Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Sandpaper Dolls are a vocal group with a difference. Best described as The Andrews Sisters crossed with Regina Spektor, their a cappella harmonies are combined with experimental vocal effects and percussive noises to create interesting, and often unsettling layers of sound.
It is often forgotten what an incredibly diverse instrument the human voice actually is, and Sandpaper Dolls, made up of veteran singers Suki Anderson, Amber Estes, and Rebecca Dennison are looking to remind us of this.
Opening track ‘Betrayer & Enemy’ sets the album’s ghostly tone. Effects at the beginning sound almost like a thunderstorm, and the layered vocals are awash with dark jazz chords. Some songs, such as ‘One Leaf’ are simpler, showing off the group’s tight harmonies and musical expertise, as an uncomplicated blues melody breaks off into a round.
Those familiar with Regina Spektor’s more experimental side will recognise a lot of the vocal sounds used on the album. In ‘Colors’, the group use heavy breathing as percussion, looped under the medoly. However, they keep it fairly highbrow and experimental, and quite breaking into beatbox territory. The closest they come to this is probably ‘Spiders’, a livelier song with backing vocals reminiscent of full-on soul.
Even the more complicated songs are still minimalist, and remain stripped back. It is clear that the group favour harnessing the innate power of their voices over special effects and artificial production work on their tracks. Sandpaper Dolls’ first full-length studio release is not as accessible as Spektor’s work, but it is just as interesting. The group’s expert arrangements and individual
talents shine through.
Words: Lizzie Palmer