Sometimes I am asked the question, what musician would you like to see living or dead? And my answer is always Phil Lynott. Infectious rock, at its best, is what I want to hear again. And Sheer Mag have come really close.
Formed in Philadelphia in 2014, Sheer Mag have graced our ears with a musical mixture of pop-punk and 70’s rock. Their music is vaguely nostalgic, taking from all the best parts of 70’/80’s rock and boast a recognizable masculine drive. It’s their front-woman, Tina Halladay and their biting lyrics that take their initial unabashed rock sound and turns it into something much more meaningful.
A Distant Call, their second album, is macho and glittering. Halladay’s voice is not the usual glossy voice you hear in rock these days. It’s untamed and honest. And the same can be said for their lyrics. Important lyrics span from socialism to fat-shaming, all under a pop/rock umbrella that is so joyful to listen to, it kind of feels like you’re doing something bad.
Opening with the tribal roar of Halladay, “Steel Sharpens Steel” has the hard rock sound that goes with the hard rock title. With AC/DC-esque guitar riffs engulf the first verse, until the bridge where Halladay’s voice grows slightly softer but cuts through the heavy noise like butter. Her unaltered voice is a perfect antidote to a guitar line that is on the verge of making Sheer Mag sound more like a tribute band. “Steel Sharpens Steel” is a perfect introduction to what Sheer Mag is on the outside, but the rest of the album offers much more depth.
In a beautiful departure from the glam-rock tracks of the album, “Silver Line” is a strange combination of 50’s beats and melody and Halladay’s soaring vocals. With talk of strikes and pay rises, “Silver Line” is a homage to the teachers and other school employees that took to the streets in 2018. Just like Weezer mixed their somewhat heavy “Buddy Holly” with manipulated Happy Days footage, Sheer Mag combines the lazy haziness of “Silver Line” with Halladay’s glam-rock voice to create a juxtaposition that gets your attention straight off the bat and brings you straight to the lyrics.
With vague undertones of shoegaze, “Hardly to Blame” opens in a dreamy haze until Halladay brings vocals reminiscent of ska’s best front women. It is a wailing homely to a breakup that incorporates various aspects of 90’s teenage angst and loss. She moves through most of the major stages from anger to reasoning, but acceptance never comes. Halladay’s voice brings authenticity and bitterness to the track that makes it a brilliant breakup anthem for the just dumped among us.
All in all, A Distant Call is incredibly fun. On the surface it is enthusiastic and bouncing, making all your modern glam rock wishes come true. But underneath, Sheer Mag is trying to cover their hard-hitting, the world is terrible, kind of lyrics with a rock-pop sound to make the difficult topics easier to digest. It’s a hard task, but Sheer Mag have done it, with glittering guitars, head-banging drums and overall life of my Thin Lizzy loving soul.