There was a famous screenwriter whose name I don’t know who said something I don’t exactly remember, but it went kind of like this- “A great script gives people what they want in a way they don’t expect”. If you need the actual quote I’m sure you can pick up a Google tutorial at Borders, but either way, this idea seems to be a succinct way to describe what Shapes and Sizes is going for on their second full length Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner. But the question is, do they actually pull it off?
The heart of …A Shiner is pop. Happy, quirky, and dancey, even when the band hits full-on rock parts, there are still sunny melodies underneath. But throughout the record, starting with the manic “Alone/Alive”, Shapes and Sizes is more concerned with delivering these songs with spastic drums, noisy loops, schizophrenic guitars, and the feel good weirdo croon of Caila Thompson-Hannant. Not unlike the defunct but brilliant Unicorns, S&S are, at their best, able to take songs that could have been radio-friendly fare and morphed them into genre-benders that require multiple listens for the payoff. Thompson-Hannant’s vocals could easily replace dozens of other indie rock females, but she happily switches gears from sweet to bombastic and refuses to be buried beneath whatever experimentation is going around her. From electrical noise breakdowns to island tribal chants, Shapes and Sizes has an arsenal of ideas, and the chops to pull them off. But then they go way too fucking far.
Throughout a good portion of the record, S&S are more than happy to build up the momentum of their songs and then out of nowhere immediately deconstruct them to the point of non-sequitur. Right when you’re ready to see where they go next, they replace any semblance of a band with squeaking floorboards, digital crunching, and free jazz drums. The guitars turn into a random squawks, while the vocalists (There is also a male singer who occasionally drops by, but he sounds like a teenager aping Blonde Redhead and is worthy of little discussion) hum off lyrics like they’re at a poetry slam. Then after a minute or two they burst back into the catchy ass song you almost forgot you were listening to. If they are trying to distance themselves that far from being a pop band, then they succeed but by sacrificing the all too important song aspect.
There is much to applaud on this record and when Shapes and Sizes focus their energies on splicing and processing common household pop, they blossom. But like the infamous fan edit of Phantom Menace, which removed Jar Jar and a bunch of lame shit that fucking asshole kid said, …A Shiner works best when you have your finger on fast forward, ready to speed through the minutes of arty self-indulgence and get back to the song.