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.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

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.