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A few weeks ago I was perusing the Billboard Rock Songs chart, which at present shows a genre in crisis—its ranks are split between the staggering dinosaurs of the nu-metal era, a few poppier rock outfits like Gotye and fun., and a bunch of bands that sound like slight variations on the old-timey-hoedown template laid down by Mumford & Sons. (Foxy Shazam’s problematic yet utterly catchy glam-rock stomp “I Like It” was there, too.) But one thing really stuck out: The presence of four acts fronted by women, who have, with a few exceptions, been pretty much exiled from that particular radio format since the ’90s. Adele was there; so was Garbage, and so was Norah Jones. Then there was a band called Dead Sara, who had a song called “Weatherman” in the chart’s lower reaches. I clicked play, and oh man, was I blown away from note one.
Dead Sara, “Weatherman”
I cut my musical teeth on hard rock, and was a particular fan of those bands that liked to pair their pop-metal hooks with truncheons—Love/Hate, Slave To The Grind-era Skid Row, Every Mother’s Nightmare’s “Walls Come Down.” “Weatherman,” which is dragged along by a pealing guitar riff laid down by guitarist Siouxsie Medley, operates in that vein, which is why I took to it immediately; it’s a stomping ball-buster, the sort of twisted-blues hard rock that feels like the product of people really enjoying playing the shit out of their instruments. (A couple of friends of mine compared it to Soundgarden, too, which makes sense; they did, after all, help goad teenaged me into setting my VCR for 120 Minutes in addition to Headbanger’s Ball.) And perhaps most importantly, it musically feels a lot more open than much of the compressed-to-2014 post-nu-metal that I’ve heard while tooling around the aforementioned rock-chart-based Spotify playlist. There’s actually space between the instruments, and the result is less aurally oppressive and more electrifying.
Credit for the Los Angeles-based quartet’s visceral thrills should absolutely be given to lead singer Emily Armstrong, whose scraped-paint vocals veer from evil-incantation quiet to blood-curdling roar, as well. Monday night I caught Dead Sara’s set opening for The Used at Irving Plaza, and even though they were on early the room was packed for their 30-minute run through their debut album; Armstrong was full of charisma and gratitude, pushing her voice to the limit as her band triumphantly thrashed through frizzled blues-rock that made me band my head and want to scream along as much as I could.
Dead Sara, “Whispers & Ashes”
“Weatherman” is still bubbling in the lower levels of the Rock Songs chart; right now it’s nestled in between Van Halen’s “She’s The Woman” and a dreary song by the post-Nickelback Toronto act Evans Blue. If there’s any justice, especially in this year when it’s anyone’s game thanks to the genre of “rock” being in flux, Dead Sara will stake their claim as a new kind of rock standard-bearer.