DeadSaraAlbumReview

Between their recent Rolling Stone write-up and a high-profile spot on this year’s Warped Tour — not to mention some glowing SXSW coverage from yours truly — Dead Sara is one of the more buzzed-about bands to emerge from the rock clubs of Los Angeles in some time. More impressive yet is that the quartet has achieved their recognition not as part of any contemporary trend but by playing straight up, ballsy rock done right.

Frontwoman Emily Armstrong sported a vintage Tom Petty tour shirt when I first saw the band in Austin, and that old-school influence is immediately apparent in the band’s music. Produced by Noah Shain — whose resume includes records by Atreyu and Skrillex — Dead Sara’s self-titled debut boasts a organic garage-rock aesthetic married to aggressive musicianship. This is an album with the potential to unite Paramore-worshipping teens and their Fleetwood Mac-loving parents.

Armstrong’s vocal range — in particular her ability to flip the switch from a folksy croon to a gruff caterwaul at a moment’s notice — is fairly astounding and plays an equal role with the pummelling riffage of guitarist Siouxsie Medley in defining the band’s sound. It’s perhaps worth mentioning at this point that it is refreshing to see a rock band fronted by two women — neither of whom is hard on the eyes — that doesn’t feel the need to ramp up the sex appeal to attract an audience.

Rather, the vibe projected both live and on record is one of defiance and self-assertion, presumably informed by both personal struggle and the challenges of making an impact in a traditionally male-dominated scene. For their part, the masculine contingent of Dead Sara — bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday — ably anchor the tight selection of 11 songs that comprises the band’s self-titled debut.

Null ushers in the album’s opening track, “Whispers & Ashes,” with a staccato bass rhythm before an impassioned yelp from Armstrong announces the arrival of the rest of the band. The song itself isn’t breaking any molds, adhering to a tried-and-true formula of aggressive verses married to a chorus that ably captures the slightly ethereal beauty implied by the title. It nevertheless makes for a fine introduction to the album, which from there maintains a breakneck pace and rarely pauses for breath — just as well, since the band is at its best with all pistons firing in unison.

To wit, lead single “Weatherman,” which bursts out of the gate with a Tom Morello-esque riff that is irresistible in its driving simplicity and backed by a earth-shaking beat from Friday. By the time the chorus hits, Armstrong’s screamed entreaty to “Go for the kill” might just have the listener looking around frantically for a throat to tear out. Medley’s cascade of feedback-drenched harmonics in the bridge recall Nirvana at their most discordant and are emblematic of the grunge-era proclivities that run throughout the entirety of the record.

The band’s heaviest tendencies are also on display in “Monumental Holiday,” which at 2:41 is the album’s shortest track and also its most concentrated burst of aggression — featuring Armstrong at her most throat-shredding — and “Lemon Scent,” which proves that Dead Sara understands that old jazz adage that the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do. When Medley drops out of the chorus for a measure at a time, her guitar rebounds with twice the impact when it rejoins the fray.

The band’s rootsier tendencies bubble to the surface in the aptly-titled “Timed Blues,” which features a Dust Bowl folk riff that roves under and around Armstrong’s vocals before diving back into Kim Thayil territory. When Dead Sara branches out into ballad mode, the songs don’t have quite the impact of the group’s straight-up rockers, though truthfully these ballads are pretty rocking in their own right. What unites “Weatherman” and slower numbers like “Face to Face” are the band’s pet themes of resilience and self-actualization, espousing the value of fighting for one’s dreams and refusing to kowtow to the desires of others. It’s only on “Dear Love” and the album’s closing track, “Sorry For It All,” that Armstrong softens her tone, admitting to a share of blame for past tragedies and reaching out for reconciliation. If this record wins the band as many fans as it should, there will be many a lighter-waving singalong to these tracks in the years to come. But the mosh pits will be where it’s at at a Dead Sara show.

