Review by Tim Sendra
It's easy to look at the Sons and Daughters as a vehicle for Adele Bethel's vocals, easy to overlook the rest of the band because she is so arresting. Her voice has star quality, big and powerful but subtle and rich. She never over-sings and at times she can send shivers down your spine. You could see her singing power ballads and making tons of money. That she chooses to sing with the band she does is pretty amazing; that the band she sings for knows how to use her vocals to their fullest potential is also pretty amazing. This Gift is truly a team effort and a triumph for the band. Their previous records have been good -- The Repulsion Box contained some memorable songs ("Dance Me In" being particularly ace), but it was lacking something. Possibly what was lacking was Bernard Butler. His production here is much fuller than Victor Van Vugt's on The Repulsion Box; it's also more immediate and punchier. His use of buckets of reverb, differing guitar tones, and glittering arrangements gives the record a more three-dimensional feel. It gives the band a sheen of glamour and drama that was lurking below the surface waiting to burst out in a shower of mascara and the fire of love. The musicians in the band all raise the stakes with their performances, too. Scott Paterson's guitar cuts and shreds with abandon, dropping memorable riffs into almost every song. The rhythm section of David Gow on drums and Ailidh Lennon on bass is rock-solid and tighter than spandex. Most of all, what has changed for the band is the quality of the songs. Instead of a decent record with a few gems, This Gift is so full of intensity, drama, and memorable songs that it's hard to isolate any as the highlights. If pressed, though, you could go for "Darling," a dramatic and menacing rocker with a brilliantly bright chorus filled with angelically harmonizing Bethels; or "This Gift," which evokes X with the desperate vocal interplay between Bethel and Paterson and the ragged beauty of the melody; or maybe the raging "House in My Head," which gives Bethel a chance to really let loose; or "Gilt Complex," a tough song with some of Paterson's rawest playing. Really though, just about any song could be singled out for praise. It's that strong of an album, strong enough to satisfy a desire for tattered glamour, for dramatic, inspired, and powerful guitar rock of the kind that maybe only the Bad Seeds at their best could once conjure up. Sons and Daughters are that good.
Sons & Daughters
On their past two releases, Scotland's Sons & Daughters staked out a unique sound built around tense rhythm, static harmony, hints of Scottish folk, and strong male/female spoken/sung vocal interplay. On This Gift, they give back a bit of that distinctive ground, more frequently adopting a more conventional rock approach, while Adele Bethel moves into more of a frontwoman role, taking nearly every note of lead vocals. Scott Paterson, who once played deadpan foil to Bethel with his dry lead vocals, is now mostly focused on the guitar and backing vocals. This doesn't compromise the band's quality much, though-- it just gives them a somewhat different look that's backed up by slightly brighter production from ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler.
In fact, I'd say that if anything, re-structuring their approach has given them a bit more songwriting leeway, and this album has bigger choruses and better riffs than its predecessor, 2006's Repulsion Box. One thing it doesn't have, though, is any kind of lower gear-- the band is pretty much all-out the whole way, which can be a little tiring. Even places where they let you think they're dialing back, like the wispy, piano-backed intro to "Split Lips", soon give way to fast tempos led by David Gow's aggressive drums.
While they've given up some of the folk dual lead elements that were once their calling cards, they have hit on a unique way of adding memorable choruses to their songs, augmenting the chorus lyrics with big, melodic phrases built around simple words like "yeah" or non-words like "oh" and "ah." It sounds simple, but they make some huge hooks harmonizing on "oohs" and "aahs." These bigger hooks play into the overall streamlining of their sound, and it's not hard to imagine a few of these songs crossing over. "Darling" has a bit of a "Town Called Malice" feel to it (albeit at a much higher tempo), with Bethel's layered vocals creating the band's poppiest texture yet.
The band wraps it up with one of its best songs yet, the fuzzed-out rocker "Goodbye Service", which backs Bethel up with little falsetto harmonies and makes the most out of the sour tone of Paterson's guitar-- it's like a harder update on something that could have come out of Boston in 1968, and there's even a psychedelic breakdown. It's a good closer for such a loud and propulsive album, an LP that finds the band no worse for the wear after modifying its sound to go more directly for the jugular. The biggest critique is that as an album, This Gift is perhaps too far in the red too much of the time, but even that complaint is tempered by the fact that the ride is so good.
-Joe Tangari, February 18, 2008