Sheer Mag’s dizzying rise initiated in 2014, when the Philadelphia band self-released the first of three 7-inches and started playing the Northeastern DIY circuit. Ironically, the music stood apart because it sounded so familiar. Indebted to ‘70s arena rock, power-pop, and proto-metal, Sheer Mag’s songs reminded a lot of us of the music we grew up with, but maybe couldn’t relate to because it was big, brash, and unapologetically macho. Sheer Mag reclaimed some of that energy without perpetuating the toxicity. On their debut album, Need to Feel Your Love (2017), the band surveyed their contemporary political landscape through the lens of history. Singer Tina Halladay transported herself back to the 1969 Stonewall Riots, denounced redlining practices that undermine the popular vote, and paid homage to White Rose activist Sophie Scholl. On paper, it’s a mouthful, but accompanied by guitarist/lyricist Matt Palmer, guitarist Kyle Seely, and bassist/producer Hart Seely, those songs became hook-laden rallying
Sheer Mag return with their sophomore album, A Distant Call. They’re still writing about surviving our current hellscape, but this time around, the politics get extra-personal. The album verges on being a concept piece, and the protagonist resembles Halladay herself. The songs document a particularly alienating time in her life when she was laid off from a job. Broke and newly single, her father (with whom she had a fraught relationship) passed away, leaving her with more wounds than felt possible to heal.
It’s heavy power-pop so sleek it gleams. A Distant Call draws from a wide-range of influences within rock. The twinkling lap steel guitar on “Silver Line” sounds-off to Fleetwood Mac, showcasing a softer side to Sheer Mag. “We’ve been waiting to write these songs since we started the band and we were able to take these experiences and build a story out of them,” Halladay says. A Distant Call makes an argument for socialism on an anecdotal level. We’re talking about how late capitalism alienates and commodifies whatever is in its path without using the term ‘late capitalism.’” Palmer and Halladay’s new approach to lyricism extended to the recording process, too. Once the Seely brothers had laid down the tracks, Halladay recorded vocals with producer Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Code Orange) as opposed to on an 8-track, which was the band’s preferred method on previous releases.
“I tend to think of ‘Cold Sword’ as the fulcrum that the album pivots on. The protagonist recognizes that this is the only life she has, and in spite of the pain and suffering she experiences, she starts to want to make the most of it,” Palmer says. The bright melody of “Chopping Block” brings levity, as Halladay sings, “Between the parties there’s no light/ We need workers to unite/ We can decide to have another world/ But we’re gonna have to fight.” Our protagonist’s confidence blooms on “The Right Stuff” when she addresses anyone who might think her weight is concerning: “If you’re worried about my health/ Shut your mouth and keep it to yourself.” In recognizing that beauty standards are a capitalist ploy designed to keep women imprisoned, our protagonist starts down a road to self-acceptance, and maybe even love. The conflicts our protagonist comes up against coalesce on “The Killer.” The system at-large has been the culprit all along, and she recognizes that rich politicians running the country have more control over her life than she does. They’re “shaking hands on the senate floor” and brandishing their hypocrisy like a weapon: “He’s got you right between the eyes/ Waving the flag for human rights.” It’s the penultimate track on the album, and it best exemplifies Sheer Mag’s growth from those nascent three EPs to now; the production is razor-sharp, and the gang vocal motifs are as playful as they are ferocious. There’s a glimmer of hope in the struggle, and Sheer Mag close the album with a message of resilience. “They wanna see us fall,” Hallday sings, “But I hear a distant call.” In the background, a faint whisper beckons from just outside the realm of possibility. “Keep on running,” it urges.