new music: alabama shakes returns with the captivatingly powerful ‘sound & vision’ #soundcheck

April 21, 2015

When Alabama Shakes burst on to the scene with Boys & Girls, the quartet was bursting with energy. The 2012 record was taut and fierce and showcased a rare drive and need. Raw, passionate, jagged, and soulful, the record’s signature single “Hold On” earned Alabama Shakes countless accolades and declarations of “next big thing” status. Rolling Stone even named “Hold On” the best song of 2012. Three years later, a deeper, more expansive Alabama Shakes loses some of the immediacy but gains the confidence and maturity to expand their songwriting and arranging chops in unexpected directions on Sound & Color.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor


The opening anti-anthem “Sound & Color” finds an Alabama Shakes more interested in sound & texture than recreating Boys & Girls. The vibraphone-led track is all lush orchestration and wide open space. “A new world hangs outside the window” heralds the opening line. This is an album intent on exploring that new world. Or at least, gazing longingly out that window. Lead single “Don’t Wanna Fight” interrupts that longing with a grounding exasperation. The tension between the hope of what could be and being sick of what is gives the record a give and take that sustains its running time. “Living ain’t no fun / the constant dedication / keeping the water and power on / There ain’t no money left / Why can’t I catch my breath? / I’m gonna work myself to death / I don’t wanna fight no more.” Where singer Brittany Howard turns the song from what could be weary miserablism into something transcendent is her determination and the strength of her voice.

Throughout the record, Alabama Shakes balances their spaceous alt soul with folk and lofi indie rock. Ballads like “This Feeling” and “Miss You” might as well have been recorded on cassette in some basement, and the uptempo rager “The Greatest” might well have been. The strength of Sound & Color is that it collects all of these many facets of Brittany Howard and co and makes them make sense in a fuller context. The one thing that doesn’t quite fit is the band’s habit of naming albums after binaries that are more accurately depicted as spectrum. Boys & Girls, Sound & Color, what’s next, Black & White? Whatever’s next, Alabama Shakes have positioned themselves with Sound & Color as a band capable of delivering it with depth, power, and some pretty massive hooks to boot.

Sound & Color is out now. You can hear single “Don’t Wanna Fight” on AFROPUNK Mixtape #004: Inclement Weather.