Bands To Watch: Sir Sly—Third Time’s The Charm?
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Sir Sly is one of the most charismatic and inventive bands of the decade, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the music they make is always particularly good. In the strangely defined scene of modern “Alternative” music, they occupy an even stranger niche, sitting between the introspective and experimental indie electronic groups and the more pop-friendly alt-rock bands. Even with crossover appeal and catchy tunes, they’ve never quite “made it,” though they’ve always garnered some level of attention. Like many artists nowadays, they started as a largely anonymous band on the Internet. They emerged by dropping digital singles and gathering attention from blogs and forums on the Internet until they eventually revealed that they weren’t, in fact, just Foster the People in an electropop outfit, but a legitimate band ready to carve out their own space in the Alternative scene.
They started flip-flopping between masterworks and duds when they decided to string multiple songs together in one release, the EP “Gold” in 2013. While the title track––and lead single––for their debut EP exemplified their slickly produced, largely electronic but still sonically substantive style, the following track was comparably disappointing, ending up as a ridiculous rant of the frontman’s relationship grievances. Of course, as it was their debut release and their act of revealing themselves to the world, “Gold” was otherwise pretty much stacked with bangers, and it was only natural that their freshman album “You Haunt Me” (2014) was a little less solid. While “You Haunt Me” did expand in the direction they were going in their first releases, the album’s dark and moody feel starts to drag on the longer you listen, exacerbated by their decision to put all the singles at the beginning of the album and pack the end with progressively longer and less conventional tracks.
Sir Sly seemed poised to make a turnaround with their second album “Don’t You Worry, Honey” (2017), toting singles like “High” and “&Run,” showcasing a much more aggressive and forward-moving style that started to break into the Alternative mainstream. However, it failed to move past many of the same issues that plagued their first album. Songs which had no business being on the album of a band looking to break out rubbed shoulders with slightly awkward dance songs and tracks that would’ve made great singles in their own right. Of course, the album featured another long rant which somehow managed to become a single (“Altar”), as if the first one didn’t work well enough to document frontman Landon Jacobs’s bruised ego. The band worked heavily to tour that album through the summer, and while it didn’t blow up as much as it should’ve, their prospects were looking good. A few years later, they were a more mature band with another release primed for the summer festival circuit and managed to drop their first single, “All Your Love,” in May of the fateful year of 2020.
Poor timing aside, “All Your Love” is a slow jam of intimate electric guitar, the gentle thump of reverb soaked drums, and Jacobs’s gentle croon, altered and extended just enough to fill the registers the instruments left over. It’s a well-put-together and emotionally authentic song, but their second single, “Material Boy,” looked like a textbook radio banger. Released far later in the year and influenced by the momentous occurrences that transpired in the intervening time, lines like “deeply American which is to say I’m deeply ashamed” slightly distract from what is otherwise a driving synth anthem of self-doubt and acceptance: self-aware, defiant, and easy to dance to. It’s similar but also far enough from their previous music that it could deceive listeners into thinking the band managed to focus on what they did best and take it to new places with an updated sound.
However, their next two singles, “Little Deaths” and “Citizen” quickly disabuse listeners of that notion. While they’re both somewhat enjoyable songs, Jacobs’s emotions seem to turn to nebulous and poorly focused discontent, toward himself, society, and life in general. The pair is clunky and doesn’t seem enjoyable until a few listens in, lacking the pop power or self-conscious indie sentimentality which could potentially make up for the disappointing negativity.
It’s no secret that Sir Sly has been known to release quite underwhelming songs before, including what they try to pass off as major singles. This seems like a pattern—“All Your Love” is a bit too disconnected sonically and chronologically from the other singles to be guaranteed a spot on the upcoming album, and “Material Boy” won’t make up the gap left by the two songs that followed it. Two (somewhat inconsistently) stellar albums in a row by a random band from California, especially in this day and age, where sounds are fleeting and artists are even less permanent, is pretty good. As someone who has two of their T-shirts and has traveled all the length of New Jersey just to see them, their cycle of hits and misses really stings when it applies to their entire albums as well. But we’ll have to wait and see—they’ve surprised everyone before, and if the past year has taught us anything about music or life, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted.