Sheer Mag’s second studio album, A Distant Call (via Wilsuns RC), is a feisty and deceptively fun record about the failures of a capitalist government, the commodification of individuals and the impact of family trauma and loss.
For their sophomore effort, the Philadelphia band go in a new direction, trading the DIY, 8-track production of bass player Hart Seeley on their debut album for the gleaming 70s power-pop sleekness of Arthur Rizk, heavy metal producer and engineer (Power Trip, The Code Orange).
Front woman Tina Halladay regards the record as a concept album with a protagonist similar to herself: someone powerful and compassionate in the midst of going through a very dark time in her life. Titles such as the album’s energetic “Steel Sharpens Steel” and “Blood From a Stone” evoke images of masculine violence, but are reinterpreted by Halladay’s own experiences of self-doubt and struggle to remain in control when so many systems set her up to fail.
On “Steel Sharpens Steel,” a metaphor for the strength one can harness from a brutal and traumatizing experience, Halladay sings, “If you’re gonna live or die/ You better be the one to choose,” reclaiming her sense of agency within a climate that is punitive for those who are different. “The Right Stuff” is an ode to self acceptance in a music scene that more often than not only makes space for thin bodies.
Halladay sings her “body is a shield/ And it’s still the one I wield,” announcing herself as more than enough, and holding her presence in the crowd with strength and without explanation.
“Cold Sword” explores the negative impact of an abusive and neglectful father with an aggressive, in-your-face lead guitar that drives a painful memory. She asks, “But what father darkens his own house?” Despite her pain and the lingering memory of her father, there is a sense of hope for her future because her childhood cycle of cruelty has ended.
Halladay warps our associations to macho imagery through her lyrics. Sheer Mag’s melodic, proto-metal sound has a more rebellious nature than that of its arena rock predecessors. Rather than a glamorization of wealth, excess and stereotypical tenets of bombastic rock and roll lifestyles, their music is for the working class and barely making ends meet outcasts. It’s for those seeking self-acceptance during a political fall-out, for the people with abusive late father figures and lastly, those struggling with a dogmatic beauty standard that can make anyone feel less than worthy.
A Distant Call feels like it can easily be played at a properly sold out stadium, or as a triumphant personal daily mantra, reminding us of the significant ways we overcome and survive.
For more information about Sheer Mag or to listen to their latest album, click here.
Maxine Garcia is a highland Park musician and vocalist in the band Fime (@fimeband). She primarily writes and performs indie rock.