Shapes and Sizes
Shapes and Sizes
e may tire of cheeky band names and underage album art before we tire of the music behind them, but let’s not let them overshadow it. Vancouver’s Shapes and Sizes do indeed have crayola’d liner notes and an overarching hat-drawn moniker, but let them serve as an opportunity for an equally bland observation: yes, you guessed it, the songs on this album come in all shapes and sizes. Not that it’s easy to outline or quantify the breadth of styles they cover in ten tracks, but suffice it to say that even unique songs manage to sound like entire overtures unto themselves.
This album has a shelf life, but schizo opener “Island’s Gone Bad” will never stop sounding like an ill-fated trip down memory lane with Andrew Bird and Fiery Furnaces. Nor will it stop feeling like a splash of cold water to the face the moment Caila Thompson-Hannant appears without warning. Sure, her arrival is preordained by a rhythmic 180-degree turn, and her lyrics (“I like eating fruit off of trees / When I’m with you”) are dull, but her voice is the only bit of calm—and fun—in a tropical storm of saxophones, lost Blonde Redhead guitar tickles, and co-lead vocalist Rory Seydel’s unhelpful backing vocals. Her presence on this early track is too flirtatious to be suggestive of her power elsewhere on the album, but somehow her vocals still belie each failed or less memorable experiment.
“Weekends at a Time” is so variegated that I was shocked to find that it was only four minutes long. The song’s simultaneous rhythmic and melodic changes could easily be called the development, exposition, and recapitulation—tags usually reserved for dead composers. Thompson-Hannant is given free reign over obliging drums, electric guitars, a synthesizer, and a chorus of voices, of which she comprises the most resounding cords. The guitars pedal along for awhile, repeating the same riff but promising forward motion, only to conceal themselves in twinkling fret slides whose sole purpose is to echo the virtuosity of Thompson-Hannant’s melody. A lover’s quarrel is the subject, and “Go, no don’t / Stay,” the ambivalent gist. The song doesn’t end with a symphonic fanfare, as it might have two hundred years ago, but with the gritty, unstructured, po-mo plucks of a guitar, which decompose into the short silence before the antithetical rhythmic precision of “I Am Cold,” a slow-as-molasses Low tribute complete with haunting male/female harmonizing, and one of the album’s finest tracks.
I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen on tracks four through ten, or rather, I didn’t want to. But when, on “Wilderness,” Thompson-Hannant drains her voice of its substance and sings, “Kisses are our friends, my friend / And I know a lot about them,” there’s not much else to feel but disappointment. But the teetering power of “Goldenhead”—again, only steadied by Thompson-Hannant—is strong enough to make up for two or three duds, even if it lacks the instrumental thickness of the better tracks. The above average cuts settle down comfortably, each to its own niche: the exploratory, balladic duet “Boy, You Shouldn’t Have” both subverts and respects the country twangs and second-person musings of early Wilco, and the winning, straight-and-narrow indie rock anthem “Oh No, Oh Boy” still manages to depart from the standards of this week’s Coachella darling. But it’s the straight-A songs with Thompson-Hannant at the helm that save this album from falling to the bottom of the slush pile labeled “cute album art.”