them, if not make it better place.
Coming off a trio of EPs that gave a much-needed vibrancy to the format, Sheer Mag are now out to conquer the album format on their debut effort, Need to Feel Your Love. It's a new challenge for the Philadelphia outfit to shoot up their profile considering they're earned their current reputation as rock revivalists without any marketing savvy. So they did it the old-fashioned way - to perform as many garage basements as possible, and hope that each and every beer-sipping attendee would make the effort to seek them out once the beer keg ran dry.
Seventies hard rock is like the trans fat of popular music--something the masses once gorged on freely and gluttonously, but which has since come to be viewed as being not all that good for us. From the derisive misogyny, to the skeezy sexual objectification (of minors, no less), to the thinly veiled racism and homophobia the music engendered during the disco-sucks witch trials, hard rock's anachronistic qualities are as much philosophical as musical. And yet, it remains a forbidden fruit we just can't resist, with artists both mainstream and underground forever drawing from its trough of pelvic-thrusting riffs, gooey twinned-guitar leads, and shout-it-out-loud hooks.
Sheer Mag are a dream come true for anyone who loves the swagger and guitars of AOR, but hates the overpowering masculinity of it. The Philadelphia quintet have guitars and swagger to spare, but they are led by the powerhouse vocals of Tina Halladay. She has all the bluster and monitor-shredding power of any shaghy-haired hard-rocking dude one might imagine, but her outlook is decidedly less standard issue.
Earlier this year, a video made the rounds of Sheer Mag playing Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like A Woman" at a wedding in North Carolina. Alongside a group of friends dancing along, the Philly five-piece tore through a faithful rendition of the '90s pop smash without a trace of irony. The performance captured the band's earnest demeanor and excitement, serving as an example of how they warmed the hearts of punk and hardcore audiences in the underground circuit over the past three years.
Sheer Mag have enjoyed a steady and assured rise since their first extended player arrived in 2014. Each consecutive year since then they have put out a well-received EP, and the three releases were collected together for the wryly titled Compilation. Much like that collection's title left little to the imagination, Sheer Mag are a band wearing their influences conspicuously; they are a DIY punk and ’70s five-piece that will rock you hard, and harder, and then harder, and… well, you get the gist.
Sheer Mag have built their reputation on monster guitar licks (think Thin Lizzy and AC/DC), a true DIY aesthetic, and the powerful, melodic caterwaul of lead singer Tina Halladay. On their first full-length, Need to Feel Your Love, the band attempt to take the short bursts of their three EPs into long format, with somewhat mixed result. The album jumps off with "Meet Me in the Street," which launches into a stomping riff and a chorus reminiscent of Cherie Currie's vocals in The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb." The title track and first single "Just Can't Get Enough" both show off the band honing its slinky grooves that it's hinted at over the course of its EPs.
Driping with Riot Grrl angst, Need To Feel Your Love kicks off with 70s riff-o-rama "Meet me in the Street", but fierceness isn't always at the front of their music. While the attitude might be current, the music is fundamentally retro in its approach from the start, and it's not something that changes as the album progresses. The title track for example embeds lightly funky guitar chops within its Americana-cherishing rock, at times verging on a beefed-up Fleetwood Mac .
The highly-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm is Katie Crutchfield’s most emotional and personal and album to date. Her fourth album is distinct in its sonic aesthetic, marked by heavy guitars and pounding, tinny drums. It’s a noticeable departure from the airier, synth-based Ivy Tripp, but the new record maintains the characteristic Waxahatchee sound first heard on 2011’s American Weekend and honed on 2013’s Cerulean Salt.
Sheer Mag are a band that drum up some really intriguing conversations with my friends. I saw them at LA's When We Were Young festival and I loved their energy. Tina Halladay's raw, raspy vocals brought an energy on stage that I totally dug and after diving into all their EPs, I easily became a fan. However, I could see them as 'not being for everyone.' One of the guys in our group said 'she sounded like Eric Cartman' and on Need to Feel Your Love, you know what, he was actually right.
The steady rise of Sheer Mag from Philly garage band heroes to Rolling Stone profilees feels in some ways a reaction to the trend of gauzy guitar-oriented bands getting greater press over the last several years. The pendulum always swings back from whence it came, and Sheer Mag’s gut-punching riffage, derived from an unabashed love of ’70s rock, has made a perfect counterpoint to the daydreaming textures of, say, a band like Real Estate. You can’t blame people for frequently comparing Sheer Mag to Thin Lizzy, even if it’s a little rote at this point: They once opened a song by singing “Skinny Lizzy, that’s all I need”; singer Tina Halladay has a tattoo of Phil Lynott on her thigh; and they also really do sound like Thin Lizzy, inasmuch as their riffs carry that physically magnetic charm made for fighting, fucking, and boozing.
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.