Although signed to Belfast label No Dancing, The So-So Sailors are in fact based out of Omaha, Nebraska. The SSS utilise everything from saxophones to Wurlitzers to create their spin on vintage soul / rock.
Young Hearts is the band’s new 6 track EP. Clocking in at over 32 minutes, it almost falls into album territory. However, like many great Irish writers of yesteryear, here the focus seems to be on storytelling. Although the songs are well crafted and extremely well produced, the band don’t seem too concerned with the 3 minute radio hit.
EP opener ‘So Broken Hearted’ is living proof that the boss has had more than a strong influence over his fellow statesmen. “Why are you smiling if you’re so broken hearted“, asks frontman Chris Machmuller as he does a fine job of creating an instant image. As the song reaches its climax, the pitch perfect female “bop-ba-da-ba-ba’s” bring to mind Vanessa Carlton’s fine contribution to the Counting Crows’ version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. A nicely placed
arrangement that works well with the song’s theme.
‘Broken Glass & Blood’ is the first of the stand-out tracks on the EP. Although some of the rhyming couplets and wordplay are a bit too rhymey dimey and green – “but it don’t really matter, I don’t really care, I’m ready to go up and maybe cut
my hair” – the instrumental interlude that follows pulls the song into soundtrack mode and once again the imagery plays its part. Very smartly done indeed. The chord progressions in the said piece are frantic yet fabulous. The piano hammers a 4/4 before falling back into the snare rolled verses. There is no chorus per se, and to be honest it doesn’t need one. Instead Machmuller places the focus on strong instrumentation, something the band seem perfectly comfortable with.
‘Des Moines’ is the first track to put focus on a strong chorus – “when you got sick I really wanted to call” becomes the refrain as Dan Kemp’s hi-hat breaks stagger nicely in and out of the verses, keeping the backbeat interesting enough not
to skip to the next track. The saxophone seduces the ears in fine fashion on ‘Young Hearts’ although I couldn’t help but be reminded of the recently trending “Bill Clinton plays M83″ youtube video. Let it be said, it works just as well with the SSS.
‘This Girl’ rides nicely on the crest of a skiffle wave. The brushes float softly over the snare head as the whispering vocal sets the tone nicely. Guitarist Alex McManus plays a fine part in introducing some sweetly placed Joe Meek stylings. The reverb-soaked guitar captures the sound of the room while the band prove they could sit comfortably with Omaha legends Tight Fit (Pun Intended).
Closing the EP is ‘River Town’; at a lengthy 6.11 it’s tough not to make Springsteen comparisons at times. The title alone smells of old Bruce, not to mention the song’s outro crescendo. Not that it’s a bad thing by any means. Be it a fitting tribute to a much-loved local hero, or an unavoidable influence at least it’s delivered with passion and gusto.
The band have recently opened up for the likes of Lambchop and The New Pornographers and although it’s easy to see why, I don’t see fans of either taking to the SSS too easily. The EP as a whole doesn’t really break any ground. Yes, there are some parts that really jump out, but for the most part it just kind of plods along. It’s a shame in a way because it’s obvious that they can play and arrange to a very high standard.
It may be a desire to keep it safe that has The So-So Sailors sailing the sea comfortably, but I wait with anticapation for what a shipwrecked vessel could potentially realise.