By: Amanda McMillan
Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes is the band’s 2015 follow-up to their 2012 debut, Boys and Girls. A lot is happening on this album, which is more robust and experimental than was expected from the band. It is an album best enjoyed through its parts rather than its sum. It is equal parts soul and pure, unfiltered rock and roll. A sprinkle of jazz. The zest of alt-rock. And the light, effervescent feeling of Americana. A departure from their more classic-sounding soul-roots/rock debut, Sound and Color is a deliberately weird album, a mix of many different influences. In that way, it is both a quintessential and risky sophomore album. But, it was nominated for six Grammys, of which it won four. In the end, their genre-bendy risk paid off.
The vinyl and artwork are minimalistic in design, although the clear 180-gram vinyl adds a unique element. There’s a bit of a cold, industrial vibe to the whole thing, which seems to juxtapose to the album title. The gatefold sleeve opens up to reveal funky, inky stripes against what appears to be the corner of a white wood panel wall. The colour looks like it bled through from something else, giving it a lot of texture and inconsistency.
Inside, you find two clear vinyl LPs, which again act as a juxtaposition to the album name. Disc one’s sleeve features black & white images of the four band members with lyrics on the other side. Disc two features a 3D geometric grid design with the remaining song lyrics on the back.
When I think about what kind of meaning this album means to me, what comes to mind is just how fun it is to listen to. Lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice is truly one of a kind, and whenever I listen to this band, it takes me back to my early 20s and this kind of rock and roll spirit that the album evokes. I wasn’t immediately enamoured with this album when it came out because it did feel quite different from their first album, which I loved. Still, over time I came to appreciate the nuance and complexity of this album.
Going back to listen to it with what feels like fresh ears, I hear so much more now. It felt over-produced at the time of its release, but now it feels so delicately and intentionally produced. There are many experimental instruments and sounds, giving it a gravitas that their first album just didn’t have (or need). Alabama Shakes could have very easily been tucked into an Americana band label and never found its way out. But instead of getting stuck with whatever label the industry wanted to give them, they showed the versatility in their sound and ability to be an honest to god rock band, with a shit ton of soul. This idea of being many different things mixed and creating music that makes something familiar feel strange and beautiful and powerful is inspiring.
In the end, I keep coming back to this album because it rouses my soul, and right now, we need all the soul help we can get.