Sheer Mag
Playing Favorites


1.5
very poor

Review

by Gene Gol-Jonsson CONTRIBUTOR (34 Reviews)
March 5th, 2024 | 24 replies


Release Date: 03/01/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: When you only go backwards…

The undeniable charm and rapid rise in hype and admiration for Sheer Mag’s initial spotless run of self-titled EPs is worthy of scientific dissection. The three releases brought swagger rock’n’roll of yore back with a bang and a level of slickness and fun unheard of nowadays. Where most other bands either drown in commercial sterility or end up chasing pastiches into the grave. Sheer Mag burst through with just the right amount of nostalgia and self-awareness to make things fresh, while their raw energy was enough to bury every Greta Van Fleet and the ilk. It was an underground hype fest like no other, rife with electrifying riffs and infectious tunes. Its obvious aim was building up, one EP a year, for the eventual full-length album that was to solidify them as the “next great hope of Philly rock’n’roll” and indeed modern rock’n’roll in general. Of course, Need to Feel Your Love was announced to come out the year following the last EP, in 2017.

And then it came.

And then it went.

Packaged in a significantly smoother sound than all their previous work, its sleekness was paradoxically enough more jarring to hear than the fuzzy predecessor shorties. Their want of using up the relative windfall budget was on display. And who could really blame them? Kids got cash to make music, they damn right will spend it all. But that was a misstep. And one that eventually cost them the exposure and attention. The energy and conviction was there, but somehow the better picture makes the cracks and pores come more apparent. Sheer Mag are (were) at their best in the wildest ugly sound. The sanitised production appeared to have taken away their drive for ambition. Why sell your work through your personality, when the box it comes in is so pretty. This mentality or ill-inspiration followed on at their even scanter received follow-up A Distant Call in 2019. This saw them now doubling down on the mundanity of the sound with the complement song-writing as trite and benign as the sound probably deserves. But their trust in the direction was most notably undermined by the band’s own outward disinterest in performance.

And then this came.

And it will go just as quickly.

Playing Favorites is a title either tangentially self-aware, wherein the band acknowledges that their finalised descent into sterility is a charge at appealing to grander favouritism, attempting to reach audiences who at worst might find their new music inoffensive; OR it is a tragicomic self-assurance that these tracks will be their listeners’ favourites (something like when Remo Drive prophetically called their first album Greatest Hits). Neither possibility strikes as individually successful. For one, their insistence on apparently writing straightforward rock bangers clashes with the reality that half the tracklist stands docile, undercut by its own song-writing too tame to really reveal any inner flame. Even in turning back to their EP production style in sound, the tracks are more of a malnourished understudy of that work. On the other hand, it is hard to view this as a well calculated attempt at a broader audience success. All falls back to, again, its unconvincing tunes and influences that go into a variety of directions yet reach seldom very far. The most dominant feature is a throwback 00s pop-rock as imagined by an ageing 70s hard rock purist. Picture a washed up band of olde desperately trying to appeal to this young folks’ game, but missing the point entirely. Only this time it is actually the young folks themselves, marginally helped by at least a semblance of taste and some vocal delivery that still is its foremost saving grace.

Indeed, if anything can be ever expected to hit the nail on the head with Sheer Mag, it is Christina Halladay’s blistering vocal performance. She as a lead is about as fascinating to hear as can be. It pains to hear another underwhelming Sheer Mag album, where Halladay pours her heart and soul into her range and writing. Her lyrics are almost touchingly easy, with an occasional splash of the personal struggle to spice up the streak. It makes sense, considering the intention was to be as straightforward as possible. Simple rock songs often have the philosophical depth of a spring puddle but fit the vibe like Cinderella’s shoes. If that was the case for Sheer Mag, they have certainly done well on their intention. Yet again, yet again this would have worked, had their musical decision-making accurately supported this aim. But with songs like “Eat It and Beat It”, “Don’t Come Lookin’”, “Tea on the Kettle”, or “When You Get Back” all coming off more as dry try-outs for eventual better songs. Meanwhile, “All Lined Up” and “I Gotta Go” are just a notch off towards the unjustified nostalgia, high-school-banding the strawman idea together with little to no interest in whether or not it has legs to walk.

The only two songs where this unintentional formula somehow works the opposite way are “Moonstruck” and “Paper Time”. The former being a rather chunky and fun tracks at its core, but this time it is the chorus that is just so unnecessarily silly. Charming playfulness is perhaps the main argument of apologism for this album. But at this point the playfulness turns an irritation, as the repeated refrain of the song’s title comes off as a rather underdeveloped blip. The latter song has the melodic complexity of a metronome. The baffling blandness of the tune is a drag, for the song may feature the juiciest of the album’s guitar riffs, fun and carefree, making playing guitar look easy, while still showing off great finesse. Bizarrely enough, the two most energetic and perhaps memorable cuts on the album are in turn brought down by Halladay’s presence, where the whole time it worked the other way around. Only the opening title track has the soul, the weight, and the performance on all fronts to make one initially hopeful for the album.

