SHEL: SHEL

shelKind of a modern take on Irish folk here. Instrumentation is violin, keyboards, mandolin, and drums, with a djembe specifically called out in the liner notes. They kinda remind me of Rasputina in instrumentation, harmonic structure, vocal style, and effect on me, though I guess that last one just kind of follows from the others.

Just realizing as I write this the name is SHEL and that’s for the band members, the Holbrook sisters: Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza. And they were home-schooled in Colorado, which, along with the fact that these four sisters were born within five years of each other, kind of answers the questions I kind of had about whether the lyrics were religious.

These women are wicked talented; the performances and baroque instrumentation are flawless. But the songs leave me cold. Too much in a key that doesn’t suit me? Too much time outside vocal ranges I like? (E.g., the falsetto yodeling in the cutesie “The Wise Old Owl” drive me nuts because female falsetto.) I don’t know.

I guess here’s where I come down. This sounds like a crazy-talented crew groomed for this kind of thing all of their life. They’ve done everything right and by the book, and from a reductionist point of view everything’s there…even the production is wonderful and I’m always complaining about that. But they just forgot the passion. There’s energy in the songs, some liveliness, but it still seems to lack a spark. Like “The Man Who Was The Circus” spends too much time tiptoeing around the song, trading the melody off between instruments, and just being so delicate with itself when what it needs to just let loose and be the damned song.

The album starts off with a slog of four songs that I don’t care if I never hear again. The odd-numbered of those annoy me and the even-numbered bore me. (Actually the first track does both.) Finally “Lost At Sea,” a re-imagining of an Irish sea shanty, if there is such a thing, breaks through to attain a level of at least not being awful, but then it’s off on a shorter but worse slog. The aforementioned “The Wise Old Owl” leads into the nauseating “Vinyl Memories” with its horrid lyrics (“My mind is just a turntable”) and its too-cute sound effect of a finished record at the end.

And then Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore.” On mandolin. By sisters. How can you hear that and not think of Heart’s version from the Singles soundtrack? And this is basically that, but with all the passion sucked out. So … why?

Things pick up at the end. The next four tracks are all pretty good. They might even be very good, but by this point I’m totally tuned out. Way to bury the lede, guys…two full-hearted songs is nothing to sneeze at, but they’re almost undiscoverable.

Then they close it all out with “The Latest And Greatest Blueberry Rubberband” which sounds just like you think it would coming from four home-schooled sisters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this singleton boy just finds their inside joke unrelateable. I bet single thirty-something chicks with no brothers love listening to this album while on Pinterest.

With this amount of talent, I hope they keep plugging away and hit on some kind of magic inspiration, find that missing ingredient, and add some fire and life to their music. Maybe develop a heroin habit? Rebel against the temple? Cuz I’ll want to hear that. This, though, … yawn.

Rating:
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– “On My Way,” “When The Dragon Came Down”
– “Lost At Sea,” “The Battle Of Evermore,” “Stained,” “Tuscany”
– “Paint My Life,” “Like Minded Fool,” “Freckles,” “The Man Who Was The Circus,” “The Wise Old Owl,” “Vinyl Memories,” “The Latest And Greatest Blueberry Rubberband”
Filed Between: The [Sister-In-Law] Christmas Coalition and Richard Shindell (Somewhere Near Paterson)
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Paint My Life – “with color and light”
  2. Like Minded Fool –
  3. Freckles  – “I thought love would be so easy/Like picking petals off a daisy”
  4. The Man Who Was The Circus – Opening piano chords are those of Bacharach’s “Close To You.” Thirty seconds later the melody is reminiscent of Mr. Rodgers’ “When the day is done” closing song. It’s bearable when it builds up to the full band but it spends too much time delicately tiptoeing around itself when it needs to just be the fucking song. Bouncing from one instrument to another, trading the melody off for half the song…the instrumental bridge where they all play is nice, as is the last 40 seconds or so, but those parts aren’t enough to save it. Lyrics suck, too.
  5. Lost At Sea – Like the last one, I like the big parts. This is maybe saved a bit more by the epic nature of it, let’s them do swells and waves because it tends to fit the style of the song and its lyrics. Some female falsetto here, too.
  6. The Wise Old Owl – Some playfulness with the beat being kind of odd, but it’s not done in the service of the song and so ends up being annoying. Yodeling.
  7. Vinyl Memories – Oh god horrible lyrics.
  8. The Battle Of Evermore – Is this like a rite of passage?
  9. Stained – “Your love has my heart stained”. Gets too repetitive, but man I need to make one of these full, don’t I? Eh, I hate the walk on don’t look back bridge part. Maybe the second-best song.
  10. On My Way – the best one. really nice energy, really nice bounce. More of this please.
  11. Tuscany – instrumental
  12. When The Dragon Came Down – This is the second-best song. A much more complete song than “Stained.” “Stained” stands out so much in part because it’s the first good song on the album.
  13. The Latest And Greatest Blueberry Rubberband – The band showing their silly side to wind things down. Kinda cliche.
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