Portland, Maine, rockers Sun Gods in Exile make no bones about who they are or what they do. Their second album, Thanks for the Silver (Small Stone), is guitar rock all the way through – a dudely amalgam of Southern riffing and solos that puts a figurative edge to the literal “double-guitar” lineup distinction. It’s easy to imagine six-string connoisseurs swishing the work of Tony D’Agostino and Adam Hitchcock around a brandy snifter to air them out – or at very least popping the top of a can and enjoying the hiss and the fizz as a song like “Moonshine” plays out its Southern course. At times Thanks for the Silver is almost a caricature of heavy Southern rock masculinity, and coming from a band located in the northernmost state in the continental US, that has its own issues, but damned if the five-piece don’t do it well, and the sophomore outing shows marked growth from where their 2009 debut, Black Light, White Lines (review here) left off, most notably with the inclusion of Christopher Neal’s keyboards.
The effect Neal has on Sun Gods in Exile’s sound is to add melodic range and complement the riffs with long-sustained notes, as on a song like “Smoke and Fire” on the second half of the album, on which he fills out the verses behind Hitchcock’s lead vocals (everyone but D’Agostino provides backups), or “Since I’ve Been Home,” a classic road song in the same tradition with which labelmates Dixie Witch often align themselves. Despite its liberal soloing and guitar prominence, “Since I’ve Been Home” – as close as the 10-track Thanks for the Silver gets to a centerpiece – is a highlight more for Hitchcock’s vocals and those that back him for what’s probably the album’s most memorable chorus. Earlier cuts like the opening duo “Hammer Down” and “Moonshine” find D’Agostino and Hitchcock, as well as bassist JL (since replaced by his brother, Mark Lennon) and drummer John Kennedy, purposefully making room to account for Neal in the songwriting. The Hammond sounds add flourish to the riffs but are almost always in service to the guitar, as are the bulk of the rhythms, as are the structures, the vocals, and so on. If you’re someone who tunes out solos or thinks they’re needless wankery or if you’re even slightly unimpressed by scorching leads, Sun Gods in Exile simply is not the band for you. Their ballsy classicism – excellently balanced by Benny Grotto’s recording job and mix – won’t so much touch a nerve as get on one, and, frankly, you’ll miss the point of Thanks for the Silver, which if I haven’t yet made it clear, is all in the guitar.