LA band looks to start a fire with debut album!
Between their recent Rolling Stone write-up and a high-profile spot on this year’sWarped Tour — not to mention some glowing SXSW coverage from yours truly —Dead Sara is one of the more buzzed-about bands to emerge from the rock clubs of Los Angeles in some time. More impressive yet is that the quartet has achieved their recognition not as part of any contemporary trend but by playing straight up, ballsy rock done right.
Frontwoman Emily Armstrong sported a vintage Tom Petty tour shirt when I first saw the band in Austin, and that old-school influence is immediately apparent in the band’s music. Produced by Noah Shain — whose resume includes records by Atreyu and Skrillex — Dead Sara’s self-titled debut boasts a organic garage-rock aesthetic married to aggressive musicianship. This is an album with the potential to unite Paramore-worshipping teens and their Fleetwood Mac-loving parents.
Armstrong’s vocal range — in particular her ability to flip the switch from a folksy croon to a gruff caterwaul at a moment’s notice — is fairly astounding and plays an equal role with the pummelling riffage of guitarist Siouxsie Medley in defining the band’s sound. It’s perhaps worth mentioning at this point that it is refreshing to see a rock band fronted by two women — neither of whom is hard on the eyes — that doesn’t feel the need to ramp up the sex appeal to attract an audience.
Rather, the vibe projected both live and on record is one of defiance and self-assertion, presumably informed by both personal struggle and the challenges of making an impact in a traditionally male-dominated scene. For their part, the masculine contingent of Dead Sara — bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday — ably anchor the tight selection of 11 songs that comprises the band’s self-titled debut.
Null ushers in the album’s opening track, “Whispers & Ashes,” with a staccato bass rhythm before an impassioned yelp from Armstrong announces the arrival of the rest of the band. The song itself isn’t breaking any molds, adhering to a tried-and-true formula of aggressive verses married to a chorus that ably captures the slightly ethereal beauty implied by the title. It nevertheless makes for a fine introduction to the album, which from there maintains a breakneck pace and rarely pauses for breath — just as well, since the band is at its best with all pistons firing in unison.
To wit, lead single “Weatherman,” which bursts out of the gate with a Tom Morello-esque riff that is irresistible in its driving simplicity and backed by a earth-shaking beat from Friday. By the time the chorus hits, Armstrong’s screamed entreaty to “Go for the kill” might just have the listener looking around frantically for a throat to tear out. Medley’s cascade of feedback-drenched harmonics in the bridge recall Nirvana at their most discordant and are emblematic of the grunge-era proclivities that run throughout the entirety of the record.
The band’s heaviest tendencies are also on display in “Monumental Holiday,” which at 2:41 is the album’s shortest track and also its most concentrated burst of aggression — featuring Armstrong at her most throat-shredding — and “Lemon Scent,” which proves that Dead Sara understands that old jazz adage that the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do. When Medley drops out of the chorus for a measure at a time, her guitar rebounds with twice the impact when it rejoins the fray.