; ) LP
(Graveface Records/Nevernotgoth Records)
It’s uncommon enough an occurrence that one can never hope to count on it, but sometimes an album comes along at precisely the moment a listener needs to hear it. In my own case, I’ve been listening to a surprising amount of very moody, very texturally-centred music lately; things like The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode’s Ultra and Psalm 69 by Ministry have been the things I’ve been reaching for, when I’m not composing reviews. Why? There’s no particular reason that I know of – it has just been where my mind has angled when I start flipping through the stacks in my record collection – and then, without any particular reason that I know of, The Shouldies’ new album entitled ; ) arrived on my desk, mirroring many of the things that I’d been reaching for on my own.
Now, it’s important to point out that, while on a similar course to those aforementioned albums, ; ) is far less textural or overtly aggressive, but the album is definitely just as engrossing as those classics, by the standards of a new release.
A sense of curiosity will hold listeners tightly from the moment “Taught” opens the A-side of ; ). There, a series of percussive sounds similar to what one would expect tapping on high tension wires might sound like create a sense of ambience before synths, beats and vocals all rush in quickly to fill the mix and paint the sound in several gothic shades of gray. The result is startling; “Taught” works quickly to play on listeners’ nerves and anxieties so that, when the song ends after just one minute and thirty-seven seconds, listeners’ minds will be wound tight and tense as those aforementioned wires. In addition, because it moves so fast, listeners will have no idea what to make of this beginning exactly – but they’ll be completely engaged to find out where this sound is headed.
After “Taught” tempts listeners, “Flowers” upholds that beginning by keeping a thoroughly sinister vocal as well as a very danceable beat (recall – the beat which powers the beginning of “A Final Hit” by Leftfield and you’re in the right ballpark) locked down and in place in a manner which almost feels militant in its focus, and contrasts the high-register, almost squealing tones which mirror the vocals. That disconcerting and gothic angle is followed earnestly by the far more melodic, almost soothing sounds of “Mother II,” but the side ends with another electronic/gothic salvo which manages to actually surpass the weirdness and fright which appeared earlier on the side by digitally slicing through lyrics and leaving holes in the sound. As potentially off-putting as such a presentation could be, The Shouldies manage to carry off the final song of the side successfully because there’s a certain sense of deconstruction about the sound which ultimately proves to be hypnotic.
Perhaps because such synthy and gothic movements proved to hook listeners so well at the opening of the A-side, Shouldies endeavor to present the same kind of build again as “</3” opens the B-side of ; ). There, sensual beats and sweeping synths paint a backdrop in front of which Yancy Ballard throws several incomprehensible vocal lines at the same time – thereby deeply confusing any listener who walks in unprepared. Somehow, the sound does manage to retain a sense of tranquility even as the walls of synthesizers in the song move through the channels of a good set of headphones and, when the song does close after two and a half minutes, listeners will feel a sense of refreshment which will definitely have them ready for anything that the side might have in store for them.
Of course, Shouldies do try to test that theory as the band throws every kind of high pitches electronic sound they can on top of a chugging beat for “Rich,”and then stripping down to a comparatively bare bones electronic base for “Baptize Me” but, by then, those listeners who have followed along to that point in the album’s running will be able to see the fresh darkness on the song coming and will welcome it, heartily. When that happens too, a brilliant stroke of luck reveals that “Baptize Me” features some of the best exchanges between the instrumental and vocal performances (although trying to pick out all the lyrics in the song is nearly impossible) and perfectly tees up the album’s title track – which also happens to close it. Again, the back-and-forth exchanges between the synths which populate the song and the vocals which color it make for a great and terribly worrisome sound which colors the entire proceeding and, when it ends, listeners will be left with a sensation which can only be characterized as electric. The vibrant sensation left in the wake of “; )” ensures that listeners will be ready to run front-to-back with the album again, as soon as the needle lifts.
Needless to say, if it wasn’t self-evident, I was left a fan of Shouldies by ; ). Because of the angles my listening tastes have taken lately, this album hit me in a very personal way and had me looking to I did find more on the band’s bandcamp page, but what I discovered felt frustratingly meager – so I realized I would have to wait for a more substantial second helping from the band. To its credit though, it’s important to concede that ; ) is a really solid release; the songs included are excellent and will sink some gaffe-sized hooks into those who find it, and they will be left waiting anxiously for more after their first exposure. [Bill Adams]
; ) is out now. Buy it here, directly from The Shouldies’ bandcamp page.