"Well, incredibly, just to be extra perverse the band introduce no key or tempo changes at all, rather a fortification of the template set down at the track's beginning. I'm suing. "
Shapes and Sizes – Shapes and Sizes.
This is a great, unhinged piece of work. It will, by turns, drive you mad and have you laughing at its sheer wilful absurdity. Suffice to say, Shapes and Sizes don't like the listener to bask in the comfort zone. In fact they are on a mission (seemingly) to drive you to distraction with all the absurd instrumental, tempo and key changes. At the same time, just as you decide to take it out of the CD player a fabulous riff or chorus will halt you in your tracks.
The opening song is a case in point. Islands Gone Bad starts as a halting pop song, only to become an inanely twee paean to fruit eating. Then it decides it has to make a dissonant racket not dissimilar to Trout Mask Replica or Spike Jones's orchestra. Interesting, huh? Then there's a lot of screaming about children going mad. Hmm...
Still it's still on the CD player. Oh, now its heavy riffing, followed up sharpish with a jazzy stroll. There has to be structure somewhere. Obviously not, because we have some bonkers organ noises rallying sonically with a guitar... really, have this lot heard of the Faust tapes?
Following that (all crammed into four minutes incidentally) we have Weekend at a Time, a great heavy guitar laden with angst ridden vocals, which (surprise surprise) changes amidships to a synth-guitar battle of the first water. This noise carries on into track three, endearingly entitled I Am Cold; a monochrome slab of synthesizer accompanied by a maudlin, simple vocal scale. Things can't go on like this for more than two minutes without change, it's not allowed. Well, incredibly, just to be extra perverse the band introduce no key or tempo changes at all, rather a fortification of the template set down at the track's beginning. I'm suing. This sombre nature continues into Northern Lights, the sound is even more paired back at the beginning. Soon things pick up and mutate into a sort of question and answer pop song. It's very beautiful stuff indeed.
Elsewhere, Wilderness sounds like a Charlie Brown theme, as muted sax and chiming guitar herald another sparse-lit song. There's some rather inane whistling at one point, which sees the temporary introduction of a more strident spirit. Goldenhead is a classic weird pop song, very much influenced by jangly boy-girl pop. Its stop-start rhythms are very Beefheartian and remind this old git of Can of Bees-era Soft Boys. Yet again there's a great change mid-song, creating a fabulously noisy, Camper Van-style tail out. Topsy Turvy is again reminiscent of the Soft Boys in its guitar patterns, and maybe Throwing Muses in its spirit.
Suffice to say there's a great deal of chopping and changing, but I have to say it's never dull, nor never as annoyingly perverse as the opening track. Oh No Oh Boy is a weird slow song, the male-female vocal duties switching at will, or suddenly joining to create an elegiac chorus backed by some furious strumming. Quite what Rory's Bleeding is about I wouldn't like to say. Suffice to say it's maudlin in sonic and lyric content and we'll leave it at that. Finally, bringing this intriguing LP to a close is Boy You Shouldn't Have which is a stoner chorus of considerable charm, despite (yet again!) the disturbing lyrics.
Well, that was something else! If you fancy being challenged but intrigued, maybe this release is for you.
Words: Richard Foster