The irritating thing about most garage rock bands is that they fry the life out of their guitars and vocals because, well, they can’t sing or play the guitar very well, so it disguises their lack of talent. The feedback and fuzz usually means any melody or flow to their songs is often lost in the mire. The sound originated in the late 60s, but through it’s evolution, taking in 70s punk, 80s slacker indie and later on with grunge, the mostly-American sound has actually enjoyed some very good highlights. More recently we’ve noticed that it has continued its hit and miss affair. For example, The Drums attempted to channel this loosened sound in a contemporary manner, but where they found melody, they lost the excitement, ending up with a rather faded and flaccid version. The Strokes in the years before them got it about right, bringing the garage sound up to date, especially with Julian Casablancas burnt vocals, but they introduced hooks, melodies and riffs, particularly with their excellent debut album. Today we bring you a band that certainly mainline garage rock, but it looks like we have ourselves another highlight to contrast the genre’s all-to-common dips.
Sisterland are a trio from Leicester, born out of the ashes of a band called Tired Irie (and also from a band with the short-lived moniker Dysneyland, which as you can imagine had it’s legal issues). As this new outfit they’ve recently released their debut EP on the Oxford-based music/art movement and relatively new record label, Blessing Force, home to the likes of Jonquil, Chad Valley and Trophy Wife. The Dirty White EP is a four track affair, released initially as a physical, limited-edition run of one hundred colourful cassette tapes, with screen-printed covers, alongside the digital release. The title track kicks it off with the kind of slacked bassline that rumbles in a manner reminiscent of Husker Du, before the lead guitar’s darts start to land in sharper riffs. It’s a very nostalgic sound, aiming to be the missing track off of a Pixies album, which, although wonderful, actually misses the opportunity to do something that looks forwards, rather than simply reflect the past. It’s good, but way too over-familiar. What is refreshing is that the rest of the EP manages to shift up and down through the gears, confirming to us that this isn’t just another garage band, but in fact one with genuine talent and skill. There’s light and shade with this trio, adding depth and tones where so many other bands filtering this genre fade into a grey dirge.
If we move away from the EP for a moment and listen to their tune, New Jersey (Red House Painters), you will hear the refreshing step up in pace and energy, sharing more of it’s genes with a style of music that led 60s garage bands to the eventual development of punk. Consider that bloodline to go from the 60s to the 70s via The Ramones, but where there is a shared pace and unrefined raw style, the ideologies and anti-authoritarian subculture is entirely removed from these new bands. Sisterland aren’t a movement, they’re just a band, although they are spearheading a current live scene in Leicester that looks to help showcase new creatives, often in disused spaces, much in the same way their current record label, Blessing Force, successfully does in Oxford. Another of their EP tracks, Bunny Ears, is also found racing along in more of a punk pace, where the drum rate rattles along so fast that it only lasts for two and a half minutes – a common length for punk tunes – probably to avoid the drummer from having a heart attack. It’s a high energy that suited the “live fast, die young” attitude of the garage rock and punk style.
However, it is when this band slow things up a little that it really becomes interesting, transcending any obvious sentimentality towards the past. Milk & Honey, the final track on the EP, is their finest example of this. It still drives, with a train of a rhythm that chugs along with momentum, whilst the bass slides around behind it all, but the melodies are on a different level. Chord changes and particularly shifts in Mark’s vocals are so gorgeous it would have any A&R man salivating at first listen. It has a more cinematic feel to it, seeming like the soundtrack to the most important bit in the film. It elevates them to a new standard, without losing any impetus, selecting to force through their power at the mid and end points of the song instead of all the way through, whilst in-between showing off some sweet craft. It shows us a band that have tapped into the important elements of slacker rock that have helped make all those successful bands get out of the garage and into the stadiums; that it’s essential to keep melody and heart at the centre of the design. It’s not just about frying the life out of it, more that it’s to maintain some beauty and taste inside the music that you are serving up, and with Sisterland we are queuing up for second helpings. (MB)
SISTERLAND – MILK & HONEY
SISTERLAND – DIRTY WHITE
SISTERLAND – BUNNY EARS