Album Review: Sir Sly – You Haunt Me

By on Monday, 15th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Sir Sly is comprised of frontman Landon Jacobs (vocals, keyboards and guitar) and multi-instrumentalists Jason Suwito and Hayden Coplen, though their identities were kept well hidden until success necessitated their unmasking: earlier released track ‘Gold’ hit #1 on the Hype Machine in January 2013. But it’s taken nearly 2 years for their debut album to surface.

Their most recent single, title track ‘You Haunt Me’ released in July, sees the band at their poppiest: a sprightly drummed rhythm is at the forefront while an almost hymn-like progression of synth chords anchors the background. The lyrics are philosophical if you want to go there – the theme of recounting and regretting a past life ruined by alcohol could be taken literally or with losing a partner as a consequence – but there is no escaping the overall catchiness of the song that will no doubt be more important to the droves I expect to be gobbling up this album.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0E5aWv0YdA[/youtube]

Inevitable comparisons to the Neighbourhood have already been made, but that connection is far too dependent on the fact that both bands call Los Angeles home. We see this far too often (and unfairly) when bands from Manchester are pigeonholed by their storied history, don’t we? Yes, both groups have an underlying cool hip hop swagger, but the big difference to me between them is in the way Sir Sly are able to effortlessly weave big beats and electronics into the mix of indie pop and r&b. As evidenced by watching the crowd totally into them last Monday when they performed at Washington’s U Street Music Hall, the beguiling combination is sure to win over the indie kids, the pop kids, the hip hop kids and anyone else in between, suggesting to me that they’ll be the band to beat in 2015.

Early on in their career, Paul Lester of the Guardian was quick to point out the commercialism of Sir Sly’s sound. You do sense while you’re listening to this album that many of these tracks would feel right at home synced on tv programmes and adverts, because the songs are so damn catchy. True, the lyrics focus on the well trod on pop theme of lost love, but even in those usually suffocating confines, there are nuggets of gold to be found. Opening track and album standout ‘Where I’m Going’ has the hallmark tenets of regret – falling in love (“I went ahead and opened my heart”), getting your heart broken (“all of my love was wasted on you”), yet still wanting the other person (“you know I’m going to come for you”) – but with a unique, seemingly musician-centric twist, I’m wondering if the song was written from Jacobs’ personal experience. The first verse touches on ambitiously “climbing the rose” on the way to stardom, then unexpectedly “finding the one all of a sudden”, making the song sound similar to Glass Animalsdebut album ‘Zaba’ opener ‘Flip’ (“I was in full bloom / ’til I met you”), but slightly less vindictive.

Other previously tracks are memorable too. It makes sense that the synth lines employed in ‘Ghost’ are haunting: they’re meant to be. Except for a few lighter moments of clarity in the bridge, including a repetitive falsetto referencing the grave and home, the song is purposely made dark as Jacob wonders aloud how he chose the ‘wrong’ girl, now gone, and is literally haunted by her spirit that still comes round to remind him of what went before. The sped up, sunny Betablock3r remix of ‘Gold’ was used in an American tv advert for Cadillac this past summer but in that form, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the original, which is similarly dramatically dark like ‘Ghost’. Heavy beats, guaranteed to cause some heads near you to bop along, propel the track forward. But the song is more remarkable for its insistence that that it’s far more important to stay true to yourself and go after your dreams than be lured in by the promise of money.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5_47eLxb8o[/youtube]

‘Found You Out’ slows things down, showing the trio’s versatility in a less electronic environment, but is likewise philosophical like ‘You Haunt Me’, referencing historical figures Judas and Brutus to point out to a former lover her traitorous, treacherous ways. A song like ‘Leave You’ makes one continue to speculate just how badly Jacob has been hurt in relationships, though with such glittery synth notes, I suppose he’s gotten over the hurt. Enough anyway to record this album. Their ballad ‘Floods’ shows a further introspective side to the band: despite a hip hop-y delivered bridge suggesting that the best way forward to is to move on and get on with your life, the mournful piano that accompanies Jacob’s wistful vocals that the song exits with seems to indicate otherwise.

This vocal dreaminess bleeds into ‘Too Far Gone’, illustrating the band is entirely capable of pulling back the potential heavy-handedness of electronic production to write a more mainstream song. But don’t worry: for those who favour more production and more of a dance beat, ‘Inferno’ starring former touring mate Lizzy Plapinger of MS MR is a tune assured to raise the roof at all of Sir Sly’s future shows. For me, if there’s any fault on ‘You Haunt Me’, it’s that the electronics don’t get their due on every track on here. The band clearly know what they’re doing with them, able to elicit emotion whenever they do appear. But I get the feeling that was Sir Sly’s point: they wanted to show they’re capable of turning on a dime, changing and bending genres to their will, writing incredible songs. (If you still have any reservations, watch the acoustic version of ‘Ghost’ below and prepared to be spellbound.) ‘You Haunt Me’ proves their talent.

9/10

Sir Sly’s debut album ‘You Haunt Me’ is out today on Interscope Records.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp2mtj5rRbY[/youtube]

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