Big Crown Records’ official page for The Shacks (https://bigcrownrecords.com/artists/the-shacks/) claims they are “dreamy”, “voyeuristic”, and “unconventional” rockers, playing as though “no-one’s watching”. It’s a biography that unfortunately lays on a few more of such tropes, claiming that musicians in their early twenties being influenced by music before their time is a “contradiction”, and that people need to “get excited about real music again”.
Sifting through some of this more difficult to digest material reveals what’s really interesting about the duo of Max Shrager and Shannon Wise, and more importantly what has really laid their foundations: young musicians, one already of stiff pedigree (Shrager) writing “songs for and about each other”. With that in mind, let’s delve into the record…
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On songs such as opener “This Strange Effect”, the band shows a lot of promise. The innocent ghostliness of Shannon Wise’s vocals suit the tone of the song well, with the Shrager-led instrumentals complementing this in a range of psychedelic melodies that employ all manners of alternative, exciting sounds. Listen for popping, aquatic synths and perky organ riffs, along with a surprise guitar jam that rears its head abruptly.
However, sometimes it doesn’t quite land, on occasion sounding a bit too whispery. While there is definitely a unique listenable quality to how Wise delivers the songs, sometimes when it’s overdone it can wear slightly – the song in question here being “Left It With Moon”, which itself plods along like a bizarre nursery rhyme, the childish vocals becoming slightly irritating. At times it had me wondering how well this sound could be replicated live.
That being said, there are times such as on “Rain” when the vocals have a more intense timbre and feel less like they’re being sighed right into your ear – that really hits the sweet spot. This track in particular feels like the best blend of the range of elements in The Shacks’ music: Wise’s singing not quite as hushed, coupled with an independent guitar melody that doesn’t feel too restrained or threaten to become overpowering, warmed by more of those delicate organ and keyboard notes that help to add an ambient depth to its sound.
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Rhythmically there’s a reasonable variation, with some songs being more up-tempo and chirpy. “Audrey Hepburn” is a fine example of this, its slow harmonies being shaken up with a marching snare drum pattern to really add a surprising dynamism to the song. There’s even a dash of reggae on “Hands In Your Pockets”. This demonstrates a tantalising fusion of styles and the key riff really shines against a rich, groovy bassline.
By and large it’s very laid back, easy going and with the clear influences of doo-wop and blue-eyed soul. This is where the etheric vocals work well, crooning over young romances and contemplating, to an extent, wider meanings. It can definitely be said that the chugging percussion and rough guitar riffs help to create a strong, masculine counterpoint to the light softness of Wise’s voice, which really sounds as though it can ache and implore, packing even more of an emotional punch as on bonus track “No Surprise”. In future it would be exciting to see more of the genre-bending experimentation coupled with deeper, powerful singing.