Review : Shapes and Sizes - Candle to Your Eyes
PopmattersIt used to be that you had three albums to solidify your standing with whatever label you were signed to. If, by album three, you hadnít chalked up a hit or critical acclaim, your musical career was more or less over. Of course, these days, itís more like if you havenít made it out of the gate within the first 15 minutes of a single being released, you can more or less forget it. Still, third albums make a good arbitrary marker in terms of where an artist or act is going with their career. If you need any further proof, I submit Third/Sister Lovers as evidence. (In the case of Big Star, that album signalled that their career was in the toilet, at least commercially.)
Which brings us to the Canadian indie group Shapes and Sizes, whose latest album, Candle to Your Eyes, is their third attempt to more or less grab the brass ring. It comes via Asthmatic Kitty, which is most famously known for being Christian indie-folkie Sufjan Stevenís label. However, if this LP is an attempt to grab said brass ring, it shows the group reaching for it using solely a raised middle finger. The album is notable for being somewhat morosely discordant, a change of pace from their previous, more raucous affair, 2007ís Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner. The band of Montrealers transplanted from Victoria, British Columbia, is also being brazen with its release dates, too, in that the album drops on the very same day that the eagerly anticipated third album from another band from Montreal lands with a thud in the indie rock landscape. You might know this little band as the Arcade Fire and the album as The Suburbs. Either Shapes and Sizes or Asthmatic Kitty thought Candle to Your Eyes could give the Arcade Fire a run for their money, or the line of thinking was to bury this record and let it slip completely under the radar with the intent of being as unobtrusive as possible.
Well, thereís fodder in Candle to Your Eyes which may make you think that it was the latter approach that was being considered. It is a somewhat grim, somewhat progressive record, without a catchy, bouncy single in sight. Itís not that Shapes and Sizes havenít tried to reach a larger audience: theyíve opened on the road for bigger-name indie acts that include the National and Castanets. The particularly jaded might even point out that the band moved to Montreal to capitalize on Canadaís most fertile indie scene of the moment. However, this album is so mired in brooding experimentalism that itís hard to imagine anyone getting really excited about it in the sort of volumes that the Arcade Fire move. Itís as though all of the rough edges of the previous album were smoothed away, and made sadder, somehow....full text
PitchforkShapes and Sizes have a searching, curious sound-- their best songs tend to wander off on tangents, or excitedly push at their own boundaries. This excitable, shape-shifting quality is great for an arty rock band, but the drawback has been that their style has had a destabilizing effect on their albums, which have a clearly defined aesthetic, but often no sense of center.
Part of the problem has been that Shapes and Sizes have two very different lead vocalists-- the boldly expressive Caila Thompson-Hannant, and Rory Seydel, who sings with a timid, boyish affect. Unlike some bands with multiple vocalists, Thompson-Hannant and Seydel's voices do not complement each other well, and they often sound like they just belong in different bands. This issue has been mitigated somewhat on the group's third album, Candle to Your Eyes, in which Thompson-Hannant has taken on a more dominant presence, singing lead on seven of the record's nine tracks. Seydel still doesn't quite work as her foil, but his vocal performance has improved greatly, or at least enough that his shortcomings are no longer a distraction.
With Thompson-Hannant serving as an anchor, Candle to Your Eyes is far more consistent and distinct than the two albums that proceeded it. The group still sounds restless and adventurous, but they've reined in their expansive tendencies to focus on a sort of oddball variation on funk. It's a surprising move-- their older songs were never especially groovy or sexy-- but it suits Thompson-Hannant well, allowing her commanding, Corin Tucker-ish voice to take on a soulful, seductive quality. "Too Late For Dancing" and "Time Has Practically Stopped", the album's two best tracks, synthesize art-rock and R&B in a way that sounds fresh and distinct. They're exploring an aesthetic zone not too far off from where Dirty Projectors went with "Stillness Is the Move", but their guitar style is heavier on texture and atmosphere, and the vibe is more overtly sexual....full text
ConsequenceofsoundItís hard to believe that itís been nearly three years since Shapes and SizesĎ last album, 2007ís woefully underrated Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner. That release, on the super-indie-friendly label Asthmatic Kitty, seemed ready to launch the band to bigger heights. I mean, Sufjan Stevens likes them, so why donít more people? The Montreal foursomeís music was frenetic, acrobatic, fun, and extremely melodic. So, maybe in hopes of reaching that larger audience, Shapes and Sizes kicked into a different gear, moving from spastic Broken Social Scene territory to a darker, more subdued, elastic sound. Sometimes, even if it ainít broke, youíve got to try to fix it.
The slow, smoky burn of opener ďTell Your MumĒ is highlighted by Caila Thompson-Hanantís ecstatic vocals. Itís evident her voice has grown and become more controlled over the years, a big improvement to the groupís sound. The pokey, angular guitars, stuttered drums, and twinkly piano combine into a sort of Olivia Tremor Control gallop. The male vocal counterpoint on ďSing Them SongsĒ is much more straightforward, the slightly off-putting electro-handclap and Disney musical chorus dangerously close to clashing over the chugging, distorted guitars....full text
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