There’s a rule in our family car that whoever’s driving gets to select the music. Since I’m currently not driving, and haven’t been for a while now, I haven’t been able to entertain my family with drivetime classics by Whitehouse or Throbbing Gristle or Melvins or Godflesh, and have instead been mostly listening to Sons of Bill. This means that the arrival of a new album is extremely welcome, because much as they’ve grown on me, hearing ‘Love and Logic’ four or five or six times around over the course of a single weekend is probably enough.
‘Oh God Ma’am’ is pitched as ‘the band’s most coherent and sonically ambitious effort’, and was recorded in Seattle with Phil Ek (Shins, Fleet Foxes) and in Nashville with Sean Sullivan (Sturgill Simpson) and mixed by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) and promises ‘a more elegant and restrained sound-- a darker, and more complexly layered rock record that manages to be the band’s most emotionally intimate and sonically expansive.’
‘Sweeter, Sadder Farther Away’ makes for an unusual choice of opener: a quiet, piano-led song aching with introspection and soaked in reverb, and it isn’t until the second song, ‘Firebird ‘85’ when they rock it up and step into Springsteen mode that things get going properly.
And they really do stretch themselves here: ‘Believer_Pretender’ combines indie jangle with driving drums and a wistful aspect all wrapped up in chorus and echo. Never would I have expected to compare Sons of Bill to The Twilight Sad, but that’s an indicator of just how much they’ve expanded their palette on this outing. Closer ‘Signal Fade’ represents another shift, with hints of Alice in Chains circa ‘Jar of Flies’ in its downtempo drawling, and overall, ‘Oh God Ma’am’ sounds like a band testing themselves and above all, aiming big.
That applies to the sonic experience, too: they’ve certainly gone all-out on the cinematic and the anthemic, and with more songs centred around full rock arrangements over introspective acoustic-led country-leaning compositions. At the same time, they’re looking more inwardly than ever before. And in the personal lies the universal, and herein lies the album’s strength. ‘Arena rock’ may carry negative connotations, but in the context of ‘Oh God Ma’am’, it’s indicative of a band coming to realise a new potential.