The 2000s have seen countless bands making pilgrimages to the well of post-punk for inspiration and theft. For every band like the Horrors, whose Primary Colours was a shining example of the elixir’s potency, there have been many bands like Editors who, despite success, have failed to honor the genre’s blazing originality by summoning any uniqueness of its own (the ability to make a Prefab Sprout song brutally unlistenable notwithstanding). Scotch outfit Sons and Daughters—whose previous incarnations included punky and punky with some minor commercial sensibilities—has chosen to drink forth from that post-punk well on their fourth release, Mirror Mirror. While not entirely uninventive in its approach, Mirror Mirror is far from a Primary Colours style reinvention.
Sonically, Mirror Mirror is so icy cold, male vocalist Scott Paterson’s post-punk baying so exact, one wonders whether it is all meant to be taken seriously. “Axed Actor”, a song about the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder, even contains an interpolation of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”. Such a move, particularly when it interrupts some near-comically morbid lyrics, is an affront to seriousness. A move that risks making the songs appear even more ridiculous yet actually succeeds in bringing something new to the table is the odd industrial flourishes scattered throughout the album. The buzzing in “Bee Song”—not to mention Adele Bethel’s whispered vocals—slips under the skin with ease. “Ink Free” replaces the buzzes with typewriter clacks and the menace of Bethel’s vocals is enhanced by Paterson’s backing moans, which sound like they are being sung from the bottom of that aforementioned post-punk well. First single “Breaking Fun” includes what sounds like a machine gun guitar, awarding the song an industrial edge.
However, all these sonic additions may be covers for the fact that Sons and Daughters have little of interest to say. True, opener “Silver Spell” has some interesting lines about broken bad luck and eyes drowning to floods, but songs like “The Model” result to the same tropes which are always applied to songs about looks being deceptive, with a suicide added to nail the point home. A song that does excite in terms of subject matter is “Don’t Look Now”, which is likely inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s classic thriller of the same name. While the song offers no new insight into the film, it does display some deft vocal intertwining from Bethel and Paterson, particularly on the very Ian Curtis-y shouts of “Control!”
As cold and impersonal as post-punk may seem, at its best it still manages to hit a very deep nerve. Mirror Mirror just comes and goes with little emotional resonance, its greatest modes of discomfort being the musical equivalent of a haunted house’s creaky floorboards. Overall on Mirror Mirror, Sons and Daughters sound like they are borrowing from the Interpol version of post-punk rather than the real thing. This seems like as good a warning as any that the original well needs some replenishing. Thank goodness the Horrors are releasing a new album soon.