Shivas, The - White Out – New LP
In the review below, there's mention of a "Northwestern beach bonfire." And that's exactly what this is, a Northwest version of the beach-blanket party, doug fir stumps and the dingy beer-soaked towels, the taste of mushrooms on the roof of your mouth, clouds gray and pale, waves crashing into rock, swells slicing along the jetty, wishing you could see the Hawaiian Islands but rain clouds and curve of the earth preventing that, sitting on a log and strumming beside bonfire of driftwood and stumps, smells of cedar and something that almost seems like innocence, the taste of Funny Face Goofy Grape and Injun Orange, dreaming of hitting the surf with toes on the nose, the tiger shark nipping at the beach ball, Ball Park franks plump at the end of your pine stick, chuck a bucket of petro on the flames, watching the flames roar like an amplifier, smearing a marshmallow between a sandwich of chocolate and graham crackers, making out and watching the bonfire burn down to embers, sparks flickering up to the starry night. -- winch (green noise records)
Shimmering guitar feedback splashes as an announcement of the onset of the Shivas’ Whiteout, released at the end of April on K Records. A piercing scream, a clear play on the song’s title “Swimming With Sharks,” segues into the ferocious, lo-fi beach-pop and summery garage rock that ensues.
One of the best things about K Records is their ability to continually surprise you. Since the label functions as a regional imprint and puts out material from those that seem most committed to their own passions and artistic expression, you never know what sort of adventurous undertaking will emerge from the stalwart label. So, even though garage rock has seen a massive resurgence in recent months and years, we could have guessed that Whiteout would offer some intriguing stylistic approaches that set the album apart from recent similar efforts.
Whiteout boasts lo-fi indie-rock and garage pop not unlike a good number of bands. However, The Shivas provide greater dexterity in balancing their arrangements, delivering plenty of buzzing guitars and gritty vocals while integrating undeniably infectious early 60s pop influences. It’s that pop that makes them feel right at home on K, and their fun-loving guitar tones and tom-centered drums even recall early K band Beat Happening, especially on “Gun In My Pocket” and “Living and Dying Like Horatio Alger.”
The DIY lo-fi folk of the Northwest isn’t lost in the record, and like other bands before them, The Shivas find a way to weave acoustics into the collection of songs that comprise Whiteout. The clean, sparse electric notes and percussive snare-rim clicks floating on tape hiss at the beginning of “Thrill Yr Idols” sound almost identical to a musical interlude from Washington State band Kickball’s final album. (In fact, The Shivas’ general aesthetic reminds me off Kickball, perhaps due in part to both groups’ energetic live performances.) Eventually, “Thrill Yr Idols” bursts wonderfully into upbeat guitars and fun melodies and kicks out a great bridge.
From the stream of drummers in Sleater-Kinney, which includes the incredibly talented and longest lasting Janet Weiss, to Lisa Schonberg, the drummer of the aforementioned band Kickball, excellent female percussionists seem to be a defining feature of music from the Pacific Northwest. The Shivas’ Kristen Leonard is right at home in this company, generating beats simultaneously furiously propulsive and danceable. She also provides vocals for the early-60s-informed, lo-fi dancefloor tune “Baby I Need You,” which features tinny and compressed shimmers of guitar chords.
After some meandering beachy vibes in the record’s middle, late album cuts unfurl more blistering and jammy psychedelic swirls of instrumentation on “Kissed in the Face” and “Manimal.” Whiteout concludes with the swaying pop of “Paradise,” a perfect soundtrack to drifting to sleep near a Northwestern beach bonfire. Sometimes aggressively immediate and at others drifting by in gentle waves, Whiteout is a record that’s easy to play from start to finish, offering variety and depth that not present in like-minded records out at the moment. By creating a solid album that’s bolstered by an amazing live show, The Shivas are a band that has the raw materials for the making of something magical.
I don’t think a day’s gone by since it arrived when I haven’t played it. If you’ve read this far, we can probably agree that surf music, punk rock and the Velvet Underground are all good things. We might also agree that it’s getting harder for people to incorporate these over-familiar elements into new records that deserve our time and money. But guess what? The Shivas have cleared that hurdle with room to spare.
I’d use the word ‘effortless’ if that didn’t imply a lack of care. Let’s go with ‘instinctive’ instead. Despite their low mileage age-wise, Jared, Eric, Rob and Kristin are clearly so immersed in this stuff that they have no need to fake it or force it. Plus, they’re all shit-hot players, which obviously helps.
The Shivas can switch gear from a headlong, three-chord guitar chase into girl-group drama in the time it takes your needle to glide from their superb single Gun in my Pocket to the Shangri-La perfection of Baby, I Need You. For each laid-back take on the third Velvets LP (The Sun Don’t Shine is a very Lou title, and a fittingly beautiful song) there’s a garage-band stomper just crying out for one of those dances where you pretend to be swimming. Chief among these is No Waves, which should hopefully make the swimming a bit easier.
The Shivas are a rock and roll band from Portland, Oregon formed in 2006. In the years since forming they have brought their raucous dance party to almost all 50 states, and over 25 countries worldwide, meanwhile releasing five full-length albums on labels such as Tender Loving Empire, K, and Burger Records.