If jangling indie pop rock is your bag then this is for
you. If toned down, lo-fi sub americana recorded in bedrooms, basements and
garages hits your spot, then open up your ears and sway your way around the
living room to the sounds of Boston's finest guitar slinging C-86-ers to be
named after a sushi dish. Shumai are a four piece culled from members of
Prickly, Love Child, The Cignal and Dukakis and they set the indie pop standard
in a city more often cited as the home of the Pixies, the Red Sox and Cheers.
This full length album is a collation of two previously
available E.P's (Combo with Five Delights, and Leisure Champs), yet it reads
surprisingly well as an album in its own right. The female fronted quartet have
a distinct if not unique sound. It's Tallulah Gosh, it's Heavenly, it's The
Wedding Present, it's The Field Mice. It's all those bands and more, indeed,
'The Lonely Passion of Joey Heatherton' lifts lines directly from the mightily
eloquent, yet sadly limited back catalogue of country rock hero Gram Parsons in
more ways than one.
The whole feel of this record is basic, simple yet
irresistible melodies and hooks lie over fuzzy, scuzzy layers of guitars. It
seems to suggest innocence, a naivety that was once espoused by a few in
Bristol, and not many more elsewhere. The tracks are simply crafted into
delicate, flowing, upbeat songs of love and life and then given the most
ridiculous titles. Titles that barely illustrate much of a connection with the
fundamental theme of the songs, but surely it's not the title that's important,
it's the song that counts; and these songs do just that.
Opening the record is 'Are You Jeff Corwin Experienced?', a
guitar and keyboard lead ode to the American television king of animal
interaction, think Johnny Morris, think Terry Nutkins, but make him an all
American hunk, with slick hair and great teeth you're getting there. The female
vocals draw obvious comparisons to any of Amelia Fletchers incarnations, and
that is in itself no bad thing, as everything the girl touches turns into pop.
The aforementioned 'Lonely Passion...' follows with it's
country pop feel and then into 'Prescription Sleep', opening with overdriven
guitar punches and keyboard walls, a male versus female vocal duet that cuts
swathes through the noise, it's distinctly under produced, purposely and as a
consequence fits the set perfectly. 'Tijuana Picnic' is next up, bringing us to
the halfway mark far too soon. This is pure Sarah, if I close my eyes I'm
opening my post in 1986 to find a paper sleeve wrapped around a treasured seven
inch piece of vinyl. It's the sound of a band making its first, frightened steps
into the world of serious writing and recording, it's almost as though they know
deep down that what they are doing is great, but whether through a lack of self
confidence, or as an underlying trait there is an element of nervousness about
the song. They need not worry, it comes out perfectly.
Whilst Gram had his '$1000 Wedding', Shumai have their '$18
Rubber Pants' - yeah, that's pants, not plants. With enough 'La, La, La's' to
fill a French novel the track careers headlong through another guitar and
keyboard battle, well, not so much battle, and not even a fist fight, more of an
altercation, a slight disagreement, a mild tussle. 'Birds and Bees' is upbeat
musically, with the vocals buried and tinged with slight distortion. The lyrics
are structured in a story-telling way, reminiscent of R.E.M.'s 'Belong'; it's
not so much of a sing-along as a conversation.
'Dog Lipstick' and 'Soulmate of the Ice Cream Girl' close
the album, and keep the tempo up. There is a sunshine feel to the former which
suggests a more west-coasty, beach boys feel than that of cold Bostonian
winters. Maybe it's escapism, maybe it's emulation, maybe it's just a great pop
The whole feel of the record is that of a D.I.Y. pop
adventure, of sunny days, of optimism and hope. Not so much of confidence, but
definitely of self belief.
I'd say get it, it'll make the long winter nights seem like summer, it'll
make them much more bearable.
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