After the Alabama Shakes’ nearly perfect nugget of a debut LP, Boys & Girls, all the band shared was that their follow-up was not going to sound like the swampy, Muscle Shoals blues-rock of yore. For three years, the young four-piece took their time to explore and create (while also touring relentlessly), and they now return with an effort that reflects their individual and collective growth. As such, Sound & Color is a challenging record—not just for the band to make, but also for existing fans with only one record to love, to process and understand and accept.
Delving into psych-rock, talking blues and garage punk, the Alabama Shakes show no fear in their 12 new tracks. Weird electric vibraphone tones reverberate on the opening title track as if to usher in a new era of sound for the band. There’s the Prince-like lead single “Don’t Wanna Fight” and the classic ‘70s-sounding “Dunes.” They get spacey on the six-and-a-half minute, reverb-filled “Gemini” and almost thrash-like on “The Greatest,” in which guitarist Heath Fogg’s riffs are mixed higher than Brittany Howard’s vocals. Elsewhere, her voice is looped and layered upon itself like in the tempered “Over My Head,” a strange, R&B radio-friendly album closer.
Sound & Color is a daring and deliberate record, and its greatest success stems from the band’s complete defiance with its choices. All experiments and risks, and even supposed missteps with certain songs, seem intentional. Although wildly different from the image they originally cultivated and not as hooky as Boys & Girls, the Alabama Shakes make sure this new offering is not so scary or alienating. Ultimately, Sound & Color is a ballsy sophomore LP that that shocks, surprises and usually satiates.