Saturday, July 01, 2006

Antithetical criticism

Early Boston map

State Fair - The Shrinking Islands

Swallowed In Grace - The Shrinking Islands

Allow me to point out the elephant in the room. Over there, a little dusty, musty, smelling of lower wolves, harborcoats, maps and legends and other jangly folk-rock artifacts after a good South Central rain. Yep, it's the sublime influence of early R.E.M and you can't miss it when listening to The Shrinking Islands. In these late days, it seems churlish to bitch about this sort of thing. So I'm not gonna. Nothing's original anymore; who cares; get over it. Because The Shrinking Islands have. They produce very good songs in their own right. But while we're on the subject, this Cambridge, Mass. band's bio also mentions The Clean and The Moles--shout-outs guaranteed to win my approval, even if, IMHO, they sound little like those sainted (I have little shrines set up in my bedroom) Kiwis/Aussies. Still, if these are faves, massive props for good taste.

So what does The Shrinking Islands sound like? To borrow a line from "State Fair": "green miles on parade," or feathery guitar arpeggios, rolling, melodic basslines, thwacking beats, yearning, vulnerable vocals, slippery lyrics that seem to evaporate in the sun. The first two verses of "State Fair" are diffident, close-to-the-chest feints before the band punches out the walls, opening the song in an expansive, extended instrumental of blue skies, brown, snaking roads and hills that march to infinity. "Swallowed In Grace" is a more conventional verse-chorus-verse pop composition, with a first-rate earworm of a melody. Once heard, you can't shake it.

I didn't just cherry pick these two tracks off the band's forthcoming debut EP In The Black Carpet (in August, on Sort Of Records). Everything on the stylistically consistent record is this good. Also, if you go to the band's Myspace you can stream an excellent, more recent song, "Blood Rays," one that hints at the unexpected breaks and er, crazy rhythms of The Feelies.

Sort Of Records is a newer, Pittsburgh-based label with an all-around impressive lineup of artists. So I strongly encourage you to check out some of the other acts (including free mp3 downloads) over there. Besides The Shrinking Islands, I was struck by The Instances, label founder/manager Raymond Morin's own project (Indie Workshop has a really good interview with Morin). In particular, this lovely, acoustic fingerstyle rumination:

The Mist Covered Mountains of Pittsburgh - The Instances

Listening to The Shrinking Islands had me dredging up R.E.M's Chronic Town, something I hadn't listened to in eons. It makes me feel 16 again, spending hours lying on my stomach on my bed trying to decipher the spoken segment of "Stumble." I just looked up the lyrics. Not what I thought at all.

Stumble - R.E.M.

Find on Dead Letter Office (US, UK).


Berkeley Place is giving away one of my favorite albums of 2006, Big Buildings' Water Everywhere. And posts a slightly pugilistic interview with the band. This is exactly what I love about that blog--and I'd say this even if Ethan (Ekko) wasn't a former college classmate of mine--everything's freewheeling, even a little unhinged, and always honest in that old-school Brooklyn kind of way.

In the everybody's loss department, Angels Twenty, one of the best mp3 blogs, is taking a hiatus (with only sporadic posts anticipated). But, in happier news, makes a brief reappearance to post Erase Errata's "French Canadia" in honor of Canada Day. Happy Canada Day, friends to the north!

Finally, if you missed yesterday's interview with Chicago's fab pop band The 1900s, here's your chance to get to know them before they become superstarrrrs.


Post a Comment

<< Home