Review Summary: At their best, they’re capable of crafting the type of pop song the listener brings home whether they like or not, and more often than not they will.
They’ve got talent in abundance but a disappointing lack of ambition blights a promising effort from Northern California’s Sherwood. Signed to Myspace Records and heavily promoted by both the parent company and AbsolutePunk.net, Sherwood release their second album A Different Light
with a great deal of expectation on their shoulders, and the result is predictably underwhelming.
Sherwood do little to differentiate A Different Light
from their SideCho debut Sing, But Keep Going
. They still sound like a (great) relic from Vagrant’s golden era, albeit tipped towards the lighter end of the scale, evoking the Get Up Kids, the Postal Service and Jimmy Eat World, but forward strides are made with regard to texture: electronic instruments are increasingly favoured over the guitar and the Beach Boys influence is even more apparent in the tightly harmonised vocals. And while I’m always wary of the term “sunny” to describe music, there is some sort of sound or ambience unique to California that Sherwood capture perfectly, a perky sort of optimism that a lot of us could probably share in if we woke up on the beach every morning.
Opener ‘Song In My Head’ calls to mind Ben Folds, with bold, stabbed piano chords raising tension before the inevitable release, unfolding with delay-soaked guitars and a suitably airy chorus. The cheerful music belies the slightly more downcast lyrical theme; frontman Nate Henry sings, “don’t blink, don’t close your eyes and most of all don’t apologise. It’s me whose got the demons to wrestle now,” a curious mix of idealism and despondence. The lyrics are, however, on the whole light and positive. ‘The Best In Me’ is the best pop track on the CD, showcasing the harmonised vocals which permeate so much of the album and the repeated altering the instrumental make-up with each new section in a manner similar to Fall Out Boy’s ‘Thnks Fr Th Mmrs.’
The breathy group vocals and electric chord stabs of ‘Alive’ recall vintage Oasis, while the electronic percussion and sombre tone of ‘Alley Cat’ provide a much needed change of pace as the album draws toward its mid-point. ‘Give Up!’ is a Hammond-driven pop number with a touch of the Westerbergs about itself, ‘Never Ready To Leave’ echoes Fall Out Boy with interlocking vocal lines and ‘Middle of the Night’ is bubblegum electroclash, beautifully so. Yet while the songs are individually interesting, they’re less compelling as a unit. The album isn’t paced particularly well, with slower tracks packed into two neat groups amid the uptempo pop tracks, and those tracks aren’t sufficiently varied as to avoid blending together, to the point where it’s sometimes to difficult to immediately tell one track from another.
The production is a mixed bag. Lou Giordano is best known for his work with Mission of Burma and Sunny Day Real Estate, but has garnered attention more recently for his work on Taking Back Sunday’s Where You Want To Be
and The Ataris’ So Long, Astoria
. It’s those latter-day experiences which colour his and Sherwood’s approach to A Different Light
; tracks like ‘The Best In Me’ and ‘Song In My Head’ benefit greatly from the pristine treatment, and the attention to detail on the latter track in particular elevates it from a good pop track to a great pop track; but equally the band are prone to excess in some cases, most notably with the vocal harmony/vocoder double team on ‘Alive.’ The generally liberal use of the vocoder, too, does little for Henry’s already slightly detached vocals, and one feels a more emotive vocalist like Ted Leo or Butch Walker could do a little more to personalise the tracks.
On reflection, Sherwood have a hell of a lot going for them. At their best, they’re capable of crafting the type of pop song the listener brings home whether they like or not, and more often than not they will like it. And in flashes they demonstrate the creativity and ability to break out of the traditional four-piece rock mould and create tracks that reveal more depth with every listen- any artist’s dream. On the other hand, they’re bound to underachieve as long as they continue to eschew these more adventurous instincts in favour of inoffensive (yet affecting) pop music.
A Different Light
may not be worth a whole lot this time next year, but it’s a easy, enjoyable listen that hints at much better to come.