Album Review: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Colour

Following their hugely successful debut album, Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes found themselves in a rather enviable position. Breakthrough track Hold On saw them receive Grammy nominations which, despite not winning them, saw the quartet grow increasingly popular in a short space of time. Back in February, Shakes’ drummer Steve Johnson told All Things Loud that “the disbelief of fame” is what helped the Britanny Howard-fronted group to cope with their sudden surge in popularity. Having taken time off to work on a new record, Alabama Shakes have now returned with their second studio album – Sound & Colour

The album opens with the title track, Sound & Colour. The first part of the song features ambient keyboard noises, contrasted with a sweet melody which slowly leads into a simple drum beat and Howard’s bluesy vocals. “I must be finding a new way” sings Howard as the track slowly progresses in and amongst a selection of keyboards and strings, before lead single Don’t Wanna Fight brings some fight to the table. An addicting groove made possible by guitarist Heath Fogg’s bluesy licks makes way for a rawer vocal tone from Howard which perfectly complements the raw instrumentals. “I don’t wanna fight no more” sings Howard in the chorus as her voice picks up in vocal intensity, repeating this various times in different tones ahead of a breakdown which takes the main riff and adds an echoed solo to the frame. Don’t Wanna Fight is part of the reason why everyone fell in love with Alabama Shakes
back in 2012, with Dunes evoking similair feelings. Double-tracked vocals and a slower pace intertwine with catchy guitar stabs on a track which bassist Zac Cockrell declared as one of his live favourites. Occasional string flourishes ahead of the chorus accompany Howard’s massive vocals as she sings, “oh, I think I’m losing it” with utmost grandiose. The track briefly shows signs of building up as it approaches the halfway point, before breaking down and playing out a downbeat solo which eventually leads into Future People. Although remaining at a similair pace to Dunes, it encompasses an added groove which accompanies Howard’s falsetto vocal. The chorus sees a fuzzy synth line accompany powerful drums and guitars, before the song changes track towards the end in epic style. Album highlight Gimme All Your Love is one of the songs of the year with its slow-burning intro leading into an upbeat, guitar-laden outro, although it’s very clear that the focus here is on Howard’s vocals. Her vocal display on Gimme All Your Love is one of the best of the year as she wails her way euphorically through the chorus to an extent where goosebumps start to appear on your arm. It sounds both depressing and uplifting at the same time, something which not many bands are able to do. Everything comes together towards the end as wah-wah guitars and a distorted solo combine seamlessly with Howard’s emotional wailings.

This Feeling, the halfway point on the album, opens with subtle acoustics and Howard’s sweet voice. “It feels so nice to know that I’m gonna be alright” she sings as the song welcomes some accompanying backing vocals towards the end. It’s one of the more laid back songs on the album, with hardly any percussion featuring whatsoever as vocal ad-libs play the track out. Guess Who, one of the weaker tracks on the album, trudges along in a mid-paced manner as Howard’s vocals lean more towards the lo-fi end, before The Greatest speeds the pace right up in typical roots rock fashion. “Should I stay away?” asks Howard as she and her band power through the song with an extremely danceable sense of urgency. Modern Vampires of the City-era Vampire Weekend sounds very well represented here, particularly in the guitar tones and occasional melodic flourishes courtesy of a Hammond organ and a piano. It’s another of the stronger tracks on the album, accelerating towards the end in a cacophony of noise which makes you yearn for more. This will surely be one of the highlights in their live show, because that’s exactly what this song is made for. Shoegaze treads on country rock territory, travelling along at a nice pace despite being a bit too much of a ‘filler’ track. “It ain’t no fun being alone” growls Howard in an organ-heavy chorus, making way for the slow-burning ballad Miss You. Following around a minute of calm guitars and vocals, Howard shows her true colours once more as she intensely wails “I miss you” before “begging for the last time” as the track swirls in and out of bluesy consciousness. Penultimate track Gemini, the longest song on the album, treads on ambient territory with effects-laden vocals and an extremely minimal instrumental combination. Towards the end, a xylophone tinkles in the background as a distorted and fuzzy solo enters the frame. Album closer Over My Head ends the record on a subtle note, remaining rather downtrodden with calmness for the most part despite having the
potential to explode and give Sound & Colour the massive ending it deserves.

Three years after the release of their debut album, Alabama Shakes have proven that they are still at the top of their game, producing an album which is as good, if not better, than the critically acclaimed Boys & Girls. 2015 will be a massive year for Alabama Shakes, with Sound & Colour proving to be the perfect weapon in helping them to tackle countless festivals, club shows and trips the world over.