Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dead Sara Wakes Up From A Break

When you listen to the Airport Sessions (2008), the first EP from the two-girl fronted foursome Dead Sara (before their new bassist and drummer), it's painfully obvious they hadn't exactly settled into a sound. At the time, they could have become almost any kind of band, even if their hearts mostly belonged to rock. But they didn't become anything.

That said, there is still plenty of diversity divided up between Siouxsie Medley (guitar) and Emily Armstrong (vocals, guitar) on the band's new eponymous LP. What is gone is any hesitation about who they want to be. Along with Chris Null (bass) and Sean Friday (drums), Dead Sara is a rock band from Los Angeles, straight up. They are also independent. So skip the glass.

Dead Sara's self-titled debut digs deeper to skip across several rock genres.  

Released on their own label, Pocket Kid Records, Dead Sara is sort of an indie anomaly in that they didn't record this album in a basement. They spent much of last year in the studio writing it down and wringing it out. The hard work paid off. They've produced something better than many big labels do.

The production is so good, some people might mistake some of it for studio magic. The truth is that their primal rock sound with all those influences that spiral in and out of indie, punk, and hard rock are as blazing in person at places like the Viper Room as they are on the album. It's all natural.

Not to take anything anyway from the talents of Null and Friday, but the girls steal the show. Medley is the master of her guitar strings, whether she is laying down atmosphere or ripping up riffs. Armstrong is convincing in any role she plays, a dreamy folk singer or hardened rock wailer. She's two sides of the same coin, on stage and in person.

Since it was released as a single, Weatherman is what mostly convinced people to be anxious for some good things to come. But even so, few expected that Dead Sara would lay down 11 smashing tracks with plenty of diversely honest favorites and no skippable wimps.

"That diversity is what's honest and real to us," Armstrong says. "We love classic rock, blues, folk, metal, punk, gospel, all of it. So we didn't want to put restrictions on ourselves genre-wise. We just knew we wanted to sound really raw and primal, even a bit unsettling."

To really appreciate the album, however, you almost have to listen out of order. Whispers & Ashes and We Are What You Say are solid but reasonably safe classic rock songs, which makes the opening all the more misleading. By the time you hit the frightfully angry Monumental Holiday, you realize there there is lot more depth to Dead Sara than six inches. So I'd start with that after watching the video.

I Said You Were Lucky also brings in some Jett-reminiscent vocals, backed up with some dazzling distorted guitar riffs. The last thing you expect to follow is Face to Face, a pained rock ballad that Armstrong delivers convincingly, relying on her own folk singer roots to plow emotion into the song.

Ironically, Armstrong says I Said You Were Lucky was one of the hardest songs for her to write. So was Lemon Scent because Armstrong doesn't do drugs. But what she has managed to do is to bring in her emotive folksy side and transform it into a fully-formed rocker. She's mad on that song and tells it like it is.

She also tells it how it is in the bluesy Timed Blues and indie rocker Test On My Patience. And maybe it's in these two songs, more than any others, where you can really make out why Dead Sara is worth the attention. Medley clearly captures the unspoken emotion with her guitars in almost every song, and then Armstrong passionately explains why it feels that way.

As you can hear, Armstrong is most addictive when she is fired up but that doesn't mean she can't lay down some beautiful ballads. While I still think the album is out of order track wise, Sorry For It All is the perfect closer, an attempt at reconciliation after a break.

The song, by the way, opened the Airport Sessions EP,  but as a contemplative acoustical. Recast as a rock ballad this time around, it's so much more powerful that one can expect plenty of booze-infused tears to be shed while it plays in the background.

Dead Sara Wakes Up From A Break At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If there is any other weaknesses to be found outside the track order (their show arrangement is fine), then look at some but not all of the lyrics. Not every song would hold up without the right foursome powering it up to mean more than what is written down. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is what it is and why the genre struggled a bit in the late era of anthem rock.

All together, the album is worth every lick. People will be talking about it for a long time, and I think the band has the talent to make their next one even more memorable. This isn't some band that just came together. The core of Dead Sara has been waiting for this moment for almost eight years.

Dead Sara's self-titled LP is on iTunes. You can also find the CD at Barnes & Noble or pick up the album on Amazon. The band is currently touring. You can keep up on their schedule via Facebook where the most common comment is "rock is back."
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