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Sons of Bill - Oh God Ma'am (Album Review)

Thursday, 12 July 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Almost everything you need to know about the remarkable transformation Virginia siblings Sons of Bill have undergone on ‘Oh God Ma’am’ can be gleaned from its album cover. An old-fashioned colour TV lies on the floor, smashed and surrounded by dirt, its shadow eclipsing the light. The screen shows a grinning, optimistic, all American kid, his image bisected by the shattered screen. The dream, as they say, is over.

Following 2014’s breakout record ‘Love & Logic’ the band – in particular the Wilson brothers Abe, James and Sam - were struck by  divorce, addiction, mental illness and a potentially career-ending hand injury. The sleeve serves as the perfect metaphor for those tribulations, reflecting why such events have morphed Sons of Bill’s up-tempo Americana rock ‘n’ roll sound into something lyrically deeper, darker, more emotionally bruised and sonically complex.

Boasting an awareness that what they’ve undergone isn’t so much bad fortune as much as it is the dawning of adulthood, this record plays out like a funeral for the band’s youth.

That’s epitomised by a jaw-dropping opening track that, although not stylistically congruent with the rest of the record, sets a fittingly haunted mood.  

Sweeter, Sadder, Farther Away, is a stark piano ballad with cerebral, poetic rhyming couplets giving voice to an indefinable terror that may or may not culminate in suicide or murder. Crucially, its tale of doomed romance is told with a detached wistfulness and melancholy that encapsulates the record’s overarching tone.

In many ways ‘Oh God Ma’am’ exists in its own time and space, much like the band members who are caught between post-adolescent anxiety and a sense of sage acceptance. There are strains of the Stone Roses, the Pretenders, New Order and Echo and The Bunnymen on Believer / Pretender, Old And Gray and Where We Stand, as a range of styles and eras collide.

And whether it’s jangling guitars that recall both the Smiths and the Byrds, the pulsing indie-rock grooves that power Firebird ‘85 or dreamy psychedelia on Signal Fade, the record boasts an outstanding sound (especially the drums) thanks to producers Phil Ek and Sean Sullivan.

For all the new colourings, the band’s trademark Americana vocals remain, only there’s an ethereal and ghostly quality to the harmonic interplay on the David Gilmour-esque Green To Blue and outstanding Good Mourning (They Can’t Break You Now). Resembling Bruce Springsteen’s Tougher Than The Rest, its patient tempo, heart-on-denim-sleeve sentiments and electronic sighs epitomise a record that’s quietly anthemic.

‘Oh God Ma’am’ will resonate deeply with anyone who’s spent long, lonesome nights lost in contemplation, fighting to process adulthood’s irreconcilable complexities and responsibilities while mourning the loss of a carefree existence.  Although mining bleak territory, there’s comfort in these songs because they paint familiar events and experiences in a way that’s so artistically compelling - lyrically literate and ambiently beautiful - it’s hard not to feel cleansed by them.

Sons Of Bill Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon August 13 2018 - BRIGHTON Hope & Ruin
Tue August 14 2018 - LONDON Omeara
Wed August 15 2018 - BRISTOL Tunnels
Thu August 16 2018 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Fri August 17 2018 - GLASGOW Broadcast
Sat August 18 2018 - MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
Sun August 19 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms

Click here to compare & buy Sons Of Bill Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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