Shapes and Sizes
Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner
hough Shapes and Sizes only run four deep, their sonics bear all the trademarks of the nu-tribalism that’s been shuffled about for the past five years, tried on by all types with varying results. The general consensus: albums as big organic pow-wows, with wagon loads of instruments, played with big eyes and shaky hands and produced in crackling barnyard textures; Wiki’d stream-of-consciousness lyricism folded onto the ecstatic soundtrack—this is candy-coated, big doe-eyed music! The darlings of the ‘00s, your Animal Collectives, Fiery Furnaces, and Broken Social Scenes, have made big buzz from it. Shapes and Sizes is the shrink-wrapped version—and this is their second album full of sonic dismemberment.
Vocalist Caila Thompson Hannant is at the center of the drum circle. Each of the album’s fourteen tracks find her moving from felt-tipped whispers to padded wall screams, each vowel and consonant torn from the throat, throwing down somewhere between the vocal nutballings of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Mangum and Pavement’s Malkmus. She sports a fluffed caterwaul on opener “Alone/Alive,” eating through the lyrics as fast as she can, over booming guitars, spewing fast then diving into peeps and mews and rebounding again. On “Geese,” she’s a quivering choir girl backed by organ who can unfold into a hooting barroom stomp. Co-vocalist Rory Seydel gets his feet wet too, taking lead on “Head Movin’” and “Can’t Stop That (Sinking) Feeling,” but next to Hannant (who backflips off each note), he just sort of sings, lulling his way into each track.
The caveat of genre-bending, naïve mish-mash albums—that the whole thing could drown in its own giant puddle of experimentation and fragmentation—is well looked after. Shapes and Sizes anchors the expansive middle of the album with syncopated shout marathon “Highlife (I Had Been Duped).” Shocks of guitar throw Hannant into fits of ululation as drum and bass hammer away into oblivion. The tail end of the album stacks gorgeous protest march and bongofest “Victory in War” against “Piggy,” all sharp angled melodicism and peak/valley dynamics, yet another showcase for Hannant, the band’s ace.
Shapes and Sizes have created an album of on all fours, with fast changeups and a scientific approach to dynamics and texture—pretty much par for the course zeitgeist-wise. From last year’s self-titled, squeaky-clean debut, the group honed what sparks they had and made fire. When they’re on, the songs jolt to life, buckle with heavy swings, and move in giant steps. While the lesser tracks seem to suggest that they’ve tried on shoes a few sizes too big; the composition is too shaky and stilted and the band can’t proffer the material for such a large space of sound. Triumphs suggest Shapes and Sizes could have a coup in the wings for their follow-up, but in the meantime they’ve produced a solid joyride through (almost) new sounds.
Reviewed by: Daniel Denorch
Reviewed on: 2007-05-24