Music can be described using any number of words, but most of them aren't especially adept at painting a picture to represent the sound. When we call music beautiful, for instance, it can mean wildly different things, depending on who is doing the talking. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Good and bad, heavy and light, none of these descriptions are able to convey the essence of a type of music to someone who has yet to hear it. They're fine adjectives to use in a discussion after the fact, but if you're trying to prepare someone for a new experience, it's difficult to find the right words to describe music. There are exceptions, of course, and one of them is 'sleaze'.
The word, on its own, conjures up all manner of images, all of which are perfectly mated to the music that bears the name. Sleaze is ugly, dirty music that feels like it was ripped from the hearts of the worst parts of town. Regardless of what you think of the original sleaze bands, or the ones that have resurrected the sound all these years later, you have to admire the descriptive power of the word.
Sister is one of the modern sleaze bands, one of those I'm not sure was old enough to remember the originals while they were still popular. What would make them gravitate towards such a dated sound is questionable, although I'm sure it has something to do with the perception of rock and roll as being dangerous. It's a fantasy, since music itself can be no such thing, but the belief is what matters.
I can't say I've ever heard an album begin with a false start before, but “Disguised Vultures” does that, coming out of the gate with a short blast of fury that dies down before “My Enemy” begins properly. The hybrid of punk and sleaze is energetic, to be sure, but the only thing I got out of the song were lyrics about Reese's Pieces. I'm not sure that melds very well with the image the band is going for.
Instrumentally, Sister hits on a solid combination. They manage to take the raw energy of punk, and blend it with the swagger of old-time sleaze, which results in the album having a different identity than many of the other bands that try to play a similar style. They are a rougher band than, for instance, Hardcore Superstar, which plays well into the sound of the record. This kind of music should be rough around the edges, which Sister is, in the right ways. It would be easy to counterbalance the disdain for sheen by going too far in the other direction, and making a record that was ragged and hard to listen to.
What doesn't work, however, are the vocals. Even when the songs offer up solid hooks, like the lead single “Sick”, the vocals are there to ruin what could have been great. There's nothing wrong with having some rasp to a voice, and many singers I love a great deal fit into that category, but these vocals are harsh to the point of rendering the lyrics indecipherable. There probably isn't much literary value in them, but getting inside the songs is nearly impossible without that connection.
That leaves me incredibly disappointed, because I can see what could have been. The songs on “Disguised Vultures” are a lot of fun, and could have made for a really good album. But they way they're presented here, I don't want to listen to them if I don't have to. The sleaze of the old days painted an ugly facade on music that was designed for a good time. Sister slops too thick a coat on their music, turning what should have been a solid album into one that misses the mark a bit too much for me to enjoy it.