Album Review:: Watching the Sky | Sheppard

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
Rating: 3.33/5
Run Time:

Check Out: “Castaways,” “Keep Me Crazy,” “Sorry”
For Fans Of: Bleachers, MisterWives, Gin Wigmore

Track Listing:
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
8. Sorry
9. Choke
10. Call Me Up
11. Hometown
12. Castaways
13. Ride the Wave
14. I Was Lost

Show Review:: Sheppard, Lawson 6/25/15

Sheppard, Lawson
The Hollow – Albany, NY
Saturday, July 25th, 2015
Review and photos by Eric Riley.

Having somewhere to be on a cloudy, rainy Saturday night is pretty ideal. When it’s a small, dark barroom playing catchy angry/bitter/less-than-totally-happy music, it’s even better. Looking around, the show was looking like it was going to be a pretty sparsely-attended one, withhhh (gimme a second to count…) thirtyyyy…. -two people on the floor ten minutes before the show was scheduled to start. But, there’s still time, and with how Sheppard’s music combines energy and emotion, this small number is sure to get bigger.

I always feel a little out of place in the bar scene. Even though I’m 23, and with my 24th birthday very quickly approaching, my baby-face stands out a bit. Add in a not-so-crowded audience of people (who, despite all probably being around my age, still all look older?) and things are a bit unsettling. But, again, who cares!? There’s music to be played (and I wrote this entire paragraph mostly to make myself look busy or important as I stood off to the side by myself with my camera in my hand. Type type type avoid eye contact avoid eye contact don’t somehow trip and fall. Confidence is key, y’all.).


With 8:00 drawing nearer, the room’s total reached the mid-40’s, bearing down on 50 and steadily growing. The woman selling merch is nice. The bouncer has a cool beard. They’re playing Passion Pit’s “Take A Walk” over the PA, which is always fun. Also I’m starting to think that the show is an 8:30 start time and the Internet lied to me yet again.

Openers Lawson kicked things off at 8:30. Very punctual, always a good thing. Providing support from the UK, the four-piece carried a buzz throughout the room in an instant. With huge guitar solos, an infectious pop sound, and a foreign touch, they won over new fans [myself included] in no time at all (or, rather, seven songs). Introducing the track “Juliet,” vocalist Andy Brown mentioned how it was “huge for them in the UK,” which normally makes me laugh a little because that is usually a joke about a band not making it big, buuut with them being from the UK and the track being a fucking ripper (I just saw that term online and now I like it a lot), this is an exception to the joke.

Lawson squeezing onto a stage that is smaller than my bedroom (which is pretty small, don’t think I live in some mansion or something) was impressive. But watching the six members of Sheppard somehow manage to spread themselves out, with room to jump around, was straight-up skillful. Must be family chemistry.

One of the most energetic groups I’ve watched in a decent while, Sheppard had their crowd breaking a sweat by the end of the opening song. Equally enjoyable as their energy, the band’s gratitude was present and massive. The group paused after nearly each song to graciously thank the crowd, with lead vocalist George [Sheppard] (three of the members share the same last name, so I’m going to refer to them by first name from here on out) at one point shouting “this is insane! We’re from the other side of the freaking planet! And there are people here! To watch us play music! And you know the words! There could be one dude and I’d love it, but look at this shit, there’s a room full of ya!”

Being in the center of the room with a bit of space around had me feeling like Mena Suvari during their cover of “Teenage Dirtbag.” Though this probably sounds unprofessional, Bassist Emma bashfully singing the female guest spot, then waving herself away and stepping back before she could finish was adorable and that’s the most accurate way I can think to put it.

In the instrumental bridge leading into “Find Someone,” (my favorite from Bombs Away) George talked about how it was going to be a bit of a shift – “We’ve got some good vibes going on in here! But this next song is … not so good vibes. It’s my ‘bad day gotta let out some aggression’ song.” After it came to a close, he breathed an exaggerated sigh. “But I’m better now, got that all outta my system! Back to the good vibes!”

As the night drew to an end, it was obvious “Geronimo” was going to wrap things up. “It’s time for our last one. We’re so sorry! You all probably knew what this one is gonna be,” Amy joked. The smash single went off without a hitch, and though this band is much more than just that song, they made it clear why this one is their frontrunner. Before the final chorus, we all crouched to our knees so we could spring up for the last “SAY GERONIMO.” Too fun.

Seemingly a bit of a secret, tonight was my first night seeing a show at The Hollow, which has stealthily crept its way to the #2 ranked music venue in Upstate NY. And though my camera equipment may not agree so much with the lighting, leading the night to be pretty much a swing-and-a-miss photographically, the sound system was supreme and the tight room, which can’t be more than thirty feet wide (and that’s being generous) felt anything but cramped. So sure, while I may not have been the biggest fan of this place from a photographer’s standpoint, as a music fan, I see myself going back there indefinitely. Dynamite performances from two stellar bands probably helped to sway that decision a bit, but who’s keeping score?

Lawson have new music on the way, and Sheppard said they’re already working on album #2. Getting the chance to see both of these bands’ first shows in Albany was a treat in itself, but when these two are selling out venues 10x bigger than where they played tonight, me and the sixty or so people in there tonight will get to remember this one for a while. (Also, just one last thing – all night, I couldn’t help but think “Lawson and Sheppard” sounds like an accounting firm or something. Right? Okay, I’m out.)