There's urgency is in the voice of Sheer Mag singer Tina Halladay. It's piercing, searing, punctuating. It's a quality that has been present throughout her band's three-year existence. Even when she sings tender lines like, "Don't you know it's been such a long, long time/ Since I had you in my arms" on "Need to Feel Your Love," the title track on the band's debut full-length, there's an undercurrent of ferocity, an impossible-to-ignore force among Sheer Mag's robust, yet precise, compositions.
The release Friday of the South Philly outfit's much-anticipated debut, Need to Feel Your Love, is not the first time listeners will hear from Sheer Mag. They've put in the groundwork. Three EPs and as many years later, Halladay is ready for their LP to live in the world.
"I used to be so patient," Halladay said. "Something happened to me. I want people to hear the record. We worked on it for a long time, and to wait after you're done making something — to wait months and months — what artist does that? Does a painter wait to show their painting to everyone?"
While Halladay may be ready to show the world what she's got, the band has exhibited patience in creating a sound and identity, one that hinges just as much on blistering punk as it does on mystery. Sheer Mag — completed by Kyle Seely on lead guitar; his brother, bassist Hart Seely; Ian Dykstra on drums; and rhythm guitarist Matt Palmer — Sheer Mag evokes the lawlessness of anarchy, the jitters of new love, and the nostalgia of timeless rock and roll.
With three EPs, the first released in 2014, Sheer Mag have solidified their standing as arguably the city's most exciting DIY outfit, only accessible via the scrappy songs they posted on Bandcamp and their electrifying live performances. They had no social media presence (a man from Argentina currently holds the keys to their fan-run Facebook page) and have done few interviews. That's rare in an era where bands can spend just as much time building a brand as working on their material.
Sheer Mag purposefully took their time, Halladay said. "I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way than the way we did it. It's frustrating when people assume they know better than you, when it's your own thing that you're doing."
Need to Feel Your Love is the riff-laced declaration of affection during a time when such an emotion feels like a luxury. Written just after the election, the band grappled with their own internal relationships — the building and dissolution of them — while keeping a keenly focused eye on humanity at large.
"Matt was falling in love around that time," Halladay said, "and that's where some of the love songs came from. I was going through my own thing that was the opposite. I wasn't in love."
Opening track "Meet Me in the Street" serves as a rallying cry, with lyrics like "Silver spoon suckers headed for a fall/ And justice for all." Elsewhere, on the New Wave-tinged "Expect the Bayonet," Halladay beckons, "And I been reading the news and you'll surely regret/ If you don't give us the ballot/ Expect the bayonet."
"All these political things were going on around us," Halladay said, "that make you hold the people that are important to you closer and calling out the hypocrisy of the people in power."
Halladay, a self-taught vocalist who developed a musical style by mimicking soul singers, duets with Seely's guitar licks effortlessly, playing like a sonic version of a choreographed tango. "Suffer Me" features a jiving intro of guitar and bass; "Pure Desire" grooves with funk and soul. It's an inspired progression in a genre that has been pegged as one that has hit a plateau.
Rock's future doesn't hang in the fate of one band, however Sheer Mag's dedication to their uncompromised and still private sense of self offers a hopeful outlook. Maybe the genre, in some form, is dead, Halladay said. But maybe that's what needs to happen.
"I think it's being reclaimed by the people who are using it as an escape," she said. "The people who invented it in the first place will take it back over."