Alabama Shakes Paint a Different Sound on Sound & Color

by Adelaide Sandvold ’18

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.35.18 PMSound & Color, Alabama Shakes’ sophomore release is, well, different. It’s not a “slump” per se, but it feels incomplete. It’s almost as though the band members aren’t giving themselves credit for how talented they actually are. Perhaps it’s just because of the album’s contrast with the unequivocally lush and heart-wrenching sound of Alabama Shakes’ debut record, Boys & Girls, but almost every track sounds bare and underproduced — not in a minimalist style, but in a way that makes it sound like a poorly recorded demo.

On the other hand, this is by no means a bad album. Songs like “Don’t Wanna Fight” and “Miss You” sustain the classic Alabama Shakes energy, allowing lead singer Brittany Howard to demonstrate her virtuosic soul vocals. But what appears to be the problem with the album is that it’s hard to determine which of the tracks are definitively “good” or “bad.” Some might argue that this is a positive quality, but ultimately it’s confusing.

For example, “The Greatest” begins with a harsh, teen garage-rock sound imparted by the guitars, but it is paired with a gorgeous melody that carries the lyrics. This is an unfortunate circumstance because if the guitars were different, this song could be intoxicatingly beautiful. Another problem with this song, as well as “Guess Who”, “Shoegaze”, and “Over My Head”, is that Howard’s vocals seem to be muffled or pushed to the back in production. Why would someone do this to one of the greatest rock vocalists of this time? Her voice adds so much to the tracks in which it is presented foremost (like it was on Boys & Girls) and had this been the case on this record, the album would have improved exponentially.

Then there are songs like “Dunes” and “Gemini”. These have trippy/hippy flavors which seem to be an unfortunate departure from the exquisite southern rock at the core of Alabama Shakes. Musical evolution is undeniably important and crucial to the success of any artist, but in these cases, it seems like they followed the wrong path.

Despite all else, this album is an intriguing vision and perhaps a prediction of what Alabama Shakes is soon to become. Though not as good as it probably could be, Sound & Color proves that Alabama Shakes aren’t afraid of exploration and experimentation. They have put fans and listeners in a place of not knowing what to expect next, which will only benefit them in the future. Though it is no Boys & Girls, Sound & Color deserves time to be listened to, thought about, and appreciated. Who knows where it will carry the band next.

Highlights: “Don’t Wanna Fight”, “Future People”, “Guess Who”, “Miss You”

Check out the band performing “Don’t Wanna Fight” on Saturday Night Live: