Posts Tagged ‘Tina Halladay’

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This Philly quintet’s debut LP—a remastered compilation of their three EPs to date—is a scuzzed-out hookfest with an entire kitchen’s worth of tasty ingredients plucked from the great rock bands of the ‘70s onward. Lead singer Tina Halladay stakes out center stage with a raucous wail that exudes just enough soul to avoid careening off the tracks. When Sheer Mag mixes in Kyle Seely’s riff-loving lead guitar and Ian Dykstra’s biscuit-tin drums, they come out with a danceable punk-boogie formula that recalls Australia’s Royal Headache or, for the older anglophiles in the room, Thin Lizzy. On standout track “Hard Lovin’,” Seely builds a nimble, blues-inflected guitar line beneath Halladay as she sings, “Little boy I can see in the dark / I can breathe underwater, gonna leave my mark / By the time you find out I’ll be down in the flames / I’m in every city you will know my name.” When she gets to your city, don’t miss her.

Sheer Mag have never sounded like a punk band in the traditional sense. The ‘70s-style arena rock they draw their inspiration from didn’t set much of a standard for social consciousness—many of its most famous acts, like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, left it with a reputation for misogyny, hedonism and appropriation. For Halladay, that made it all the more important for Sheer Mag to push the sound in a more thoughtful direction, one forged by the punk bands that followed those classic-rock monoliths—The Clash, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys

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Over the past couple years, Sheer Mag have run one of the tightest ships in music. The Philly rock quintet released three 7” singles in three years—each with four songs, grainy black-and-white punk-flyer cover art and a retro band logo. They named these EPs I, II and III, then compiled them into a self-titled 12-song LP. Now comes the first official full-length, which finds Sheer Mag trying to navigate the leap from underground heroes to rock ‘n’ roll rat-race runners. The record is built on twin pillars: Guitarist Kyle Seely’s wellspring of gritty riffs and licks, which sound like they were unearthed from a late-’70s time capsule but somehow never got old, and Tina Halladay’s vocals, imbued with a combination of tenderness and tough talk that doesn’t come along too often. This is one of the best guitar-rock bands going right now.

Its catchy, hook-heavy protest rock that shows at least one band paid attention during history class.

Key Lyric: “I’ve been reading the news, and you’ll surely regret/ If you don’t give us the ballot, expect the bayonet!”

At a time when rock and roll’s relevance couldn’t be lower, Sheer Mag not only stir excitement for the dying genre with “Expect the Bayonet”, but remind us that rock and roll’s job traditionally has been to speak truth to power and afflict the comfortable.

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“When we walk together, it feels alright! Meet me in the street!” shouts frontwoman Tina Halladay over power pop riffing that seeks to undo half a century of that same genre’s misogyny. This is the first track on Sheer Mag’s upcoming record, “Need To Feel Your Love”, and it’s an invitation to dissent, to disorder, and, through engaging in those together, to union.

To make clear the necessity of these actions, they remind us of the past: on “(Say Goodbye to) Sophie Scholl”, they recall the factual story of the character who, at 21, was executed by guillotine for her role in disseminating anti-war propaganda in Germany in 1943. They speak of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 on “Suffer Me”, recalling a critical moment in the push for LGBTQ+ rights; the events at Stonewall, where members of New York City’s gay community resisted police aggression and harassment, were among the first instances of people banding together to push back against the state-sanctioned violence the gay community suffered (and, in many places, continues to suffer). It’s easy to blithely hand-wring and remark on how applicable these stories are to ‘modern times;’ it’s quite harder to absorb and reflect on the gravity of that fact, then implement an action plan around it. Sheer Mag have drawn up their plans, and want you to get in on it.

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In an ugly past best forgotten, record labels and radio stations actually had some say in how bands developed, and that say usually had a lot to do with keeping bands easily categorized by genre. Experimentation made in-store racking and inclusion on primetime DJs’ playlists more difficult, so it was either discouraged or outright banned. Now that those genre lines have blurred to the point that they’re insignificant, it’s not a shock that a band would co-opt aspects of ’70s melodic radio rock. Many have. What’s surprising is how well that style blends with the no-wave lo-fi style that was originally intended to kill it.

Sheer Mag (short for Sheer Magnitude, which reflects their sound pretty well) recall Cheap Trick fronted by VKTMS’ Nyna Crawford. Well, OK, maybe that’s going too far: Cheap Trick in their prime were amazing and Nyna Crawford never had the range Sheer Mag singer Tina Halladay shows in song after song. If you like the tight guitar lines of shorthair rock bands like The Knack or Milk ‘N’ Cookies, there’s a lot to like on Sheer Mag’s latest 7″ III (2016). “Worth The Tears,” “Can’t Stop Fighting,” and especially “Nobody’s Baby” all have a crunch and grit that says punk. But that lo-fi production can’t mask the hooks or the radio-ready lyrics. Like Nashville’s Daddy Issues does with grunge, Sheer Mag can recall the forms and features of ’70s pop rock without falling victim to its excesses or limitations.

A handful of 7” records is an admittedly small sample size to draw any conclusions about who they are or where they’re headed. Is the distortion in the vocals a choice or a budgetary limitation? Without the indie production touches, you might confuse Sheer Mag with a pop band, albeit an outlier, like pre-Tragic Kingdom No Doubt. They’ve got chops and hooks and attitude to spare, and the old rules don’t seem to apply to them.