Amanda Shires Creates a Complex World in 'To the Sunset'

Photo: Elizaveta Porodina / Courtesy of the artist

Singer/violinist Amanda Shires avoids easy lessons and genre expectations in crafting a catchy and challenging new album.

To the Sunset
Amanda Shires

Silver Knife

3 Aug 2018

One of the highlights of Amanda Shires' new album To the Sunset, "Break Out the Champagne" was inspired in part by an in-flight emergency on a plane. Shires turned potential death into a three-minute chunk of black humor, captured in the chorus: "Break out the champagne / Everybody look out below / Let's get on with the shit show / Here goes a toast... adios!" The song swirls various personal calamities into a worldview. It would be easy enough to let an album cohere around a catchy sardonic vision, but Shires is no more willing to do that than she is to actually record an expected Americana album (as her work will likely be categorized). Instead, she puts together a complex vision of a complicated life, embedded in music drawing from various traditions into a single sound.

If Shires does have a mantra for the album, it might be closer to the message of "Take on the Dark". Her realism stands out – nothing is won, nothing is guaranteed to be okay – but resistance is certainly not futile. Shires' acknowledgment that "it's okay to fall apart" brings an odd comfort to it. Above a driving indie rock sound, Shires moves into the darkness of the world with her listener, not to minimize the hurt, but face it sensibly. Life can be challenging, and platitudes never work.

Those two songs make up only a small part of the world Shires develops on To the Sunset. Love stories play their part, and Shires writes the memorable phrases to keep hers outside the norm. On the album's first track, "Parking Lot Pirouette" provides one of those unforgettable phrases. When Shires performs the title phrases, she uses the moment to unbalance her beau: "You said, 'You won't be gettin' far before you turn around' / I did a parking lot pirouette / I said, 'You're right, I'm not done with you yet.'" In one moment, Shires details a pivotal moment in a romance and asserts herself as the one unexpectedly in control of the movement. The song, though, avoids the power issues that might imply, capturing instead the joy and doubt of "holding on too tightly", Shires bringing a constellation of feelings into one transcendent track as her singer gazes at actual stars.

The rowdy, hard-rocking "Eve's Daughter" tells a troubling story with strong formal technique. Shires drops just enough details to make the song specific, and makes the best of internal rhyme with phrases like "When I started to show, he proposed" and "A lot of working late / a little Section Eight" to describe one's woman fall from youthful energy into a social trap. Shires manages to be unapologetic yet empathetic all at once. With the big guitar hooks and a sense of a bar getting rattled, the story makes a statement that doesn't preach but doesn't equivocate.

As the album closes with a "regular morning" that turns into something quite different, it becomes apparent that Shires creates her own world with great insight into our own. "Wasn't I Paying Attention?" ends shockingly, not only in terms of the plot but with the song cutting out before the conflagration. The story, it says, isn't in the flame, and Shires knows where to look and how to circumscribe her own tales. Musically, she does something different, bringing what she needs to each song, breaking away from genre into something that you could shelve on about any rack, and probably should.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.