Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color Review

To say that Sound & Colour isn’t the album that many people expected to follow Boys & Girls might be completely fair. With Alabama Shakes’ incredible rise to fame after the release of their debut LP, the four-piece quickly found themselves being viewed as a revivalist act, something Brittany Howard claimed that they’d never aspired to be in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year. To be fair, Boys & Girls drew heavily from late sixties soul and blues, particularly the lead-off single “Hold On,” which circulated heavily on the blogosphere and managed to get extensive radio play as well, and served as most fans’ first exposure to the band. The Shakes haven’t abandoned this part of themselves on their second album, but Sound & Color does see them actively pushing their limits into the territories of neighboring genres as far as possible. The result is an album every bit as earnest and soulful as the first, but with tints of R&B, psychedelia, shoegaze, and Strokes-brand indie rock.

Brittany Howard’s vocal performance seems to be a little more varied this time around. She still hollers, but her power is accentuated by softer, subtler techniques. There’s more falsetto, more cooing, and a general feeling that Howard is going to tease the big, powerful moments rather than delivering all at once. The delivery on “Gemini” feels almost eerie, with alien harmonies and a persistent, pulsing vocal delay that reinforces the nuances of Howard’s performance. Brittany’s voice is intoxicating during the falsetto and unexpected voice cracks in “Future People” and with the deliberate contrast between the frantic chorus and restrained verses of “Miss You.”

The compositions on Sound & Color have matured to match. The opening song’s minimalistic vibraphone and R&B drum track combination give Alabama Shakes’ harmonies a warm backdrop that seems to quiver in and out alongside Howard’s voice, an aesthetic that seems to resurface through much of the album when not getting disrupted by buzzing bass riffs (“Future People”) or siren sythesizers (“Gemeni”). The Shakes tease their smoother, sexier side too, like the R&B flavored closer “Over My Head.” Of course, this song eventually gets crashed by tumultuous gospel harmonies, which probably a fitting conclusion for Sound & Color as it reminds us not to expect Alabama Shakes to stay in any one place for too long.

That seems to be the one message Alabama Shakes would like us to take away from Sound & Color – that this band is not about mere nostalgia or revivalism, but is rather about pushing forward. Brittany Howard said in the same interview that Alabama Shakes didn’t intend on following their previous success formulas, and claimed that Alabama Shakes wasn’t even interested in the success of Boys & Girls to begin with. That’s just the sort of irony one would expect to see in a wildly successful band from a small town with origins as humble as Alabama Shakes; the less they care, the further they get.

The Review: 9.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Don’t Wanna Fight
– Future People
– Gimme All Your Love
– Guess Who
– Gemini
– Over My Head

The Big Hit

– Don’t Wanna Fight

Review by Richard MacDougall

Buy the album: Amazon

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