It has been over a decade since Canadian post-hardcore outfit Sights & Sounds tore through the outskirts with the colossal ‘Monolith’ in 2009. What started off as a side-project for vocalist Andrew Neufeld (of Comeback Kid) has, even in years of dormancy, developed into a band of substantial importance. Their acclaimed debut established their impressive melodic intensity, laying the foundations for years of building upon it. And then, they didn’t.
An EP emerged in 2013 while a standalone single was released three years later. Sights & Sounds frequently toured but it has taken them over ten years to follow through on the promise of a sophomore. ‘No Virtue’, quite unlike the album’s title, is an open-minded step forward into the light. The songs are large, ambitious yet rooted in traditional formulas.
‘No Virtue’ finds Sights & Sounds striving for a grip on the ceiling. These ten songs stretch over forty minutes of hard, polished rock – each song deviating slightly in an attempt to capture the desolate landscapes the songs explore. The title track opens the album with a high octane start. Synthetic propulsion charges the song; what starts as a poor Pendulum track morphs into something fairly gutsy.
It is also an introduction to the revamped vocals that dominate the album. The band (brother Joel Neufeld, drums; Matt Howes, bass; Dave Grabowski, keys) are tight and kinetic, creating soundscapes fit for arenas. However, Neufeld is the centrepiece of the package here and his processed vocals can make or break the songs. On ‘No Virtue’ we are given the choice to take it or leave it; it is a strong vocal performance but the production prevents the vocal from sounding as raw as the rest of the performance. The song is crammed with a full-throttle surge of sound – the inclusion of horns is a chest-forward indication of the direction they have chosen.
Andrew Neufeld’s vocals range from enigmatic to unlikable across the album. As well as the title track, songs like ‘Resurface’ do not work in Sights & Sounds’ favour. It is a rhythmic fever dream – constantly thrilling drums crash at a furious rate, a shame then when the rest of the song squanders. Neufeld sings with no risk; the production prevents him from matching the intensity of his brother. The guitar lead rips, accompanied by the barbaric drums, only to be undermined by comfortable vocals.
‘No Virtue’ is at its finest when Sights & Sounds relish in their heavy. ‘Serpentine’ is where the thrill ride kicks up a notch. The riff is deliciously heavy alongside drum fills to intimidate your grandparents with. It is also the first time on the album the vocal lead feels truly appropriate. While the mixing allows the best elements to flourish (metal riff, punishing drums), the last minute brings the song home with a charge.
Elsewhere ‘Black Mamba’ is a menacing number. It is one of the catchiest songs on the project, one that yearns for a communal howl. The chorus does not quite match the level of intensity the introduction alludes to; two minutes in, however, the vocals switch gears into a scream and finally the song is fully realised.
Sights & Sounds utilise their sophomore record by exemplifying their versatility. ‘WWR’ is the most simple song on the project. It is a subdued affair, a welcome break from the constant full-throttle rock. Again, it perhaps could have done with less production on the vocals to compliment the songs stripped-back tone. In addition ‘Takes and Takes’ follows it with a softer cut, one that is easier to follow but certainly not dull.
‘Caught Up’ sums up their attempts at range better than any other. The collaboration with Nicole Dollanganger is an admirable change of pace; Dollanganger’s vocals are certainly one of the strongest aspects of the album. It is a tricky song; it will take some time to adjust and is perhaps too melancholic for its own good. Sure, it takes the wind out of the album’s surging sail but the powerful, demanding song highlights the band’s ambitious ability to experiment with their sound.
‘No Virtue’ might not be an album worthy of ten years in the making, but it is a mostly consistent collection of songs that will thrill you for as long as you need. Sights & Sounds’ latest might not change you, but it is a welcome addition to this year’s slate of rock efforts. Whether they will capitalise on the momentum or not is to be seen. We’ll check back here in ten years, okay?
‘No Virtue’ by Sights & Sounds is out now via Munich Warehouse