“Never have I had a rational mind, and never have I been rational inside.” That’s the very first line that Sallie Ford spits out on “They Told Me,” the first track on Untamed Beast, the brand new record by Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside. If Portland, OR had a sound, it would probably be that of Sallie Ford: persistently laser-focused, obsessed with notions of the past, and preternaturally good at using the given space to collect an unseen advantage. This is by no means a bad thing: the first time I heard this band, they were opening for Iron & Wine in the middle of the city, and the band’s sound made the place sound like a dive bar, despite the fact that they were playing their songs in the middle of the city, in a ridiculously mismatched venue (i.e. a massive one), at around 4 in the afternoon. Since then, the band hasn’t changed their sound so much as distilled it, carving away the unnecessary bits in favor of raw, pulsing nerves.
This is a band that plays in an alternate universe where Jack White and his White Stripes never existed, and though I have become slightly jaded about straight-up rock music, it’s hard to not be inspired by this band. Untamed Beast is the kind of stomper that reinvigorates your adoration for a particular style of music, or even for an instrument. It’s a record that may as well have been made in 1959, and indeed, if I were presented with it as an album that were that old, my only question would be about why nobody had told me about it sooner. There are a hundred little things to fall in love with here, be it startlingly reserved and intimate production present on the album’s closer “Roll Around,” or the way Ford punches up the word “Paris” in the chorus of the song of the same name: “You’re like a parasite.” And that’s just two examples off the top of my head. Each song reveals a series of hidden touches after several listens, and it’s hard to not be wrapped up by it. The best moment, however, is the sexy-as-hell bass solo near the end of “Rockability,” which is interrupted by Ford’s crazed barking – believe me, that’s better than it sounds.
Lyrically is where the album takes things to a different level, however. Simplicity is the name of the game here, and it works impressively for Ford: the metaphor in “Addicted” is one of the most effective on the album, which takes the easy route of comparing love to an addiction, but throws us a curveball by solving the problem by throwing you out “like a cigarette butt.” She toes the line between being thoroughly adept at writing love songs, and writing songs about drinking and screwing, all of which are done far too well to be allowed. On “Bad Boys,” when she exclaims all of the things she can do as well as any man, it comes off as raw and truly powerful, rather than clumsy, like it would with most other musicians: “I can fuck, I can drink, I don’t care what you think.” A line like that needs conviction to back it up, or else it’s just going to sound foolish, but I can’t help but find myself smitten in the span of that singular song – and I am not a bad boy. Even the silliest song on the album, “Do Me Right,” works better than it should considering its extended food/sex metaphor. And none of these songs last nearly long enough.
Near the very end of the album, on the aforementioned “Roll Around,” Ford sings something that fits perfectly with the timeless feeling I got when listening to Untamed Beast: “I just wanna live in the fifties / And you could take me on a date.” There’s a yearning for peace and quiet in that song, which is at remarkable odds with the sheer noise produced by the rest of the songs here. It almost feels like, over the course of half an hour, the band sheds every last layer of intensity, and all that’s left is for them to recharge in a place where, perhaps, the music they’ve made fits in a little better. Some bands just weren’t made for these times, and though this might be one of the best bands that fits that description, I can’t help but be incredibly hopeful that they get the admiration they deserve.