Album Spotlight: Sad Looks Pretty on Me Remains Unrivaled
March 19, 2021 marked the release of RIVALS’ sophomore album, Sad Looks Pretty on Me. Following 2018’s Damned Soul, this record further strengthens the band’s alternative spirit, and expands its atmospheric sound. Clocking in at forty-three minutes, Sad Looks Pretty on Me showcases a rich variety of lyrical and instrumental motifs. It invites listeners to buckle in, rock out and ready themselves for the contemplative journey of a lifetime. This amalgam of pop and hard rock is artistically shaded by life’s most stirring themes: loss, apathy and the quest for self-identity.
Lead vocalist Kalie Wolfe and guitarist Micket Woodle successfully weave brooding riffs and a less-than-innocent worldview into the fabric of the record. Sad Looks Pretty on Me puts a pleasing spin on the edgiest elements of pop and hard rock. Wolfe’s masterful phrasing, complemented by the skilled placement of effects and interplay between band members, combines the contemporary flair of Hayley Williams with the perceptiveness of Billie Eilish. The album is a remarkable achievement in both pop and rock. It remains unrivaled by anything that dares to dip its toes in both genres.
“Sad Looks Pretty on Me”
The title track marks the beginning of the listener’s journey. Boasting an ambient, The National-esque introduction, this head-bobbing melody quickly transitions to a fist-pumping anthem. Woodle’s monstrous guitar riff throughout the chorus, coupled with Wolfe’s ethereal vocal harmonies, take the song’s significance to depths unexplored.
After experiencing 2020, I relate to this track more than I would have at any other point in my life. “Lavenders” is the summation of clinging to comfort during times of drastic change. It also conveys that apathy can result from enduring relentless periods of uncertainty. Though the song’s true inspiration remains unknown, its message is appreciated now more than ever.
Just one quarter of the way through the album, Wolfe requests permission to spill her beans. “Can I be honest?” she asks. What follows is a handful of genuine confessions and expressions of self-perception. By the end of the song, the listener feels included as one of the band’s most trusted confidants. This track delivers the thrill of being read your closest friend’s late-night journal entry.
This contagiously catchy track could be mistaken for a Riot-era Paramore hit. However, it contains loads of modern nuances that make it uniquely RIVALS’. Among these is the open address of mental health. Equal parts strength and honesty, “Dead Flowers” shines as one of the record’s most memorable songs.
“Fake Rich (feat. Elijah Witt)”
Stylistically, this track totally perplexes me. Incorporating elements of hip hop, hard rock and deathcore, it blows a hole in my perceived understanding of this record. The cornerstone of Sad Looks Pretty on Me is no laughing matter. It calls into question our culture as a whole, as well as the true definition of success. If the album is a building, “Fake Rich (feat. Elijah Witt)” is the massive neon that illuminates the front entrance. It emphatically welcomes the listener into a state of slight discomfort and self-examination of his/her values.
In a straightforward fashion, Wolfe contests that many little mistakes can lead to mental mountain ranges of fear and regret. The track’s slower pace gives the listener a much-needed chance to breathe after experiencing “Fake Rich (feat. Elijah Witt)”, while never fully coaxing him/her out from a self-reflective headspace.
Despite its name, “Strawberries” likely alludes to something far more destructive than sweet berries. The stark contrast between the jubilant melody and weighty lyrics creates an auditory paradox. It can only be made sensible by hearing the song multiple times. Thankfully, RIVALS does not have to twist my arm.
“Change Things (feat. Dutch Melrose)”
Singer-songwriter Dutch Melrose adds a calm dynamic to this otherwise infectious track. The presiding groove, courtesy of bassist Sebastian Chamberlain and drummer Josh Alves, is what take the song to the next level.
“On the Loose”
The result of what I can only imagine was pent-up nervous energy, “On the Loose” seamlessly merges acoustic and electronic aesthetics. Woodle’s rich, guitar-driven melody is unlike any other found on the record. It is sure to become your new midnight cruising song.
“Are You Listening?”
The pain present within broken homes and severed familial connections serves as the fragmented foundation of this masterpiece. Inside the thick fog of ominous guitar riffs lies the vulnerable heart of this song. It is this spirit of vulnerability that permeates the final stretch of Sad Looks Pretty on Me.
Arguably the most heart-wrenching song on the record, “To Dom” ends with a surprisingly positive message of support and encouragement. Though the complexity of the electronic embellishments are proportional to that of the lyrics, we will hopefully be graced by an unplugged version someday. I’ll have my tissues at the ready.
Ironically, the search for answers about oneself ends in the form of a question. Haunting gang vocals usher the listener to the end of the album, ready to partake in its brilliance once more. Sad Looks Pretty on Me finishes with a hardened edge—one that makes it a worthy addition to RIVALS’ discography.
Be sure to support RIVALS and purchase your copy of Sad Looks Pretty on Me here! You can also listen on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube Music.