It has been ten years since their debut EP first burst onto the scene, bringing about a breath of fresh air. But since then, the air has not changed, and ten years is a long time enough to stale the air and make it unbreathable. It is obvious that the band are reversing back to the fuzzy sound that made them pop back then. However, in going back they inadvertently regress and lose interest in their own creation. All that was at one point captivating is now a repetitive clichéd bore. Sheer Mag are still a band that definitely has a collection of rock bangers in them, or at least the makings of something potentially banging, but now it is all shrouded in maddening vapidity, delivered as lukewarm undercooked meal, served on a plastic plate. The pressure is increasing on them to make that batch of bangers they have been threatening to make since the mid-2010s. But at the same time, the attention is far from there. I just hope they bounce back or are at least perfectly content with the place they are in creatively.



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user ratings (14)
2.6
average

Comments:Add a Comment 
someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

i really hated doing this and perhaps years into the future i might rediscover this as a carefree vibe album, easy to consume. but my hopes for Sheer Mag are falling at an increasing speed.



check for yourselves and please prove me wrong, i beg you: https://sheermag.bandcamp.com/album/playing-favorites



the only really great Sheer Mag album is the EP compilation, so check that out too, please: https://sheermag.bandcamp.com/album/compilation-i-ii-iii

Pangea
March 5th 2024


10556 Comments


i did not like distant call at all, but ig i will check this

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 5th 2024


5975 Comments

Album Rating: 2.3

I quite like the flawed but pretty cool debut LP, and thought the sophomore was weaker but quite over-hated. This is pretty bad, not sure I've ever heard a production job less suited for the songs, and the material is almost entirely way below their usual level. The last two tunes are easily the best, but can't redeem the whole thing.

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

It's like they figured that the original sound was the key, but they still want to do the wishy-washy accessible tunes a la Shannon and the Clams. But that shit just does not go together at all.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 5th 2024


5975 Comments

Album Rating: 2.3

Yeah, perhaps. The production choices utterly mystify me, although even with different arrangements on that front I doubt this would be very good.

SlothcoreSam
March 5th 2024


6237 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I thought this was a touch better than Distant Call, but that touch was one of a dying leper.

Odal
Staff Reviewer
March 5th 2024


2223 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8

Just checked out Moonstruck and thought it was a jam in a half.



I'll probably check out the rest eventually. I think I liked their other albums more than most people here, but my expectations for "rock" music in the year 2024 are in hell. I think they have a penchant for a catchy, almost Thin-Lizzy style triumph feeling and I kinda appreciate the washed out production as a throwback to shitty demo tapes. Mind you, I can't really tell you the names of any specific songs other than Expect the Bayonet, but I mostly enjoy Sheer Mag whenever I come across them. I know that's damning with faint praise, and maybe that's why everyone is so disappointed in them now, but oh well. I have so much positive tilt for any rock band whose whole schtick is anything more than "we are rock!"



Regardless, amazing review. Even if I usually dig this band more than you, this was extraordinarily well-written

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


1822 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

As someone who is almost never bothered by the vocals, the vocals on here bother me.

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

now that is an intersting take. the vocals have been probably the least bothersome part of the album for me

artificialbox
March 5th 2024


1891 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Damn 😭😭 good review. sad but true. made it like 3 songs into this before getting bored but I might give it another chance.

DadKungFu
Staff Reviewer
March 5th 2024


4982 Comments


I've got this thing when writing negative reviews where I'm almost constantly second-guessing my rating in a way I don't do with albums I at least somewhat like. My question keeps being, "is this actually as bad as I'm making it out to be? Is my negative impression because of some lack of perspective, or just simple charity on my part?" Like I have a hard time putting a negative impression down without qualifying way more extensively than I do with something I like. This is a great rev btw and if you don't make contrib this year I'm scheduling a mild-to-moderate-level riot

botb
March 5th 2024


17988 Comments


This band sucks agreed

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

i have the same, Kung. i kinda hate numerical ratings for that reason (why i always leave a soundoff). that said, i reexamined this many times and if i must adhere to the supremacy of numbers, i cannot in good conscience put this anywhere higher.



the tricky thing here is that i know a few 2.0 or even 2.5 albums i certainly think less of than this. but the rating is an assortment of factors, from general impression, how well it reached its intention, how well it carries its substance, how it fares in regards to the aimed sound and the artist's catalogue, blah blah blah. but it's all arbitrary. as a Sheer Mag album this is a 1.0, as a throwback indie-rock'n'roll it might be a 1.5, as creative intention it might be somewhere around 2.5

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Hate getting mathematical about this tho

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
March 5th 2024


1822 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"now that is an intersting take. the vocals have been probably the least bothersome part of the album for me"



I really hate the effects that are glazed over the vocals on every track. It tries too hard to sound vintage and instead it sounds annoying. The fact that the songs are bland as hell doesn't help either lol

Pajolero
March 7th 2024


1440 Comments


Saw this band live some years ago when they were the hot new thing and they sucked so bad

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 7th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

that's a shame. i always imagined that even at their lowest in the studio, they must have been killer live. kinda like Scowl or sth

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 8th 2024


32053 Comments


Love this review, mr contributor. It seems I was wise to completely ignore this album.

someone
Contributing Reviewer
March 8th 2024


6718 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I apologise for recommending it to you in the first place, my hopeful thinking clouded my judgement. One day they will make that coveted good album, but that day ain't here yet.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 8th 2024


32053 Comments


No need to apologise my dear, I've rec'd you way worse and I will keep doing that XD



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