So So Glos records thrive on the tension between adolescent exuberance and an alienation from it—the band is at once dancing in the crowd and hovering above it. As such, their songs are built on youthful punk rock foundations; lead singer Alex Levine’s affected English accent helps make the band sound like a London Calling-era Mick Jones side project (that’s not a complaint). But like their obvious idols—they even dress like the Clash!—they liberate punk from its rockabilly rudiments, introducing big-kid concepts like minor chords, key changes, complex arrangements, and political lyrics obscured by poetic imagery.
Their great breakthrough, Tourism/Terrorism, throbbed with buoyant thrashing, the raw sound of teenage exhilaration born of emptied forties. But for their addictive latest—the first part of a planned full-length that the record company decided to chop into smaller pieces—they’ve picked up hot-shit producer Nicolas Vernhes, a full-fledged grown-up. The band still erupts with magmatic emotion. But now their guitar riffs are tighter; the rhythms, cleaner. There are violins and saxophones. Chain Shift concentrates on signifiers of a time before Williamsburg or even The Mudd Club: Fred Astaire dances through his eponymous opening track; shallow revelers lindy hop through the last. The So Sos have lost some of their old jubilance, exchanging it for more cultural estrangement. "I got older," Levine sings on "New Stance." "Strange these things happen." And that we’re both better and worse off for it.