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Sons & Daughters - The Repulsion Box

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Artist: Sons & Daughters

Album: The Repulsion Box

Label: Domino

Review date: Sep. 21, 2005

A lot of bands get described as having a “nostalgic” sound. This, of course, can refer to anything and anybody: Comets on Fire bringing bellbottom-burning hippie-shred into the 21st century; bearded Banhart warbling in front of a mirror wearing Marc Bolan blouse-shirts; or Colin Meloy reciting 13th century whaling/scrimshaw texts for albums on Kill Rock Stars. All of these folks (and thousands more) turn away from today’s iPod/GPS hybrid-driven times. This is an understandable, if predictable choice, aesthetically speaking (not all musical souls can divine endless spiritual depth from, say, PSP gaming consoles). However, a love of/obsession with antiquity can, at some point, become unbearable. To my ears, The Repulsion Box is one such ridiculous period piece.

Sons and Daughters are two fellows and two ladies, half of which used to play with broody pub-depressives The Arab Strap. But where The Strap used doomed romance and impending revenge as a ladder to climb down into a dark, inner intensity, S & D see such themes as an excuse to pose, pout, and prance through the ale-hall, kicking up their antique boots in stylized outrage. Sons and Daughters are theatrical, not dramatic. It’s the difference between a true blues ballad (the kind that wavers and implodes with lament) and a Nick Cave torch song. Cave cares vastly more about the structure, the wording of the script, and the properly paced melancholic croon than he does about evoking an actual emotion in his listener. This is fine, of course. Form is important, sort of – at least to certain kinds of music. For instance, rockabilly. Peppy rhythms, showboating guitar flourishes, whoa-whoa tough-love vocals, old-fashioned fashions -- these are tropes of the genre, and uniformly obeyed. Oddly, prolonged interaction with The Repulsion Box reveals it to be pretty firmly in the stylistic camp of Scottish rockabilly. Bummer.

The bouncy single “Medicine” starts the album off with a fist-pumping, hoe-down dance-punk vibe that’s easy to imagine on Franz Ferdinand’s collective iPod (they are big S & D fans). Thick Glaswegian accents spell out “M-E-D-I-C-I-N-E” over a thumping kick drum beat and jangling mandolin. “Red Receiver” uses handclaps to throw some extra swing into a rural shuffle about cold feet, London, and a girl who will no longer be receiving diamonds (she done gone wrong). The flat, foot-stomping drums, embittered country vibes, and please-sing-along melodies sound, at their best, a little like early Violent Femmes, or a super-catchy Mekons. But where the Femmes tackled 80s neuroses (pills, paranoia), S & D want to go much further back, to stormy bar-room brawls, spaghetti-western showdowns at high noon, public hangings. Lyrically, it’s predictable stuff, very Bad Seeds/Man in Black noir: “Monogamy to you it seems is just black and blue, all the best psychotic lovers ain’t got nothing on you.” The voice here betrays too much enthusiasm, though. You can hear a smile under the sneer. It’s the sound of a guy really excited at the prospect of pretending things are bad, of pretending, finally, to be Johnny Cash. At its root, it’s a nostalgic sound.

By Britt Brown

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