This Gift will be somewhat of a surprise for the people who have been following Scotland's Sons & Daughters. Its considerably more polished, pop-friendly and upbeat than their early material, with hardly a trace of the band's Americana roots (except maybe in the rockabilly guitars of "Chains"), or of the dark, claustrophia of cuts like "Fight" or "Dance Me In. Instead, what you get is a fairly appealing mix of bright 1960s girl-group melody and whipsawed post-punk riffs. Producer Bernard Butler (ex of Suede) has encased the band's twitchy, hard-knocking sound in Spector-ish saturated washes and upped the sweetness in Adele Bethel's melodies. The big booming drums of "The Nest" have a Motown echo, the chiming, expansive guitars of "Iodine" recall the Pretenders. It's fun, accessible and ready for radio, and, really, there's nothing wrong with that.
The disc starts with "Gilt Complex, all thwacking one-two beat and drama-dripping stabs of guitar. The song's about the dangers of consumerism, ("She's signing her name / and forgetting her friends"), its nervous wreck urgency smoothed somewhat by tight harmonies and soaring chorus. "The Nest, two songs later, is just about as good, Bethel's voice dwarfed by the pounding beat and snaky, sinister guitars. It's also the first song with Sons & Daughters' male-female call-and-response, the whole band wailing wordlessly in and around the narrative line. But the best cut comes late in "House in My Head," with its sudden storms of guitar and pulsing bassline. There's space in the song; when Bethel finishes a line, there's a split second delay before the guitars come in. The clatter, the pace, the sudden breaks coalesce into an adrenaline attack.
The combination of post-punk abrasion and all-out pop is sometimes disquieting. The sawed-off guitar opening of "Rebel With a Cause" sounds just like Gang of Four, yet it leads, discontinuously, into an all-hands, massed harmonic chorus. And the pogo-pounding bass of "Darling" starts out contentious, but leads into one of the disc's glossiest pop melodies. (Katrina and the Waves?)
The thing you'll miss, though, is Sons & Daughters' dark country tendencies. This is a band, after all, that borrowed its name from a Dylan verse and spent its early years cranking out a song named "Johnny Cash." There's almost nothing overtly Americana on this disc, not a twang or yelp or a gospel call-out. It's a party, not a revival meeting, This Gift, but a good one.