Personnel: Jackson Macintosh (vocals, 6-string guitar, keyboards); Christian Simmons (electric 12-string guitar, background vocals); Greg Napier (drums).
Audio Mixer: Sheer Agony.
Recording information: The Drones Club.
The Montreal trio Sheer Agony debuted in 2011 with a promising single, but unlike most bands who release every last note they've recorded, they declined to flood the market with recordings. Only a couple more releases surfaced before their debut album Masterpiece arrived in 2015. A track record like that suggests that the group may comprise slackers or perfectionists -- a spin through the album leads one to the opinion that they are definitely the latter. From the opening "Anthony Ivy," a wobbly chamber pop gem that would have fit easily on the Bee Gees' first album, through to the swooning ballad "A Flight," which ends the album in a fluffy cloud of ennui and second-hand smoke, they demonstrate complete mastery of the rock & roll form in its many guises. Whether bopping along merrily on power pop gems, digging deep into nocturnal balladry, kicking up some dust on scrappy rockers, or conjuring up the ghost of Mink DeVille or half the Stiff lineup (Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric), the boys never take a wrong step. The simple guitar-bass-drums lineup is augmented by the occasional keys and some production trickery (Joe Meek style, nothing modern), topped off by the note-perfect, sometime sneering, sometimes pleading vocals of Jackson MacIntosh. It's a template used by loads of bands, but most of them don't do it quite as well as Sheer Agony. Every song on Masterpiece is a finely honed example of how to do things the right way -- write lyrics that are funny and true, record your guitars with a minimum of fuss, leave some space for the tunes to breathe, mix up the tempos and moods to create a nice flow. Spoon are probably the best example of this in the modern age; Sheer Agony could get to that level if they keep making albums as tough, smart, and hooky as this. Even if they crap out before they do anything else at all, they will have left behind a record that very nearly lives up to its title. ~ Tim Sendra