Published Apr 17, 2015The opening moments of Alabama Shakes' new record are awash in the orange sunrise glow of '70s soul, the delicate pinks and reds of orchestral flares lighting up the sky. It's a fitting beginning for an album called Sound & Color, but it only hints at the wild architecture and groundbreaking concepts behind the southern band's sophomore effort. Gospel-punk-meets-southern-rock-freakout-meets-blues-funk-disco-with-a-tiny-bit-of-free-jazz sounds like the stuff of nightmares, or at the very least ambitious, disjointed failure, but the Shakes make it soar. And they do so in ways that are delightfully confounding musically, whether it's your first listen or 20th.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Brittany Howard leads this triumph of the misfits, and her voice nimbly adapts to every situation. Howard's strangled scream kicks off "Don't Wanna Fight," a song that's grimy-hot and heartbreakingly angry, exhausted and desperate, with Howard stretching from the bluesy bottom of her range into a skyrocketing falsetto. Every line of "Gimme All Your Love" feels like another demon being exorcised from Howard's body. "Gemini" is Howard's slow burn into spacious, sexy, mournful territory. Every track offers up a new facet of Howard's voice and reveals a new perspective of the band's ambition. It's a deliberately weird record, but authentically weird; it's chaotic yet cohesive, full of sound, colour and unshakable vision. (ATO)