Sons and Daughters didn’t just title their first single “Johnny Cash” — they somehow channeled Cash’s dusty-trailed country folk, despite needing a time machine to examine the world he chronicled. Before their friends Franz Ferdinand broke out by riding a wave of flashy high-hat taps, this Glaswegian quartet dug their claws into classic Americana and added a touch of White Blood Cells on their 2004 EP, Love the Cup. Since then, they’ve become increasingly taken with the straightforward storytelling tradition of the murder ballad, adopting the dark narrative tone perfected by people like Woody Guthrie and the Man in Black himself.
On The Repulsion Box, their full-length debut, Sons and Daughters write simple riffs that, through repetition and Adele Bethel’s strongly accented, sneering vocals, become ominously assaulting. They sound as hardened as the songs’ weathered characters (killers, junkies, runaway brides), and their minimalist sonic approach — pulselike drumming, back-and-forth bass lines, tightly strummed guitars, and lively mandolin — is the perfect conduit for their sexy tales of dread.
With its Scottish inflections (found in boy-girl-sung folk melodies that make “gone” come out as goan), Repulsion is likeThe Wild Bunch seen from the outskirts of Edinburgh, a European reflection of the stylized American West. At a time when bands are drawing on cultural traces of the ’80s, Sons and Daughters build on the creaky saloons of the ’50s and ’60s — and the Hollywood directors who’ve recently revived them. Suspenseful lyrics, a whistled refrain, and a pounding backbeat make “Rama Lama” sound like the score to one of Kill Bill’s scenes of slow torture. Scott Paterson’s haunting baritone narrates the failed nuptials of “Red Receiver,” and on the spectacular single “Dance Me In” (the flip side to Franz’s “Take Me Out”), Bethel menacingly challenges a lover to come clean while a quick, syncopated rhythm section skitters beneath her. It’s hardly a carefree spin across the dance floor, but just like in a western, sometimes the best ending is one where somebody turns up dead.