At this point in pop music, the festival landscape is likely to pack out a field for an electro-boomin’, mouse-eared DJ more so than for a scraggly-haired, blistered-fingered guitar hero. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, the heat that sears off of III, the latest scrappy and string-bending EP from South Philadelphia quintet Sheer Mag, seems like it’d be best felt up close and personal, within the tight confines of a basement club. To be fair, the band’s damned gleeful approach to guitar rock is anthemic enough to potentially please thousands, but you’re going to want to get close enough to smell the sweat, here.
Like the band’s earlier 7-inches, the chronologically titled I and II, there’s two especially potent pieces to Sheer Mag’s sound: guitarist Kyle Seely’s steady soling and Tina Halliday’s powerfully raspy pipes. Both fly high above candy crunch arrangements that bring to mind anything from the Runaways’ raw power, to Thin Lizzy’s guitar dynamics, to the slightly-less-vintage six-stringing ways of the Strokes.
“Can’t Stop Fighting” is a plenty potent opener, with a Southern-style assortment of Marshall-crankin’ licks screeching out of the speakers above a chiming power pop melody and punchy drums. Last year, Sheer Mag’s sweetness underscored a bit of seriousness when their hard-boogieing II number “Fan the Flames” took aim at scumbag landlords and gentrification. “Can’t Stop Fighting” looks at misogyny and violence, first detailing the case of a factory worker that disappeared while walking home from work one night before bringing the theme closer to home. “All my life I’ve felt the eye of the catcall,” Halliday sings before resolutely powering out the song title in the chorus.
“Night Isn’t Bright” rips into another mix of distorted chords, thumped tom-toms and limber-fingered guitar leads, the band chugging along like a perfectly-oiled machine as their frontwoman delivers a bluesy, shouted sermon on unity. “It’s plain to see these days there’s an agitation,” she sings of the state of the world, before asking us to stand up to adversity.
“What if we could band together and leave our mark?” Elsewhere, the singer shifts from the political to the personal. A hard-whapped cowbell figures big on the stomped-out relationship number “Worth the Tears.” An ages old tale of a communication breakdown, she dejectedly reports that she’s been “feelin’ not good enough” for her disinterested partner. “I wrote you a letter to tell you how I feel,” she reports, “You won’t read it though. You don’t want to know.”
Closing things out with a ’70s-era pop-rock veneer, “Nobody’s Baby” plays both tough and tender. The chunky, “Jailbreak” power chords and scratched-esophagus vocals bristle against another precarious romantic scenario, Halliday uncertain if she’ll be feeling “the midnight heat” from the only one she wants to be with. “I gave you my love but it’s all for naught, cause you don’t know just what I’m worth,” she sings, her repetition of “I’m nobody’s girl” sounding more like a defiant rally cry than a tearful admission.
Hype continues to build around Sheer Mag, with their third EP in two years claiming some of the strongest songs the band has committed to tape yet. While Halliday sings that she’s “nobody’s baby,” the quintet are poised to burrow themselves deep into the hearts of riff-rock fans.
review by Gregory Adams