After the raging brilliance of their 2008 album This Gift, on which the band sounded like X with production by Phil Spector (actually Bernard Butler, but still…), Sons & Daughters had two choices. Get bigger or strip it down. To their credit, the band decided to go the less commercial and more challenging stripped-down route. With the help of producer J.D. Twitch (half of the electronic duo Optimo), the band have crafted a dramatic, sparse, and textured follow-up to the best record of their career. Mirror Mirror doesn’t have the immediate impact that This Gift had; it doesn’t rip your throat out instantly, but instead teases you malevolently and works its way into your blood like poison. The examples of the shift in approach are many: from the tensely coiled tempos to the tightly wound arrangements, Mirror Mirror sounds like the work of a markedly different band, or at least one that is fully committed to a different approach. The rhythm section dials back the intensely pounding sound they built on This Gift in favor of a restrained punch. Scott Paterson's guitar work is more surgical as he picks his spots and strikes with jagged notes and ugly noises instead of churning out huge riffs. His vocals are more upfront this time, too; his strangled everyman shout even takes the lead on the first single “Breaking Fun.” Despite this, though, Adele Bethel's vocals remain the most impressive aspect of the band’s sound. She fits into the stripped-down arrangements perfectly; belting out the occasional choruses, crooning darkly, and adopting a spooky, whispered falsetto that is both hair-raising and breathtaking. She gets credit for blending into the new sound rather than just riding over the top of it like a less subtle vocalist might have done. Twitch gets loads of credit, too, because thanks to his work, the record avoids the trap many bands fall into when they make a record like this, that of equating stripped down with uninteresting. There are enough production tricks, interesting song structures, and different guitar and vocal sounds here to leap over that pitfall with all kinds of dangerous grace. Mirror Mirror isn’t the kind of record that will bowl you over right away, but as you listen, the barely contained drama and violence of the performances, the bloody hooks each song contains, and the inspired craft of the arrangements will draw you in and knock you out. It isn’t every band who can change this late in their life so dramatically and with such resounding success, and Sons & Daughters do it near perfectly.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra