Shimmering Stars: Violent Hearts

Shimmering Stars
Violent Hearts
Hardly Art
2011-09-13

Shimmering Stars is probably the most aptly-named band I have heard in some time. With buckets of reverb washing over Rory McClure’s vocals and guitars, and Andrew Degousoff’s drums echoing throughout as if being played in a barn, the band establishes a hazy, dreamy — yes, shimmering — sound from the get-go. The songs are faintly reminiscent of 1950s doo-wop, with simple melodies and rich vocal harmonies. It’s gauzy, downtempo music that is wildly successful at setting a tone immediately. The liner notes make a joking reference to “that guy who called us ‘fucking pussies’ at the Cobalt.” Macho music this ain’t.

There are 14 songs here, ranging from 91 seconds to three minutes, so there’s plenty to sample if you like the overall vibe. Opener “Believe” lays down the pattern — harmonies, reverb, guitars and bass, reverb, drums, reverb — and the rest of the album deviates little. There are occasional vocal breaks, but nothing resembling a guitar solo (or any other kind), and with so many short songs (Six of them check in under two minutes), there’s a tendency to get involved in a tune just as it ends. “East Van Girls” is a good example of this, a relatively uptempo song that threatens to break into something memorable but instead drifts away. Memo to the band: Try stretching out some of these in concert, or something, OK?

With so many songs coming and going, and all of them sharing the same basic sonic palette, it’s almost beside the point talking about individual tunes. Violent Hearts is a real album in the sense that it establishes a certain mood — dreamy, spacey — and sticks with it. Standout tracks are almost beside the point. Listen through a half-dozen times, and you’ll be hard pressed to differentiate “Nervous Breakdown” from “Dancing to Music I Hate”.

That said, some songs are a little more thoroughly developed than others. “Privilege” is an even-slower-than-usual, waltz-tempo tune midway through the record which benefits from a pretty melody and plenty of wistfulness. This record has an abundance of wistfulness, and there’s buckets of it here and on “Sun’s Going Down”, which immediately follows. “Sabians” is another solid track, a slow-burner (Relatively speaking, how slow can it burn at 2:34?) featuring some particularly strong vocals from McClure, Dergousoff, and bassist Brent Sasaki.

If the record has a drawback, it’s the consistency of sound that runs from song to song. But it seems obvious that the band is interested in making an album-long listening experience rather than a collection of tunes, and on that front, they have succeeded spectacularly well. Regardless of the listener’s final verdict, Shimmering Stars are successful at crafting a sound uniquely their own, which is no small feat, and utilizing that sound to create a number of poweful, well-wrought songs. Violent Hearts is certainly not for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who generally tries to avoid calling other people “fucking pussies,” you might want to give it a listen.

RATING 6 / 10
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