logo Y-Not Radio Listen Live iTunes facebook twitter mobile

CD of The Week

Week of 3/18/24

    Sheer Mag - Playing Favorites (Third Man)

    Is Sheer Mag a hugely popular band selling out arenas and rocking the crowds with their riffs, licks, and empowering sing-a-long vocals? Or are they the local, scrappy, crust-punk band playing basement shows, recording their singles to a crackly 8-track? Sheer Mag is both (and neither) at the same time. While their first EPs and album were gritty activist bangers, their last album, 2019’s A Distant Call was refined where the band’s urgency was mostly smoothed over with studio polish. Sheer Mag recently released their third album, Playing Favorites, which perfectly blends those roots while letting growth set in.

    Singer Tina Halladay said in the album’s announcement, “Nobody seems to write straight-up rock bangers anymore—more than anything else, we want this record to put huge, catchy songwriting front and center.” So after an original attempt at recording a disco-themed EP during the pandemic, they worked at pieces of those remnants to create a spitfire new record. To understand what might have been, check out the lead single “All Lined Up” with its danceable beat and harmonized backing chorus that echo the disco era.

    But bangers were the goal here, and bangers they delivered. The album starts off with the title track and single “Playing Favorites:” a classic slice of big hair power-pop dressed up in metal. The song waxes nostalgically of pre-pandemic days, touring in the van, playing crowd favorites (theirs too), and how they are bringing that love back. It punches soft, but still carries a heavy weight with a chorus and backing vocal of pure excitement. The only track to step it up further follows; the most recent single “Eat It and Beat It.” Launching into a shredding AC/DC-like groove, it continues to build in anticipation throughout the verse, hinting at a delicious chorus. After a brief pause, like asking “are you ready for this?!?,” it delivers the infectious melody, like a rollercoaster cresting over that first big drop. With the perfect templated proportions for classic rock radio of the 80’s, (even featuring Queen-like backing harmonies), the song is a loving tribute to idols and trail-blazing bands while handing the baton over to a new generation of rock n’ roll.

    The great history of banger themes tends to revolve around some form of love (new, lost, desired, etc.). With no difference here, Playing Favorites explores multiple perspectives of new love. The bubbly “I Gotta Go” encapsulates that happy/sad emotion of having to leave in the morning, putting a pause on love. “When You Get Back” changes perspective; the pining, country-ish slow jam lists all the things that the abandoned partner is planning once their love returns. Also in the country vein, the honky-tonk-slide-guitar / Jackson 5 mash-up “Moonstruck” sings of finding someone and only wanting that one person, while the southern charm rocker “Don’t Come Lookin’” flips the table, warning of an unwanted romantic pursuit. The anxious, new-wavey “Paper Time” revels in routine once consented love is achieved, while “Tea on the Kettle” fantasizes about the couple’s future together with raw shrill vocals juxtaposed against light airy melodies.

    Bangers and love flow freely here, and while the themes may not be subtle, using obvious, timeworn phrases like “with you by my side”, “when I’m sad and blue” and “driving me crazy,” the result is a set of incredibly upbeat songs that know exactly what they are and have no pretense to be anything different. They have a “Yeah? So? Whatcha gonna do about it?” attitude, and that rings true in everything Sheer Mag does and has done. They’re playing everyone’s favorites at their old stomping grounds inside the First Unitarian Church on Friday, May 10th. What are you gonna do about it when tickets sell out?

    Review by Shepard Ritzen

Y-Not Radio on MixCloud