Ennio Morricone’s influence can be seen throughout the world of modern instrumental rock, and Shark Quest’s music is no exception. On their latest album Man on Stilts, there’s immediately that unmistakable ringing guitar and expansive sound that’s now associated with Western films. Yet while most instrumental outfits these days are oriented toward ambient mood, Shark Quest’s songs are not intellectual exercises or experimental pieces—this is rock and roll.
These are rock songs, upbeat and with a strong sense for melody, yet musically they are also quite diverse. Spaghetti westerns are not all that is conjured up in Shark Quest’s mélange of sounds. Their music is all over the place. The five members use some surprising instruments outside the usual frame of rock, especially banjo, and include a variety of styles in their sound. Each member plays his or her instrument with nimble fingers and a smart sense of timing. Shark Quest’s bio is a complex genealogy of the indie-rock variety; each member has a lineage of musical history. They are all talented musicians who’ve come together as a coalition of imagination, a group of people playing music for fun. This keeps the atmosphere comfortable, loose and rife with creative fever. There’s a certain amount of building and releasing of tension throughout the album, but for the most part the music just keeps rolling on, playful and energetic.
Man on Stilts maintains a consistent mood without getting repetitive. The songs vary in tone, from the melancholy, violin piece “Hell” to the odd “Crazy Laura,” a marching song with funky guitar and a pretty melody. A track like “Hugging Is Affecting China” keep listeners alive with each note, as the band layers intense electric guitar over mellow acoustic picking, growing in intensity as it proceeds. All of it is both exciting and unique. Every time I think I don’t need to hear another instrumental rock album, something like this turns my head, Man on Stilts rocks heavy while enveloping you with beautiful sounds and surprises.