Sheer Mag: Playing Favorites

Playing Favorites, the third studio album by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Sheer Mag, is loaded for bear. If you interpret the word “loaded” to mean this new full-length, the band’s first for Jack White’s Third Man Records, is chockablock full of intense, incredibly skillful, blistering lead guitar work from Kyle Seely and fierce vocals from the incredible Christina Halladay, you couldn’t be more correct. On Playing Favorites, Sheer Mag lean hard into their power pop inclinations with spectacular results.

The deceptive title track that opens Playing Favorites might lead one to believe they’re in for a collection of upbeat indie pop. Matt Palmer’s plucky rhythm guitar offers up a peppy chord structure while Halladay and the boys do a call and response, shouting out the days of the week during the track’s chorus. Any delusion you may have had regarding what this album would deliver via the tone of the opener is shattered immediately during the scorching riffage that kicks off “Eat It and Beat It”. Here, Halladay calls for hackneyed rock and rollers to throw in the towel, singing, “You just don’t got what it takes, to make it in rock and roll, and when you hear that dinner bell ringin’, you’re for whom it tolls.” Playing Favorites’ first single, “All Lined Up”, slides nicely into the sequence, coming across as a predictable moment that beautifully bridges the tempo and style of its predecessors. With the addition of what sounds like congas, “All Lined Up” makes for a danceable moment that still feels tough.

Playing Favorites dives headlong into power pop during “I Gotta Go”. Halladay gets so into it that she literally supplies some “shooby doo be doo wah” moments between verses. Kyle Seely’s back-to-back solos halfway in are pitch perfect in tone and feel. “Mechanical Garden” includes an orchestral break that leads into an oddly chilled out, somewhat warped reverie before slipping into a pleasant groove that puts the spotlight on some excellent bass work by Hart Seely. The record downshifts during “Tea on the Kettle”. This may be the closest Sheer Mag ever come to a ballad. Halladay’s lyrics here have her assuring a partner that, even though they may not have a lot of material things, she will always be there for them.

“Paper Time” and “When You Get Back” close out the LP. Kyle Seely displays some jaw-droppingly good lead guitar work during “Paper Time”, and Halladay’s vocals have never sounded better than on the tender closer, “When You Get Back”. Playing Favorites is an incredibly good album that manages to showcase all Sheer Mag’s strengths. This will undoubtedly be some folks’ introduction to this great band, and Playing Favorites will make for a solid jumping on point. For those already onboard, the album only strengthens Sheer Mag’s position as a rock and roll force to be reckoned with.

Rating: 9.0/10

Listen on Apple Music

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