Ladyhawk mix subtle genre elements into their rock band muscle on Shots, and when it works the pay-off is big.
With Shots, it is clear that Ladyhawk aren't afraid to get loud. On their debut album, they had plenty of loud guitars, but the focus was as much on texture and nuance as it was on rocking out. Here, there is still an established feel to the songs, but the balance shifts more towards volume than atmosphere.
The shift is a good one, as it lets Ladyhawk become an unabashed rock band. The distortion is crunchy in a nice, throwback way, hearkening as much to lo-fi indie rock from the '90s as it channels classic rock. "I Don't Always Know What You're Saying" introduces the listener to an album full of guitar fuzz and anthemic choruses. And it also shows us the band's strength for subtlety, even at their loudest.
The best moments on Shots, such as "I Don't Always Know What You're Saying", manage to sound like straight-ahead rock while still meshing small and effective elements from a wide variety of genres. "Fear" has a nice, bluesy shuffle to go along with its soulful vocals. "Night You're Beautiful" combines disparate elements, as the loping guitar riffs and slightly-off drums sound more prog than anything on the album, and Ladyhawk couples that with some female background vocals that dip their toe into old R&B girl group music.
The middle of the record is anchored by two tracks, "Corpse Paint" and "(I'll Be Your) Ashtray". And, unfortunate titles aside, they deliver the most musical goods and emotional heft on the record. Both songs sound initially like Jason Molina-approved Americana dirges, all spare, roomy guitars and drums. But Ladyhawk's rock band tendencies get the best of both tracks, and they pump some muscle into both songs. By slowing the tempo down after a pretty quick first half of the record, Ladyhawk actually amp up the effectiveness of the songs' volume. "(I'll Be Your) Ashtray" in particular takes us further down in a hole than any other track, as Duffy Driediger's vocals quietly crack in the beginning only to erupt later in a growl more fierce than we've heard. All the way through the album, he shows he can be a dynamic rock singer, but on this track we see him show a range we don't see elsewhere.
However, as subtle as the band can be, sometimes what sounds like straight-ahead rock is just that. There are a few moments here, and it usually happens when the band tries something up-tempo, that don't sound like a meshing of influences at all, but instead a bland spread of typical rock elements. A song like "S.T.H.D." would sound fine alone, but set next to other, more nuanced tracks, the tune rings a little hollow. Similarly, the second half of the record hits a rut when we get to the bouncy punch of "You Ran", which doesn't lack for energy, but is missing any of the rough, hidden gems buried in it that other songs on Shots have.
The album, thankfully, rights itself by closing with the ten-minute-plus "Ghost Blues". It sounds just like what it is, a spacey slow burn that finds the band shining under the dimmest of lights. It is a fitting end to the album, as it manages to concentrate all of Shots' great elements and amp each of them up. Nowhere is the album more earnestly sullen, or rocking harder, or letting guitar solos climb and tear at the walls, or letting the bass and fuzz drop the bottom out. It is not all this good on Shots, but when it is, Ladyhawk show they can stand with most any rock band going today.