Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin
Rubbing your rubbery eyes, the streaks of red blood shots splinter in countless directions, they take focus through the thick film that you've just wiped over them from the untouched corners of them. It takes a few seconds to adjust to what's actually there - the objects, the room, the people and the degree of light. It's not a spook house in easy terms, but it's a place where things don't feel right, where the temperature is a touch lower that it should be, where the windows are boarded up or broken out and where very few things feel familiar. This is where Sons & Daughters have blindfolded you and dropped you off without a briefing. You weren't sure what you were getting yourself into when you decided to play their latest album, This Gift.
Now, you most certainly do have an idea, though it's slight and still formulating. The music doesn't threaten or intimidate, but the senses that it's stimulating can't seem to decide. There's a bounciness in the gritty, industrial-strength pop that is anchored by the whale of a voice of lead singer Adele Bethel, who makes herself known from as far away as is physically possible, ringing loud and clear, singing like a belle who admires Poe and Hitchcock and maybe tortuous love triangles. She's not a scary sort, but she's a damsel that makes distress - gently and with a deceptive smile of lipstick and gloss. She may have whips and ropes in the drawer of her bedside dresser, but they'll never be seen, just believed in.
Sons & Daughters make a kind of slippery music that isn't governed by light or dark or warehouse or dance floor. They throw all of those names in a box, shake them up and then ask people to pull something out. What they don't tell you is that in the bottom of the box is an adhesive that clumps everything together and you're going to pull your hand out with everything sticking to it - a planned potluck. She'll make you look down at your arms and shins and wonder where those unsightly bruises could have come from. You didn't feel them growing purple on your skin and bones, but she had something to do with it - those and the burn marks that just slowly get produced. She stands you by the oven door, opening and closing it to give blasts of piping hot heat and then allowing you to recover for a while.
he Scottish band has more of a Spanish matador feeling occasionally - taking on pissed off bulls and living to fight another day. It's a showdown that Bethel seems to be describing, something won or lost, but won just barely. There are a lot of scabs and there's the strong smell of gasoline in so many of the songs on This Gift, the result of the two-car accident that happened at that intersection of gloom and glee just moments before. There's a pool of oil, gas and broken parts - cracked pieces of automobile grills and windshields - with an engine and its hoses steaming and sizzling in the aftermath. It has the feel of body language - where it looks one way and means something else entirely.
It's a treat to not be treated straightly by songwriters, to be taken on a wild goose chase and made to believe in the exceptions and ready to be lit up, gasoline-soaked rabbits in the hats. Surprise, they live, or just, surprise…Sons & Daughters make us feel like all of the melodrama in 80s music videos was flimsy and floppy - women and men running exasperatedly down dark and dingy alleyways looking desperately for something or someone. They needed to be carrying knives and evening the field. They needed to give us a reason to believe that we couldn't possibly know who was going to be the victim until the very end, if then. Bethel doesn't take victimization well and the band loves the boozy word, "Charge." They still break a leg when they can.