There are two ways to approach the self-titled debut from French four-piece The Socks. You can say, “Oh, it’s retro,” and immediately make your comparisons to Kadavar, to Graveyard, etc., and either write it off or dig in as you will based on your opinions on those bands and heavy ’70s devotees in general. Or you can listen to the thing. Life is short, and frankly, either is a valid-enough way to go, but I’ve found the latter to be the more satisfying route. There’s no taking away from the fact that songs like “Some Kind of Sorcery” and “The Last Dragon” have a strong earlier Graveyard influence, but “Next to the Light” goes right to the Sabbathian source to bounce vocalist Julien Méret‘s lead guitar off of “War Pigs,” and throughout the album, on that track, on “Gypsy Lady,” closer “The Last Dragon” and on “Holy Sons,” The Socks distinguish themselves through the keyboard work of rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Baud, who adds Mellotron and organ sounds to add melodic depth to the fluid rhythms of bassist Vincent Melay and drummer Jessy Ensenat. When they boogie — and they do — there’s plenty familiar about it, and if that were all The Socks had to offer, the album would be almost entirely redundant, but there are more than a few turns between parts, cuts in tempo or launches into speedy shuffle, that serve to showcase The Socks as a dynamic songwriting act in their own right.
Couple that with a production more modern than either of the aforementioned touchstones of the style, and the Lyon foursome seem to be headed somewhere else within the classic heavy framework. In both their speedier material — the rush of “Some Kind of Sorcery,” though met with an impressive slowdown in its middle third, is immediate and indicative of The Socks at their fastest here — and in the more languid grooves of songs like “Holy Sons,” on which Ensenat effectively propels the build with organic-sounding kick, the band is confident, well assured of where they want pieces to go. Structurally traditional, songs have their hooks, but don’t come across as being written solely to get stuck in the audience’s head. “Electric War” finds Méret and Baud working well together on vocals in what sounds like a dynamic that will continue to develop as The Socks progress, but catchy as that track’s chorus is, the more lasting impression is leaves comes from the stomp in its midsection and the ease with which the band plays one rhythm off the other. They’ve been a band for half a decade (if you’re interested in reading their bio, I wrote it), and a grip on time changes like theirs doesn’t develop without considerable stage time, but it still feels like early mastery of pitting slowdowns and speedups against each other — that is, something they brought to the table initially instead of something that evolved over the course of their two prior EPs, 2011′s Side A and 2012′s Bedrock, and the songwriting for the self-titled. Either way, it’s there, and it’s a big part of the album’s appeal.
To that appeal, one must add the overarching flow between the songs. The Socks have obviously had an awareness of vinyl structuring since their first EP — the title is a big clue — and at 43 minutes long, The Socks is still vinyl-ready, but taken in digital or CD form, the nine tracks move remarkably smoothly one to the next. There are a few solid breaks, as between “Gypsy Lady” and the righteously thickened groove of “We Live,” but even there the changes make sense, and earlier in the album, opener “Lords of Illusion” holds its last note to feed right into the vocals that start “Some Kind of Sorcery,” which in turn holds its last note to bring in “Next to the Light,” into “New Kings” and so on. Side B, as it were, is less concerned with that, but more dynamic sonically, with the organ-driven classic heavy rock bounce of “Gypsy Lady” and the more dramatic build of “The Last Dragon” to finish out the album on a particularly cinematic note. The closer’s second half is especially reliant on the keys to fill out the sound, as guitars step back, the bass halts and even the snare roll fades out. With about a minute and a half to go, however, The Socks burst back to life (this is where the Mellotron comes into play) at full volume and give their debut a proper apex that earns its place as the finale. It’s short, obviously, but a suitable end to an album that has moved with striking ease through rhythmic complexities that would boggle many bands, and one that more and more on repeat listens distinguishes The Socks from their contemporaries taking influence both from generations past and present in heavy rock.