In late 2007 I did a story for The Observer’s departed weekly, “Charlotte Eye,” on a handful of local artists to watch. S.O. Stereo was one of those four bands and three and a half years later the same lineup remains intact. The group recently put out its second release, a six-song EP produced by manager Bruce Irvine, a veteran Charlotte-based mixer and studio engineer who has long worked with Anthony Hamilton and more recently with Paper Tongues and Jill Scott.
A lot of what I wrote about S.O. Stereo in 2007 is true of the new EP (clever, conversational lyrics, memorable songs, inventive drumming…), but there’s also growth as if the group has really found its sound. Its first disc, while rooted in rock, had elements of trip-hop, spoken word, folk-rock and hip-hop. That sort of stylistic flexibility worked well. I especially liked “Gunslinger,” but the new EP is a more focused and darker, moving away from Dave Matthews and closer to early Radiohead, an edgier Coldplay or the Bravery. The band's inclusion on an episode of “The Vampire Diaries” last season (where it interacted with the cast) was rather fitting. Bradley C. Davis’ voice still has an unusual catch to it – the kind sometimes found in torchy singers like Shirley Bassey or Eartha Kitt. That may seem like a strange comparison, but I imagine it’s what Matthews would sound like fronting a European dance-rock outfit that's also capable of deep soulful ballads.
Like “One” or “Clocks” the words, acoustic guitar and group chorus of “This Place” reminds me of the kind of unifying anthems that can momentarily turn a U2 or Coldplay concert into a spiritual revival. “Some people call it alone/and some of us call it home” Davis sings. The opener “I’ll Take the Bullet” rides a danceable guitar hook into a catchy sing-songy chorus. The hooks keep coming with dark, fluttering guitar lines. I can also imagine hearing these songs getting bigger and grander if a big label got its hands on it.
Most of the EP is available at iTunes and is available at shows. You can also hear songs at https://www.facebook.com/saveourstereo. S.O. Stereo returns to Amos’ Southend September 8.