Sacred Paws Make Fun and Upbeat Rock Music on 'Run Around the Sun'

Photo: Katherine Rose / Merge Records

Glasgow-based indie poppers Sacred Paws offer up a second album full of brisk, bright songs that draw from several styles, notably Afrobeat and post-punk.

Run Around the Sun
Sacred Paws

Merge / Rock Action

31 May 2019

Run Around the Sun, Sacred Paws' second album, is a collection of brisk, bright songs that draw from several styles, notably Afrobeat and post-punk. Imagine a less pretentious, more sonically focused Vampire Weekend and you're off to a good start. Technically, the band is a duo, with Eilidh Rodgers on drums and percussion and Rachel Aggs on guitars and bass. Both women share singing duties, with a lot of harmonies and interlocking vocal lines. However, most of the songs on Run Around the Sun sound like the work of a quartet or sometimes a full six or seven-piece group. Aggs almost always has two distinct guitar parts going as well as a bassline, while Rodgers often has extra percussion (agogo bells, bongos, woodblock, tambourine) in addition to her upbeat, complex drumming.

Opening track "The Conversation" ends up being a bit atypical for the band, as Aggs uses a bunch of distorted guitar. And it's the only song that uses distortion on the album. But the other elements of the song, with its high-speed hi-hat work and mid to low register second guitar and harmonized vocals, is a good representation of what Sacred Paws does. Aside from a noisy intro, that distorted guitar is mostly a background effect, while the cheery, active second guitar part functions as the lead instrument.

The second song "Almost It" picks up where "The Conversation" leaves off, with another bright, active guitar line and hi-hat and snare-heavy drums. But this time a second guitar is switched out for a horn section of trumpets and trombone. The horns provide accents and an instrumental riff between the verses, giving "Almost It" the feel of a ska song even though it lacks ska's signature syncopated, upstroke guitar. Rodgers also employs a lot of bongos and tambourine here, which heavily contributes to the song's tropical feel.

Sacred Paws features the horns a couple more times throughout the album, and they function as a great spice to their basic sound. "Life's Too Short" has hyperactive drums and a quick guitar line, with a midtempo vocal melody. Here the slow, warm horn chords work as a counterbalance to the high-speed stuff. It keeps the song on an even keel as the lyrics go from wistful to defiant on lines like, "I don't know what you want / And I don't care, no, life's too short." "Write This Down", on the other hand, keeps the tempo and energy level high but is one of the few instances of minor key on the album. The darker groove is a nice change of mood, as are the generally low-end horns. There is a lot of growling trombone here plus a significant bass guitar part.

At other times Rodgers and Aggs really work together on vocals. The duo has similar sounding voices and vocal ranges, which makes for a nice blend when they sing in harmony. "Shame on Me" uses woodblock and organ to give the song a distinct feel, but it's the two women trading lines and casually harmonizing that sells the song. "How Far" saves the harmonies for the refrain, but the track's laid back style helps make that refrain a big hook and easy sing-along. "Is This Real", on the other hand, layers the two voices all over the place. There are lines sung in unison that split into harmony and parts that echo before the first line is finished. It might be the most complex song vocally on the album, but it's also the fastest and shortest. It reminded me of '90s ska-punk act Dancehall Crashers, which also featured dual female vocalists with similar voices.

Run Around the Sun is an entertaining, enjoyable album from beginning to end. Stylistically Sacred Paws usually stick to uptempo, bright songs, but their basic sound is unusual enough that the similar-sounding songs aren't a detriment. Aggs' guitar style, which features a lot of nimble melodic lines and almost no chords, is pretty atypical for indie rock, but it pairs well with Rodgers' busy, creative drumming style. The two work extremely well together and it shows through their music.

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