Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Split Lips, Winning Hips and A Shiner

Shapes and Sizes
Split Lips, Winning Hips and A Shiner (Asthmatic Kitty, 2007)
Grade: D

Download: Shapes and Sizes - "Alone Alive"

So, Jon Graef and I caught The National live a few weeks back, and one of their openers was Shapes and Sizes, a little band from Montreal. They were awful, but sounded like a band that might be fun on recording. While looking up their MySpace, I found that Pitchfork gave their record an 8.0.

Shock and awe on my part.

So, I checked out Split Lips, Winning Hips and A Shiner. The bizarre thing is that they don't sound bad like they did live. Production effects really suit them. All the oopsies and slip-ups from their live show are gone. Because recording affords you the time to do things over and over until they're prefect, we get to hear the songs without the distortion of unpracticed licks we heard when the band was opening for The National. The result is a slightly more put-together, cohesive sound.

I still feel like the worst qualities of the band's live show are still there: Co-lead singer Caila Thompson falls flat on her face trying to be Joanna Newsom, and a lot of their songs feel disjointed or muddled because they try to pull together too many styles and rhythms in each song.

There's just too much competition between melodies in each song to present a true sense of a well thought-out, fully planned and fleshed-out whole. Shapes and Sizes is searching for a voice, but doing it not by making direct, honest attempts at different musical styles, but by noodling about on their respective instruments and trying everything at once.

I know this record will probably get a lot of buzz from people who are a whole lot more indie than you are. It kind of channels the Fiery Furnaces in song writing, and touches on the boy-girl vox of The New Pornos, but without the solidity and skill of either band. To some, their topsy-turvy song structure will seem to hint at some greater artistic purpose. Echoing the grunge boom of the early nineties, since indie rock exploded, I think there's a certain desire in a lot of circles to go further underground and hype up bands that won't appeal to mainstream culture. And this is a band that definitely appeals to a set trying to maintain their indie cred in the face of an exploding scene.

But that still doesn't make it good.

(April Wright)



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