“Sweet sour! Sweet sour! Sour by the minute but you’re sweeter by the hour,” says vocalist Russell Marsden in the title track off Band of Skulls’ sophomore album Sweet Sour. I can’t think of any other description that completes this album as well as “sweet sour.” For all of the sweetness – the rich melodies, the bluesy instrumentals, the pristine catchiness – there’s a vast abundance of sourness – the fuzzy guitars, the lustrous vocals, the grit seeping through every corner of every song. And just like Marsden says in the title track, this album only gets sweeter by the hour. It’s a dandy of an album.
As catchy as the song “Sweet Sour” is, second track “Bruises” follows up as quite the heavy hitter. Its pulverizing guitar riffs contrast its chilling melodies. Even with how much Band of Skulls sounds like The Black Keys in the intro to this song, they do acquit themselves with many differences as far as their overall tenor goes. For one thing, they have a very different vocal delivery, mixing their classic rock influences with a more indie-oriented cleanliness. In fact, I would much rather compare them to the classic rock resurgence of Rival Sons, as both bands arm themselves with quite the depository of bluesy, classic, alternative rock.
Fast forward to “The Devil Takes Care of His Own,” and the influence from bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin blasts the song into epic proportions; it’s got a groovy yet memorable chorus, especially with its recitation of the track’s title. The most chaotic of the group is “You’re Not Pretty but You’ve Got it Goin’ On.” The song is dominated by plush guitar riffs, which seem to actually front the sinuating vocals. The guitar and bass are as complex as they are intricate, and a delectable solo sends the listener into its world of sweet-sourness. Though the sound is a bit recycled, the mechanics run like magic, even more improved from the band’s solid debut, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey.
The next few tracks slow the pace down to a screeching halt. “Navigate” is controlled by the lone female of the band, bassist Emma Richardson. Her solid and soothing voice goes well with the track’s non-demeaning tone, layered with perplexing melodies and captivating refrains. The track is an odd one out of the mix, but it proves that Band of Skulls has a great discrepancy in their sound, making for a great variation of the band’s blues-ridden fervor. “Hometowns” continues in the laid-back mood of “Navigate,” while “Lies” increases strides with its White Zombie-esque tempo (not to mention that The Black Keys also have a song called “Lies”).
As much as Band of Skulls continues to impress with their catchy lyrics and fun, toe-tapping grooves, they also show a lot of vulnerability on their second effort. It’s far from a sophomore slump, and it finds the band continuing to develop influences, from ’70s hard rock to the bluesy sound that intrigues listeners of even modern day alternative and indie, ranging from The Black Keys to The Raconteurs. There’s a great myriad of talent and alleviation flowing through the veins of the three band members, and the album is an intoxicating, captivating and arousing set of tunes that is both sweet and sour. Even though I’m sure the title track will flourish as the obvious standout, Band of Skulls have created a great all-around release.