Sons And Daughters – This Gift

The Scottish band Sons And Daughters enlisted ex-Suede and ex-The Tears member Bernard Butler as producer of their second full-length, This Gift, and the result is a stylistic mix of structured pop and rock songs that bring singer Adele Bethel’s commanding vocals to the forefront and shift guitarist Scott Paterson’s vocals to supporting status. This album is a deliberate, band member-approved (including bassist Ailidh Lennon and drummer David Gow) departure from the introductory Love The Cup EP and debut album The Repulsion Box, both of which featured a darker, lean rawness and delicacy in both emotive vocalization and musicianship.

In comparison to the band’s older songs, this new batch of tunes is more complex in song structure and lyrics, utilizes more instruments and effects, and pushes Adele’s vocal range into higher territory. The menace, exhilaration, and sheer catchiness of the band’s earlier songs, however, have been diminished, leaving pop and rock tunes that rely heavily on Adele’s vocals and a chronically agitated tempo to carry them through to the finish line. Strangely, there seems to be a melodic inversion to most songs where the verses end up being more catchy and memorable than the chorus parts.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any gems on this album, or captivating touches within a tune, like when Scott’s soothing to punchy vocals back up or intertwine with the crisp tartness of Adele’s voice, or when Adele sings in a calmer, sweetly airy tone, or when a melodic guitar riff or vocal phrase takes over, or whenever there is some breathing room and a song isn’t going full-tilt for its duration.

Opener “Gilt Complex” sets the frenetic tone of the album with its relentless pace, hard-edge guitar lines, and pressing vocals from Adele. It starts with a clanking-metal rhythm and bright but short guitar riff, and then races away with a driving beat, constantly running bass line, and added tambourine and hand clap accents. Scott supplies wordless backing vocals on the verses, with Adele upfront and defiantly talky, intoning “She has a guilt complex / …poison pen / She’s signing her name / and forgetting her friends.” The dynamic tempo of the verses remains for the chorus sections, with the addition of grinding guitar, rumbling bass, and a thumping drum beat. The end of the tune builds in intensity as Scott vocally shadows Adele’s “Wah-oohs” against a more intricate guitar line and tambourine shake.

The jaunty, breezy pleaser “Chains” harks back to some of the band’s earlier songs, with the carefree vocal interplay between Scott and Adele and a straight-forward, strummed-guitar sound. Scott wails away like an elated Morrissey (wait a minute, isn’t that an oxymoron?) on the preamble, meshing with The Smiths-like chugging rhythm of guitar, bass guitar, and clinking chain-link sounds. Adele comes in on the verse proper, while Scott swings in with some invigorating spoken word as he advises “One, two, three-four-five / if you know what’s good / you better look alive. / Six, seven, eight, nine / nowhere to run / so hide, hide!” Adele then reaches for an airy falsetto, as she exclaims “you gotta laugh on back at love.” Infectious and easily the best song on the album. In interviews, certain band members have professed a deep admiration for The Smiths, noting that they got to use a guitar of Johnny Marr’s during the recording of this album. It’s possible that that guitar could have been employed for this song.

Title track “This Gift” alternates between serious and playful (or is that playful and serious?), starting with forceful guitar, bass guitar, and stiffly bashed drums and cymbals, as Scott wordlessly coos “Ah-ooh, Ah-ooh”, with Adele replying in turn. They go back and forth with cooing howls, trading off and twining around each other like waggish wolf pups. Then Adele sing-talks in a clipped tone on the lyrics-heavy verses, interspersed with a searing guitar riff and charging chorus with a multitude of harmonizing vocal lines from Adele and Scott. There’s a break from the verse, chorus, verse structure where Scott and Adele sweetly trade off “Wah-oohs” and “Ah-oohs” against a piercing guitar line, until they increase in rapidity and intensity of delivery, ending the song on a vocal peak.

There are hints of the mad-dash guitar jangle of The Smiths, with a bit of “Happy House” by Siouxsie and The Banshees, mixed in for good measure, on “House in My Head”. The verses are short and direct, with Adele sing-talking three lines in rapid succession, accompanied by bass guitar. Then a fast-paced beat of bashed drums and antic, wiry guitar line bursts in, with Adele singing in a mid-range tone. She shifts to a higher, airy register to sing the bleak lyrics “House in my head / has left me for dead / …I’m not going home.” with Scott backing her on and off in a plainer tone. A lull follows with a subdued Adele quietly repeating the verse lyrics amid picked guitar until the calm is broken by guitar and drum turmoil, and Scott’s vocals take center stage, as he roughly exclaims over Adele’s wailed out “ohhhs”.

Sons And Daughters part company with the listener in fine style with “Goodbye Service”, prefacing the first verse with drum beat, cymbal tap, a grimy guitar line, and bass guitar. On the verse Adele sing-talks in a lighter tone that “At the traffic lights / should have seen the signs.” while Scott flits in and out in an even higher vocal register than Adele! The chorus flows from the verse with added guitar lines and tinkering metal sounds. Near the end of the tune Adele vocalizes like Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne on a delicate, wordless bit, sighing “Bah-bah, duh, bop-bop, ah-duh” against a limpid guitar refrain and softer beat. After this interlude the song slowly picks up steam amid clanging metal, sounding like a train pulling out of the train yard, as more sounds are added to the mix, like bass guitar, louder cymbal tap, and doubled vocals until the song speeds away at an accelerated tempo.