So, full disclosure: I didn’t even know this album was coming. And that was such a treat, because I’ve been wanting more from this band for a while. I was a big fan of 2015’s Bombs Away, and their set in Albany when they rolled through town a year or two ago was a blast. So, when I heard Sheppard were finally back for their follow-up, I was eager to see where these last three years have brought them.
The angelic, calm introduction “Watching the Sky” begins the album on a build, dropping directly into “Coming Home” after a brief minute-long instrumental. Early on, it seems like during this gap between albums, the six-piece perfected their layered, swirling-vocals brand of pop, and Exhibit A shows its face immediately. Following right on its heels is “Keep Me Crazy,” another top pick, with George Sheppard carrying the weight. Sister/co-vocalist Amy takes the reins on “Love Me Now,” a swaying, swooning example of the success that Sheppard’s multi-vocalist formula can create.
Watching the Sky has its patches of clouds. There are things that I’m probably just nitpicking (and I’ll admit I am), that aren’t quite negatives, but could be better. “We Belong” is good, and it only reaches “good.” The pre-chorus of “now that we’ve lit this fire / we’ve got to fan the flame” has the potential for a huge note, but instead gets held in-check. Like I said, still good, it just could have hit a peak. Amy’s strong vocals on “Live For You” reinforce this notion, proving she can deliver. Here, however, a powerful vocal performance can’t fully recover from the cringeworthy lyrics – “Are we really breaking up / Wasn’t I enough for you / I gave my very best / But I failed every test you put me through.” It salvages itself, for the most part, but the first impression is a wince.
“Choke” is catchy and “It’s been a little while since you even said a word / if you never get to first then you’ll never get to third” is a great line but the track feels like Macarena 2.0 and I can’t shake that comparison. Sorry. And I swear, I’ll get back to more positives very soon, but I there’s one more moment I need to mention and if you’ve heard the album you know exactly what it is. “Edge Of the Night” is an upbeat, funky dancealong. And then out of nowhere, it drops into an almost comically deep-voiced chorus that is too sexy for itself. And yet, here I am again, convincing myself that it doesn’t not work? It’s wild and unexpected and confusing and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least fun. Plus, if you imagine Amy Sheppard as the one bellowing along, it makes it much better.
As promised, there’s more here to be appreciated. After the lukewarm “Live For You,” “Sorry” is the perfect reset; a wall-shaking power ballad with some of George’s best contribution on the record. Saving the best for [near] last, “Castaways” makes a late appearance and a lasting impact; a track so perfect for summer you’ll wish it were longer than just three months. Last, “I Was Lost” is a culmination of everything Sheppard can do well and know they do well. Starting gentle, it builds and adds elements throughout, with both Sheppards’ voices bouncing off one another as it gains momentum before a soaring conclusion.
After a week of play-throughs, I was torn. Still kind of am, if we’re being honest. On one hand, I told myself Watching the Sky doesn’t really do a whole lot of anything drastically new, so I should be bummed, right? But on the other, that’s not to say it’s all just more of the same here. Where they have found their best success – bold, bright, infectious pop music, these aspects are more refined and expanded on than ever. So where it might seem similar to things you’ve heard, it’s a better version of that. Like I said, I’m torn. So I’ll say this: some moments fizzle and some lyrics fall flat here and there, but all in all, Watching the Sky is a fun, energetic celebration that has the band showcasing great improvements and big steps forward.
Release Date: June 8th, 2018
Check Out: “Castaways,” “Keep Me Crazy,” “Sorry”
For Fans Of: Bleachers, MisterWives, Gin Wigmore
1. Watching the Sky
2. Coming Home
3. Keep Me Crazy
4. Love Me Now
5. We Belong
6. Edge of the Night
7. Live for You
10. Call Me Up
13. Ride the Wave
14. I Was Lost