To say that garage rock has been revived in the past few years can be somewhat misleading, because it never really died. Rock music has had a home in garages since its inception, and it promises to stay there as long as suburban youth need a meeting place for their pickup bands. Of course, those who speak of garage rock are referring to a style of music, and not the place where that music is made. The 21st century has seen countless rock bands emerge with their own appropriations of the garage rock styles of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and with its latest release Astoria, the Californian band now called the Shys (formerly known as the Gun Shys) is seeking to join the long list of successful members of this movement.
In order to be successful in the nü-garage rock scene, a band must employ distinctive musical or marketing angles. The White Stripes brought a minimalist aesthetic, a low-fi approach, and a passion for the blues to garage rock, and, in so doing, secured musical fame. The Strokes, in addition to creating an auspicious debut album, used their model-quality looks to land them covers on major music magazines like Spin and draw new fans. The Shys also have an angle on the garage rock scene, but it will probably not be enough to gain them the audience size of the aforementioned bands. Rolling Stone deemed them the “Best Alternative to Jet” at the South by Southwest music festival. This label is a fairly accurate description of the Shys’s musical niche; unfortunately, it shouldn’t be enough to earn the band critical acclaim or commercial success.
The Shys play a straightforward brand of energetic rock and roll. All the predictable elements of rock music are there –- catchy riffs, anthemic choruses, and cocky swagger. In fact, one of Astoria‘s problems is that it’s just too predictable. A dynamically reserved verse inevitably leads to a high-energy chorus. A bridge or brief interlude almost always follows the second chorus. On their new record, the Shys are treading musical ground that thousands of bands before them have tread, and they don’t bring many new ideas to the table.
Astoria is not without its highlights, however. The title track is a fun romp that sounds something like Hot Hot Heat covering a collaboration between the Clash and Elvis Costello’s Attractions. The album’s first single, “Call in the Cavalry”, has all the trappings of commercial success, including a pounding bass drum, handclaps, and a rousing chorus. Another song, “Having It Large”, rocks with Stonesy vigor and is downright exciting. Throughout the record, songs contain hints of classic artists ranging from the Who to the Stooges. The most successful tracks also display a sense of reckless abandon and musical inspiration reminiscent of these bands. Unfortunately, most of the songs do not.
Lead singer Kyle Krone has admitted that the Shys find more satisfaction on the stage than in the studio. Astoria is an album that supports this statement. It stands no chance of being considered a truly great recording. It is, however, full of tunes that would be great if heard in the midst of a crowd of screaming fans. A record, at least in part, must be judged on the strength of its songs. A concert, on the other hand, is often most successful when it possesses raw energy and charisma. If nothing else, Astoria does demonstrate that the Shys possess these two traits. Listeners don’t need to go rushing to the store to buy Astoria, but they should check out the show if the Shys ever come to town.
// Notes from the Road
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