Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review of Sick of Sarah's "Anthem"

I posted this review this morning on the Sputnik Music website:

As someone from the baby boomer generation, my musical journey has been long and fruitful. I grew up on the rock and progressive rock groups of the '70s, and many of them are still among my favorite artists. Never losing my love for these bands, I embraced the less complicated, more pop-friendly music of the new wave years. In more recent times, I've found that my favorite artists of the modern era tend to be from the alternative and indie rock genres. And while I appreciate certain male vocalists like Anthony Raneri of Bayside or Andy Bierstock (aka Andy Black) of the Black Veil Brides, whose voices are both distinctive and pleasing, in general, I find myself drawn to bands with female vocalists. From the '90s on, about 50% of my yearly Top Ten lists have consisted of female-fronted bands like The Cranberries and Garbage, and in more recent times Paramore and Candy Hearts, a pretty high percentage since I'd guess that maybe only 20% or so of the bands out there have female lead singers. So when I hear of an indie rock band with a female lead singer that has been getting some good reviews, I tend to seek them out more frequently than I do a band with a male singer. This is how I found Sick of Sarah.

Sick of Sarah is an indie rock band from Minneapolis, MN that first formed in 2005. Their current lineup includes official band members Abisha Uhl (lead vocals) and Jessica Forsythe (drums and vocals), plus Ari Applewhite (guitar), Jack Swagger (guitar and vocals) and AJ Stone (bass). They have an interesting history, having somehow arranged for their 2010 LP 2205 to be automatically downloaded whenever anyone downloaded BitTorrent software. This made them one of most the most torrented bands of all time, and also caused some to disparage them as a spam band. According to Wikipedia, they got their name from a former roommate of Uhl's named Sarah who had grown tired of her name, hence "Sick of Sarah". To date, they've released two full-length albums and six EPs. I think I first came across them on the website for the 2012 Vans Warped Tour, and their description sounded right up my alley. I bought a CD version of 2205, and I liked it enough to follow them ever since.

Anthem, their most recent EP, was released in 2015. It consists of six driving rock songs in a similar vein to those on 2205. Here's the good and the bad: On the plus side, they have a great sound. Uhl is an excellent vocalist, with a voice that is appealing, powerful and emotionally expressive. Also, there's nothing wimpy about their music -- it's dynamic, laced with fast-paced guitars and driving drum beats. There's a potential for something great here.

My only complaint is that I feel the songs aren't quite there yet. Don't get me wrong, they're okay. They definitely have some strong hooks, and as I said earlier, the music is robust. I like this EP, and I'd buy it again in a heartbeat. However, while none of the songs on Anthem are bad, I can also say that none of them came close to making my Top 20 list for 2015. The potential of the band is there, you can just feel them waiting to break through. But unlike a band like, say, Against the Current, who made a huge step forward from last year's Gravity EP to this year's full-length, In Our Bones, I feel like Sick of Sarah is kind of stuck in drive. 2205 was good, and five years later, Anthem is still ... good.

The best song of the lot is probably "Bars Full of Strangers". It's a mid-tempo number about someone who is leaving their home town (to go on the road with their band, perhaps?), because, as the singer explains, "I'm trouble/That's what they made me believe". The mood of the song is more celebratory than sad, though, as Uhl exults "Here's to guitars and bars full of strangers!". Other worthwhile songs include "Stereo", a lively song that kicks off the album, "Beautiful", another upbeat number that advises you to see the beauty in the world around you, and "Contagious", where the singer compares her friend's ignorant opinions to a dangerous epidemic.

If you like female-fronted indie rock, you should definitely check this album out. I'm happy to have these songs on my expanded 2015 playlist. Nevertheless, I'm holding out the hope that sometime soon, maybe in 2017, Sick of Sarah is going to take that next step forward and just blow me away.

Rating: 3/5 stars