This is my love letter to all the queer musicians out there, making art and kicking ass. If there's an artist you think I should know about, please let me know, I love new music! (I also reblog/post on general queer and trans stuff, radical news, and instances when the world is fucked, and when it isn't!)
When I first listened to “Close The Door,” the first track off of The Shondes’ latest album, Searchlights, my immediate thought was “Drums! There are drums! And I can hear them!” It is no secret that I absolutely adore The Shondes; they put on a phenomenal live show and are some of the most awesome, social justice minded individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Unfortunately, their previous albums have always left me a bit disappointed, not because the songs weren’t good, they were. A lot of them were great, and they had so much energy and fire when performed live, but that never translated to the studio recordings. The songs would drag, the dynamics were missing, and the drums were so flat and pushed so far down in the mix that it actually became distracting to listen to without seriously messing around with the EQ. But that has finally come to an end. Searchlights is not only is their strongest collection of songs to date, it is a recording befitting their immense talent and passion.
This album sees The Shondes leaning more towards the indie-tinged rock sound pioneered by Husker Du and currently championed by bands like Lemuria. It’s fast paced and the drums (again, which are so refreshingly present) lead a steady charge forward. The rest of the sound is filled out by chunky guitar chords and a treble-y bass tone. “Are You Ready” is a great example. It starts sparse, drums, bass and vocals, and the verses feature short licks that lead into two rhythm parts with the same chords, but in different patterns, filling things out in an unexpected way. My favorite track, “Give Me What You Got,” sounds like it could be a Lemuria song. The bass bounces along in the verses, and the guitar is just jangly enough to harken back to the heyday of riot grrrl. Plus it features a lyric about being seen as a Gargamel. How many bands do you know that can pull a Smurfs reference and not have it be completely ridiculously cheesy and awful? I can’t think of any.
What really sets The Shondes apart from their peers however, is violinist Elijah Oberman. His parts lend an olde world feel to very modern, punk-influenced music. They call to mind folk tunes, regardless of whether or not his lines were influenced by them. He’s never at the forefront, and I think that really helps add depth to their sound. It’s not a gimmick, and the violin is a truly integral part of the band’s dynamic, haunting in the background of many of their songs, giving them a lingering sadness.
Lead vocalist Louisa Solomon is, as always, amazing. She has an incredibly distinctive, and emotive, voice. It’s longing and desperate in many places, and it commands your attention. The title track might be the best demonstration of her ability. She goes from an almost pleading tone, to a yelp in the final chorus, ending in a soft mournful sound. That, combined with the amount of reverb placed on her voice, really adds a huge emotional gut punch to the lyrics. Oberman provides great harmonies on most of the songs, and takes the lead on “All This Weight.” While technically he is not as strong as Solomon, he too has a very recognizable voice that really lends itself to emotion, a natural sadness that really fits in with The Shondes’ sound.
Searchlights, much like its predecessor My Dear One, is a more personal than political album. These are songs about people and relationships, although this is much less angry than My Dear One, which in many ways was the band’s break-up album. Searchlights, however, is more hopeful. There is still pain and sadness here, quite a bit, but you can also see the band building themselves back up again.
Searchlights is available now in a bunch of places, both digitally and in various physical formats. They are also currently on a nationwide tour, so go check them out if they make a stop in your town!