Shimmy Shimmy Shesus Rock
Dayton, Ohio’s Shesus bared its hometown roots on its 2003 debut, Loves You Loves You Not, an adrenaline shot of crunchy guitars, caterwauling vocals, and precision rhythm. Individual band members’ backgrounds in groups like the Breeders, Brainiac, and Lazy actually belied the band’s straightforward guitar attack, garnering comparisons to riff rockers like Cheap Trick and Blondie.
However, on its follow-up, Ruined It for You, the band broadens its musical sense, perhaps representing its true pedigree. As if to condense the advancements of indie rock, from ‘80s effects to current experimentations with the 4/4 mold, Shesus filters influences into a trim but dense package. The band has shed a guitarist, but the remaining quartet has packed on compositional pounds, gained a beefier rhythmic sense (perhaps due to a new drummer), yet maintained a bitchin’ attitude. The writing is raw, especially with the numerous rough transitions, but within the character of the group. Mostly, Ruined shows that Shesus can still sprint with the intensity of Michael Johnson, but features enough variation within each song to make it stand out against run-of-the-mill rock records.
Ruined opens with the dirge-y riffing of “Debbie’s Shoes”, immediately showing off the band’s maturing rhythmic sense. Kari Murphy’s bruising bass and Michelle Bodine’s crunchy guitar actually provide the primal backbeat as they stab at the 2s and 4s, while Dave Colvin’s and-of-4 snare rolls add a kick to each phrase. Heather Newkirk’s double-tracked and delayed vocals bring forth the urgency: “I can’t sleep when you’re around / It makes my heart pound!” The chorus’s plaintive pondering doesn’t peak so much as Bodine’s asphyxiating and contorting leads. “Debbie’s” abrupt changes from verse to chorus are heard throughout the record, but demonstrate a confidence essential to making rock believable. In other words, it’s everything Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” should have been.
“Overseas Alert” holds up the bum rush momentarily with its Mothers of Invention-ish lilting xylophone and guitar. However, when Newkirk leaks out “let’s embrace the chaos”, she coyly calls the band back to balls-out rock. The quiet-loud formula is hardly new post-Pixies, however Shesus shows promise with a relative range of dynamics in “Cheekbone Dance”. After the grit of chunky guitars and skittering drums reminiscent of a jungle workout, the song fades to a half-time march and gasping vocals before building to its climax. Again, Shesus suddenly introduces a whole new section into the song, yet the band makes it work by exhibiting complete control during the transition. The writing in each case is rough, yet effective in its sense of adventure.
The EP hits its stride with the transparent ‘hit’ “Weapons of Love Destruction”. Colvin rides and falls off the hi-hat at a disco clip as Murphy and Bodine work in tandem to establish a breezy melody and soft harmony. The dance feel is tempered by Newkirk’s acerbic vocabulary, as she seethes, “Just as long as I get mine”. Newkirk eventually mellows to reveal a striking tenderness, squeezing out, “I’m scared of being true to you / And I can’t always be near you”. Yet as poppy as “Weapons” makes itself out to be, the band takes her lead and explodes for a typically rutty chorus, building to Bodine’s loopy riffs reminiscent of a “Come as You Are”-type chorus to warble away to the end. As a stand-alone track, “Weapons” does stand in surprising contrast to the band’s repertoire. However, given the relative experimentation throughout the EP, “Weapons” fulfills yet another part of the palette.
Ruined closes with a triptych of pile drivers. The power ballad “For Now” invokes the closest Cheap Trick comparison, conjuring even the icon’s over-the-top drama. Newkirk sounds delicious as she allows just enough air out to make a line like “You bite my skin” creep’n'crawl, while the grit in the back of her throat adds just the right amount of edge to keep her from going sizurp. The band wisely waits until almost two minutes in before blasting for the last 30 seconds, maintaining a balance of swoon and rage. “In the France” piggybacks on the rock and busts loose like gangbusters, all fury and little else. The EP closes on the oddly paced, “K-O”, a track full of strutting bass, shimmering guitars, and screwdriving vocals. Above the stuttering fracas of music, Newkirk deconstructs the biased constructions of rock, one moment declaring, “Who needs a real man / When your bod should be enough”, the next attacking critical darlings because “your songs are way too long”. The vinegar spreads and wears thin even after twenty minutes, but the band powers through for a convincing finish.
Although only an EP, Ruined neatly condenses Shesus’ progress. The band explores new approaches to guitar rock, the approach varying from track to track. The whole is sometimes confused, but the record moves at a brisk pace, feeding just enough interest. The question for the next full length will be how the band pares down its new bag of tricks.
// Notes from the Road
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