Sweethead’s self-titled debut, out now on The End Records, is like a desert-scorched night on the town. There’s a little glitz and glamour, sure, but there’s also an edge to it that feels just a little bleak and lonesome.
Sweethead is the new project from Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age, so the nebulous, single-minded guitar sound is instantly recognizable. The band also includes vocalist Serrina Sims and a pair of players from the Mark Lanegan Band in Eddie Nappi and Norm Block.
The record’s 13 tracks feature similar patterns of devious vocals, fuzzy and lingering guitars, and insistent rhythm. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of diversity in the sound and it becomes hard to tell some tracks apart.
Vocally, Serrina Sims has a hidden passion that feels like it’s raring to get away, but her tone keeps it just below the surface covered in sly sexuality and hushed tones.
The record begins with “The Sting,” a groove-based rocker that makes good use out of a mischievous guitar riff. Sims’ removed vocals punch it up during the chorus and Van Leeuwen lays out some nice work during the bridge, cutting a swath of stringed goodness over the romp-and-stomp of the band’s rhythm section.
“Turned Our Backs” is a pleasing slice of rapid-fire punk rock, although it feels slightly and perhaps appropriately subdued.
Sweethead has toured with the likes of Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles of Death Metal, so fans of those acts will find something to chew on with this release. But the band doesn’t do much to pull ahead of the pack and this might hurt them in the long run.
The problem with the record is that there’s very little to be discovered after the band’s NIN-ish “P.I.G.” The industrial-tinged track is brave and engaging, smattered with “woo-hoos” and tight playing, but the rest of the album abandons the momentum and creativity brought out by the first three tracks.
“Running Out” and “Amazing Vanishing Conquest” sound like mirror images of the same song, for instance, and the sub-standard “Sinkhole International” flirts with surf guitar before burying us once more with remote, unoccupied vocals and a featureless bass riff that feels torn from other songs on the album.
There’s some good stuff here, without question, but Sweethead’s lack of scale and variety doesn’t do much to help them stand out in a world of similar sounding acts. The bleary, desert-kissed guitar vibe is all too common in this genre and, without a smattering of cleverness or courage, it simply doesn’t wind up carrying very far.