Over a trio of four-song EPs released annually since 2014, Philadelphia's Sheer Mag established a unique sound that fused '70s stadium rock and world-weary soul with punk grit and a DIY ethos. Forgoing social media and a publicist, the band garnered a devoted following (and a late night TV debut on Meyers) the old-fashioned way: by touring relentlessly across North America until word of the band's taut rhythm section, the guitar interplay of Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer and the magnetism of frontwoman Tina Halladay's melodic rasp reached both coasts.
Need to Feel Your Love harnesses the strengths of Sheer Mag's earlier work and builds on it significantly. Yes, they've replaced their signature reverb-y clatter with something slightly shinier, but that only serves to highlight the sharpness of these songs. Opener "Meet Me in the Street" plays like a party but reads like a call to action, as Halladay utters the title phrase to unite people against unjust, oppressive authority: "We're throwing rocks at the boys in blue," she croons. And when she sings about love here — as on uncharacteristically pretty ballad "Until You Find the One," the title track and elsewhere — it's mature and poignant, never clichéd.
Just as the cleaner production here allows the lyrics of co-writers Halladay and Palmer to shine (particularly on spiky anti-authoritarian highlight "Expect the Bayonet" and LGBT rights anthem "Suffer Me"), it highlights the band's expert playing, too. The almost-disco thump of "Pure Desire" is driven by stark, perfectly in-the-pocket guitars and bass, while the riff in the chorus of "Rank and File" is catchy enough to have done the job sans vocals.
There's nary a weak track here, and when Sheer Mag truly hit their stride, as they do on lead single "Just Can't Get Enough," they're untouchable. As musically fun and riff-heavy as it is lyrically direct and meaningful, Need to Feel Your Love is exactly the debut album fans wanted from Sheer Mag — not to mention one of the best of 2017 so far. (Wilsuns RC)