by Brian J. Audette
Still going strong after nearly ten years, The Sour Notes have returned to close out 2017 with their fifth LP: Darkest Sour. Coming just over three years after Do What May – an album that saw a number of talented local vocalists lending a hand while Notes’ frontman Jared Boulanger stayed more or less in the background – this is the longest the band has ever gone without a major release. The wait has been more than worth it however, as Darkest Sour shows no signs of The Sour Notes having grown complacent. If anything, this may be their best release yet!
Having perfected their own brand of often dreamy, frequently rocking psych pop over nearly a decade, the sound of Darkest Sour at first blush will be familiar to anyone who’s heard The Sour Notes before. The band revels in brevity while still honoring classic pop-rock song motifs and strives to keep their songs short and sweet while eschewing repetition in favor of variety. Darkest Sour takes some new turns however. A greater focus on guitar tone and intensity is prevalent on much of the album and adds a welcome edge to The Sour Notes sound, while also allowing for the character of individual tracks to reveal themselves in new ways. It’s a formula that feels both fresh and familiar and seems to have breathed new life into this Austin mainstay.
The album gets right off to rocking with “Clock Strikes Twelve”, stretching those guitar chops with some aggressive riffage that reverberates with echoes of menacing intent. A crisp bass line amps up the tension through the verse, tapping out a tight rhythm of bright notes while Boulanger layers listeners with a dreamy gauze of ghosted vocals. The whole affair recalls the intensity and immediacy of the Note’s classic live mainstay “Do-ers & Say-ers”, but with several more years of experience under their belts.
“Stay Close” is the first of two sets of connecting songs on the album and opens with a mostly clean, jangly, classic rock riff, with Boulanger singing “Stay close to my heart, stay close to my soul/Trust in and of itself/Fuck those who don’t.” As the chorus begins, backing vocalist Yola Blake comes in, adding extra dimension to the track and contributing to the dueling “ooh”’s that blend the song seamlessly into “Free for the Taking”’s E-bowed guitars and twinkling tambourine.
“Loose Leaf and Bleak” closes out side one of the album with with an ominous growl, bolstered by tense tickles of cymbal and the menace of a B5 sounding synth. The subtle bursts of lead guitar through the verse evoke the feeling of a thriller soundtrack to a movie where something unknown and dangerous potentially lurks around every turn. The song goes through several evolutions, quieting down about halfway through for Boulanger’s wailing refrain of “All apologies” and then ramping back up into a greasy, bluesy guitar solo before the final lines of “Here every night starts over with another dumb mistake” judder into the track’s final moments.
Side two opens with “Parallel Action”, a poppy, psych rock instrumental, featuring layered guitars, both swaggering and dreamy, ultimately losing itself in a wild haze of an outro. “Small Hints” is the album’s ballad. Scored against a simple, almost acoustic guitar strum, with layers of slow, dreamy synth overhead, Boulanger croons softly until the song fades to the static of scanning radio stations and wafts into the echoing, wordless soundscape of “Additional Footage.”
“Ride it Out” closes the album with a track that feels like a little bit of everything we’ve heard up to this point. A wobbly, shoegazy guitar greets us at the outset and is eventually bolstered by a raucous lead line cribbed from any number of Smashing Pumpkins tunes. It’s a very 90’s song both in sound and construction and a perfect outro to an album that’s seen The Sour Notes reinvent themselves in a way, but without going too far from home.
The Sour Notes play Hotel Vegas this Friday, November 24th for Darkest Sour’s release.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bjaudette.