In three years the Philadelphia band Sheer Mag has released just 12 songs over three EPs: a total 40 minutes of music. Each song is packed with sunburnt rhythms intertwined with fat guitar hooks and a constant kick drum. Enter Tina Halladay’s soulful punk rock howl, and you have one of the best punk bands playing today.
Compilation LP is a remastered collection of Sheer Mag’s EPs, leading up to their full-length debut later this year. Compilation takes us chronologically through the band’s catalog, from the triumphant, bluesy opener “What You Want” through their saturated anarchist signature “Fan the Flames” to “Worth the Tears,” an uncharacteristically upbeat saga of lost love. These songs belong together. It’s hard to believe they were released separately.
The power behind Sheer Mag is Halladay’s guttural, soulful, occasionally biting vocals. She always performs at full force, whether her voice rises in protest, in rejoicing or in good old-fashioned punk rock frustration.
Sheer Mag writes about anarchy and individuality and, of course, romance. There’s not a lukewarm lyric in the bunch. “Can’t Stop Fighting,” for example, is a politically charged punk song pulsing with anger.
Halladay laments “All my life I’ve felt the eye of the catcall/ we’re striking back baby, and you can find me in the vanguard/you say you don’t understand/ I can see the blood, it’s on your hands.”
“Button Up” is feminist anthem: “You don’t know who you’re tanglin with/ I’m a bad bitch if I please/ I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again/ I brought many a man to his knees.”
Sheer Mag’s lyrics are brief, pointed and powerful. All the songs have a punk sensibility: disjointed, energetic rhythms that are saturated and distorted: minimalist high-pitched solos jabbing over the persistent kick drum. But there’s a lot more to Sheer Mag. The music can also be catchy: for example, the big beefy riff on “Sit and Cry” that melts into little bursts of power chords. Guitarists Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer play off each other perfectly, with Seely’s infectious leads popping out from beneath Palmer’s chugging, structured rhythms.
Sheer Mag makes danceable punk music with a powerful message. Compilation reminds us just how great they are. And soon we’ll have them, for the first time, at full length.