The prospect of new music from Sights & Sounds this year just sort of appeared, and while not unwelcome, it was certainly unexpected. They’ve not exactly been the most prolific band with output spanning their debut album Monolith in 2009, a couple of scattered EPs and singles and little else, but among all that is a rock band who’ve barely put a foot wrong in entire career. The acclaim has been piled on thick and fast for delivering an alt-rock sound that’s unashamedly anthemic but tempered with the rawness of Comeback Kid’s Andrew Neufeld on lead vocals, and even six years after their Silver Door EP which never even left a dent in their formidable reputation, there’s still plenty to be excited about from a band who are nowhere close to being a spent force. Drip-feeding material has kept it all fresh, and while the excitement for No Virtue isn’t as iridescent on a wide scale as it rightfully should be, there are some enormous expectations all the same.
And as for the album itself, it’s difficult to call it a disappointment, but it’s certainly different that what has preceded it. It’s undeniably an update to Sights & Sounds’ overall approach, now with extra layers of synths and whispering, ghostly bombast to fit more closely into the modern definition of alternative music, and as such it doesn’t quite hit as hard. Conversely though, the intention with No Virtue feels primarily to find the best possible synthesis between where Sights & Sounds were and where they’re currently heading, and on that basis, this is an easy win; the construction is generally top-notch, and even if it doesn’t make for stellar stuff on the whole, it’s the sort of well-trodden path that a take as distinct as this is more than welcome on.
The expanded sound really needs to be addressed the most in any discussion of this album as well, as it’s easily where No Virtue both soars and stumbles the most. For starters, the former is definitely more prevalent, as the band take an enormous arena-rock framework and blow it out even further with floods of extra atmosphere that, at its best, makes for some truly enrapturing moments. The likes of Resurface and Undertow capture it all perfectly, never tilting into outright glassiness in their synth tone, but (especially in the latter) have such sharp, defined edges that establish this as its own thing. There is a sense of dominance to the electronics on No Virtue, but never are they crowbarred in in the way that so many lesser bands have taken to, as a track like Takes And Takes moulds itself around that foundational core in a way that brings each individual element in as tightly as possible. And as such, it’s definitely a lighter album in terms of instrumental tone for how lush it can be, but Neufeld’s grizzled delivery have such a heavy quality to it that, even when his performance is effectively exclusively in his clean register, it’s not too underweight.
Then again, that’s not a foolproof tactic by any means, and it feeds in to how such a headfirst dive into these newer tones doesn’t always connect for Sights & Sounds. The inevitability of moments that don’t quite always click was always going to be there, but the slower, drained cadence of Caught Up and the dragging expanse of Black Mamba lean more heavily on the atmosphere than is fully sustainable, and it leaves them as moments that aren’t so much expansive and epic as just colourless and drab. It’s a shame too, because generally it feels like the same approach has been taken, both in terms of composition and the emotional weight in the lyrics, but it hasn’t all come together as well. Even then, it’s difficult to begrudge Sights & Sounds for going in with so much confidence, and even when it doesn’t work, the boldness on show is telling of a band who are clearly invested in what they’re attempting.
Thus, No Virtue does feel like a success overall, even if it’s not to the same degree as Sights & Sounds’ previous material. It’s one of the most convincing and organic attempts at contemporary evolution that a band has displayed in some time, and both the pedigree of the band and the fantastic level of creativity on show do enough to facilitate a final product that does them justice. Even the shakier moments are less outright egregious and more as the result of a band settling into a groove that’s not entirely solidified, but there’s few enough of them to suggest temporary growing pains and little else. No Virtue is still a really strong album, and if this is going to be Sights & Sounds’ last piece of work for another few years, it’s one that’s got a good deal of longevity to it.
For fans of: Bring Me The Horizon, Hands Like Houses, Circa Survive
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘No Virtue’ by Sights & Sounds is released on 11th October.