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SONS OF BILL— Sirens

by Ryan Snyder

The first voice heard on the third album Sirens by Charlottesville, Va. quintet Sons of Bill is not that of singer and guitarist James Wilson, but an excerpt of William Faulkner delivering his Nobel Prize speech in 1950. “[W]hen the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.” The modicum of contextless hope that particular excerpt provides aside, there are numerous pearls of wisdom to extract from that speech. Most provocatively, that A) Admirers of creators don’t respect the creator so much as they respect the work that is created, and B) A lot of art is perfunctory in nature, a mechanical reaction to the demands placed on the artist by the subconscious need to be admired. It’s a vicious circle that Sons of Bill seem to be cognizant of on Sirens, a collection of their most existential, almost fatalistic, but ultimately hopeful work. The group — three sons of a literature professor and two friends — established themselves as mighty instrumentalists with a flair for vivid lyricism over their first two albums, but Sirens takes the latter to a higher cerebral plane while also pushing their sound outside the confines of country rock and Americana. The core sound remains and the band revisit it often, but they’re also untethered to those conventions. They eschew catchy lyrical hooks in favor of gut-wrenching build-and-release, punctuated by the kind of visceral imagery that only a Faulkner disciple could conjure. “Santa Ana Winds” finds it in the form of burning more than bridges with a jug of kerosene. Then there’s a song like the aptly titled “Turn It Up,” which might have been the product of Arcade Fire had they signed to Nonesuch Records. Spanning 7.5 minutes, it’s anthemic and unabashedly nihilistic, fading from chunky J Mascis-style production to a sparse piano bridge to one of the finest guitar solos you’ll hear this year that’s almost too big for the arenas it was written for. Producer David Lowery makes an appearance on the light-hearted “Life In Shambles,” typical tongue-in-cheek Cracker fare, but also a needed mile marker on an album whose gravitas can almost overwhelm upon first listen, but once it all sinks in, it becomes a Faulkner-esque trip into nuance and erudition.

91/100

Sons of Bill will play the Blind Tiger on Saturday.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

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