Monday, November 21, 2016

Album Review: Sister - Stand Up, Forward, March!

What is rock and roll anymore? It's a question I often ask myself, since there doesn't seem to be an easy answer. If you listen to the radio, rock is anything that has even one real instrument playing the music. If you pay attention to some other places, rock is all about being a testosterone-flooded neanderthal who can't form a complete sentence without cursing. And then there's the attitude that rock never evolved past 1979. We lose sight of this, but perhaps the reason we find so few good rock bands these days is that we no longer even know what one is supposed to be.

Sister's answer to the question is to try to fuse a couple of the options together. They take the sleazy Sunset Strip sound, and pump it up to modern levels of heaviness and aggression. With snarled vocals and overdriven guitars, they border on being a metal band, but there's a focus on giving every song a strong melodic chorus to raise your horns to, which feels like a throwback to the 80s. Just listen to "Carved In Stone", and the appeal of Sister is clear. The riff has swagger, and despite the vocals veering from sneering to almost growling, the hook is absolutely irresistible. It also sounds a bit like something that Avenged Sevenfold would write, if they weren't concerned with thinking of themselves as the saviors of the world.

Sister's dedication to making sure rock maintains within spitting distance of the mainstream is something to be commended. Focusing on having songs with strong hooks is not just a way to broaden your own appeal, but a way to retrain our attention on what rock music used to be, and as such why it is no longer popular with the masses.

That sounds like I'm putting a lot of faith in Sister, but let's take a step back here. While I'm commending their approach to rock and roll, the fact of the matter is that the record doesn't live up to those lofty ideals. There's plenty of good music that is enjoyable enough, but there are also problems that keep the record from being what it should be. First is the writing, which doesn't deliver sharp enough hooks. There is certainly an attempt to make every song memorable, but not enough of them follow through. Secondly, and most grating, are the vocals. The insistence on snarling through gritted teeth through most of the songs is a huge mistake. Those kind of vocals are difficult to swallow all the time, and sound completely absurd when done over a lone acoustic guitar passage. You can't take it seriously.

So what I have to say is that Sister is another band to throw on the growing pile of young guns who have a solid idea of how to do something compelling, if not always completely original. There is plenty of promise here for them to make the kind of rock music that can cross over a bit and become successful. The problem is that they have the idea, but not quite the skills to get there. Maybe they'll get there someday, and I hope they do, but right now Sister is still falling a bit short of being appointment listening.

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