Dead Sara Tour Dates:

04/18 – Hurricane Harry’s – College Station, TX*
04/20 – Lonestar Amphitheater – KFMX Bday Bash! – Lubbock, TX
04/21 – Woodlands Pavilion – KTBZ 94.5FM BuzzFest – Woodlands, TX
04/22 – FC Dallas Stadium – 102.1FM The Edge EdgeFest – Dallas, TX
04/23 – Tricky Falls – El Paso, TX*
04/25 – Club Nokia – Los Angeles, CA*
04/28 – Midland AMC – KRBZ’s Annual Buzz Prom – Kansas City, MO
05/08 – Varsity Theatre – Baton Rouge, LA*
05/09 – Concrete Street Amphitheater – Corpus Christi, TX*
05/10 – Backstage Live – San Antonio, TX*
05/12 – Town Hall – Buffalo, NY ^
05/13 – Northern Lights – Albany, NY ^
05/15 – TLA – Philadelphia, PA ^
05/16 – Paramount – Huntington, NY ^
05/18 – Lupo’s – Providence, RI ^
05/19 – Comcast Theatre – WCCC Big Gig 2012 – Hartford, CT
05/21 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY ^
05/22 – Crocodile Rock – Allentown, PA ^
05/23 – Fillmore – Charlotte, NC ^
05/26 – KLAQ Balloonfest 2012 – El Paso, TX
05/27 – House of Blues – Orlando, FL ^
05/30 – Fillmore – Silver Spring, MD ^
05/31 – Bogart’s – Cincinnati, OH ^
06/01 – The Rave – Milwaukee, WI ^
06/03 – Garrick – Winnipeg ^
06/05 – Starlite – Edmonton ^
06/06 – Macewan Ballroom – Calgary ^
06/09 – Vogue – Vancouver ^
06/10 – Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA
^
06/11 – Roseland Theatre – Portland, OR ^
06/16 – Utah State Fairpark – Salt Lake City, UT +
06/17 – Sports Authority Field – Denver, CO +
06/20 – Plaza Hotel & Casino – Las Vegas, NV +
06/21 – Great Park – Irvine, CA +
06/22 – Fairplex – Pomona, CA +
06/23 – Shoreline Amphitheatre – Mountain View, CA +
06/24 – Seaside Park – Ventura, CA +
06/27 – Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre – Chula Vista, CA +
06/28 – Peoria Sports Complex – Peoria, AZ +
06/29 – New Mexico State University – Las Cruces, NM +
06/30 – AT&T Center – San Antonio, TX +
07/01 – Minute Maid Park – Houston, TX +
07/03 – Gexa Energy Pavilion – Dallas, TX +
07/05 – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre – Maryland Heights, MO +
07/06 – Silverdome – Pontiac, MI +
07/07 – First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre – Tinley Park, IL +
07/08 – Canterbury Park – Shakopee, MN +
07/09 – Sandstone Amphitheatre – Bonner Springs, KS +
07/10 – Klipsch Music Center – Noblesville, IN +
07/11 – Blossom Music Center – Cuyahoga Falls, OH +
07/12 – First Niagara Pavilion – Burgettstown, PA +
07/13 – International Centre Arrow Hall – Mississauga, ON +
07/14 – Parc Jean Drapeau – Montreal, QC +
07/15 – Comcast Theatre – Hartford, CT +
07/17 – Darien Lake Performing Arts Center – Darien Center, NY +
07/18 – Toyota Pavilion – Scranton, PA +
07/19 – Comcast Center – Mansfield, MA +
07/20 – Susquehanna Bank Center – Camden, NJ +
07/21 – Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Uniondale, NY +
07/22 – Monmouth Park – Oceanport, NJ +
07/24 – Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD +
07/25 – Farm Bureau Live – Virginia Beach, VA +
07/26 – Aaron’s Amphitheatre – Atlanta, GA +
07/27 – Central Florida Fairgrounds – Orlando, FL +
07/28 – Cruzan Amphitheatre – West Palm Beach, FL +
07/29 – Vinoy Waterfront Park – St. Petersburg, FL +
07/30 – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre – Charlotte, NC +
07/31 – Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, OH +
08/01 – Marcus Amphitheater – Milwaukee, WI +
08/04 – Marymoor Amphitheatre – Redmond, WA +
08/05 – Washington County Fair – Hillsboro, OR +

* with Chevelle
^ with The Used
+ On Warped Tour

More info on Dead Sara