Music

Lunglight

Sure, the Shaky Hands have grown more complex on their sophomore release. But is it a good thing?


The Shaky Hands

Lunglight

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: 2008-11-03
Amazon
iTunes

Nick Delffs and his band, the Shaky Hands, put out a well-received debut album last year, so it's admirable that the group has found the material to follow up so quickly. They're now a quintet (Delffs’ brother Nathan has joined the group since its debut), and the added player means significantly more room for the Portland band to explore the various textures of indie rock. As on the most thrilling moments on their first disc, melody, though important, is an element to be potentially undermined. In this approach, the Shaky Hands give us a reason to listen harder to what might at first sound fairly straight.

The Shaky Hands’ songs generally start quite simply, asserting riffs or minimal vocal melodies, but, as if the band’s attention has been diverted, they often drift sideways. These shifting song structures don’t really feel indulgent. They’re not proggy diversions, but actually give the Shaky Hands’ songs an unpredictability that’s a needed differentiation for the band. They’re interested in peripheral sounds -- the Pavement-inspired rhythms of “Love All Off”, or the disconnect between the galloping percussion and guitar-wash of “Loosen Up”. In these instances, you don’t really notice the group playing with structure unless you listen closely, and that’s an indication of Delffs’s deft arrangements. Elsewhere, the contrary compositional emphasis manifests as expectation undermined. “No Say” builds up timbre pre-chorus, then bottoms out with no payoff -- purposefully. It makes the simple message, “You’re different, it’s OK / Don’t matter, anyway” hit harder.

However, as they mature into a more recognizable indie rock group, the Shaky Hands find themselves in danger of drifting closer towards more well-established tropes -- tropes that have the potential to make them a little less interesting than they were on their fresh-faced and appealing self-titled debut. When you're listening to the new material, you can't help but think of -- mostly -- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Delffs shares Alec Ounsworth's nasal delivery, which has been criticized as a gimmick. If you're not sufficiently engaged while listening to Lunglight, you might come to a similar conclsion. The indie rock language that makes up the Shaky Hands' musical vocabulary can feel similarly familiar. Though it's exuberant, "Loosen Up" sounds like an emaciated version of "California Dreamer". The music's got a collegiate, appealingly amateur feel, but it can also come across as a little thin occasionally.

That said, the group leaves its best material on Lunglight for the end. A stash of songs in the disc’s final third remind us of the laid-back appeal of the band’s most honest material, content in its solid construction. The country-tinged strum of “Show Me Your Life” seems to project satisfaction. Delffs even drops the vocal affect momentarily. A neat, aquatic percussive figure sounds really familiar, but I can’t quite place it. “Wake the Breathing Light” trades in Vampire Weekend-esque simplicity: a clean bass line, bounding into something more thorny as it veers off track. And “We Are the Young”, an easy disc highlight, is an in-and-out indie rock anthem for the Internet, upbeat and catchy, but with this acute sting.

This isn't the difficult sophomore album that previous buzz bands have struggled with, and that's a great sign for those hoping for more groups with a real career ahead of them in music. Delffs and his band are still interested in the edges of poplist melodic indie rock, and this fertile territory will be interesting as long as the group remains exuberant and vivacious. Lunglight's a promising continuation of a promising start.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image