The Shreveport rock band show their R&B influences on their New West Records debut.
Shreveport’s Seratones fell together in the way that musicians who hang out in the same spaces do, and in 2015 they released two powerful singles, “Choking on Your Spit” and “Necromancer,” before they released Get Gone in 2016 on Fat Possum Records. Those songs brought MC5-like garage punk energy and momentum with A.J. Haynes’ vocals giving the whole thing a psychedelic soul vibe. Seratones were not the first band to hit on this sound. The BellRays from Riverside, California got there in the early 1990s with singer Lisa Kekaula, but the blurb for the band that you see on a Google search page reveals the problem with the space they and Seratones staked out: “Punk but not punk. Rock but not rock. Soul but not soul.” How do you establish an identity out of so many self-negating assertions?
Seeing Seratones in 2016, it was clear that this lineup wouldn’t overstay its welcome in the rock ’n’ roll world. The band was together enough but not completely together, so it wasn’t a big surprise to hear that Power, the band’s second album, doesn’t sound like Get Gone II. The intensity remains as does the the rhythm section of Jesse Gabriel and Adam Davis, but guitarist Connor Davis is no longer with the band, and the ferociously scrubbed garage guitars went with him. Since that MC5-like garage rock sound is meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy for me, I miss the Stones-on-Steroids hipshake of “Necromancer,” but Power moves in directions that make sense.
Davis was replaced by Travis Stewart and keyboard player Tyran Coker, and the Seratones that play on Power are closer to an R&B band. They still show a healthy punk disrespect for institutions including genre boundaries and historical time lines, visiting girl group sounds and ‘80s No Parking on the Dance Floor funk within 20 minutes of each other. In this lineup, Haynes not only stands centerstage as the vocalist but as the conceptual core. Power is about her and and her growth as a singer and vocalist, but not in an egotistical way. Nothing about the album suggests that she demanded the spotlight, but once the songs’ charms were specific to the band and not a genre, she had to grow into her gig.
Fortunately, she did. “Fear is the weight of the world / coming down with no love in return,” she sings, exploring her own anxieties in a way that the songs on Get Gone didn’t. On that album, the words were often just things to sing with little meaning or relevance outside whatever genre-specific buzz they added. Now that the words put more on the line, there’s also more to her performance. Haynes is still more of a rock singer than an R&B singer, and she livens up songs with her presence in much the same way that Tina Turner did, but she’s now trying to get her own ideas across and not simply the idea of a rock band. When the album concludes with the piano ballad “Crossfire,” she calls for her loved one to hold on to her “until the crossfire fades,” and in times when that could be interpreted literally as well as metaphorically, it’s a sweet grace note for the album that displays the warmth of her voice—something Haynes will likely explore more in future albums.
“Crossfire” is the sonic aberration on Power, where Seratones still employ healthy doses of fuzz. It’s often on the bass though, so instead of conjuring up pre-classic rock days the way fuzzed guitars do, the songs bring to mind dance music and hip-hop. There are looped moments, ’80s synth sounds, and a contemporary, digital equivalent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. The eclectic borrowings from rock and R&B from different eras mark Power as contemporary in a way that digging deep on one era doesn’t. Power doesn’t have a “Necromancer” or “Choking on Your Spit,” but it is a more complete musical statement than Get Gone. That album worked because it scratched a pre-existing itch. Power works better because it invites listeners into Haynes’ world, and it’s not obvious where we’re going next.