Written by: Dave Cantrell
We’ve talked enough on these pages about the post-punk/darkwave goings-on here in Portland, how it strains the available bandwidth of the word ‘thriving’ and continues to produce not only a bottomless trove of thrilling new bands but as well a record shelf groaning with enough vinyl evidence to ensure its immortality – of which this debut LP from Shadowlands is ‘just’ another – so let’s bypass all that and move straight on to the music and the individuals behind it, shall we?
Shadowlands have been tenaciously, um, shadowing the edges of said scene for some years now, gigging when they can – husband/wife team Casey and Amy-Sabin Logan (drums and keys/vox, respectively, though the band has a habit of swapping roles) have, like all of us, actual jobs, plus, in their case, a young family to consider – making their presence known to certain resident DJs and, by the sound of things, writing and rehearsing their tails off. In short, they’ve been following the established, heavily-trodden path so many thousands of others have trampled down before them but apparently doing so with an unusually fierce and focused efficiency as this album – and I believe I can speak for most of the Portland post-punk community on this – arrived a bit out of nowhere. Seemed one day they were one of the many bands hanging about – the crowd of the promising – and the next day there they were, Amy, Casey, guitarist Jason Electric and bassist Jesse Elizondo, posting pics from Cascade Record Pressing on their socials, the four of them gathered around the test pressing grinning the big debut record grin. Naturally, as Facebook dictates, we shared in their happiness – getting your first record pressed, it would seem (and I believe it), rivals getting married or buying your first house – but a few of us in our mildly-jaded, seasoned minds, might have wondered if they weren’t maybe rushing things a little. Ha! One spin later and, well, let’s just say that if doubt’s ever more displaced it’ll be lost forever. 001 was clearly tugging hard at its tether, eagerly ready to be unleashed on the unsuspecting, always hungry world.
With a dark evocative organ figure announcing the record as if a goth Addams clan is being summoned to the front room for a family meeting, the perversely-named opener “Fade” simply captivates, there’s no better word, the subsequent accrual of a double heart-beating bass drum, the coy slinking hammer of a bassline then an echoed electric guitar rather trapezing through the rafters, guaranteeing one’s full seduced attention even before Amy’s quavering bewitchment of a vocal floats over it all like a troubled wraith, half suspicion, half vulnerability, all inviolably human. Exquisitely constructed, it both throws down for the remaining seven tracks – you’ll not be surprised to hear they take up the challenge with a defiant poise – and illustrates with instant certitude what a dynamically coherent unit Shadowlands is.
Often, with a quartet, you can point to an individual member as being crucially key to the power of the band’s sound, something you can do with this lot as well, you just need to point with four fingers. Amy’s abilities as ostensible, by-default frontwoman have perhaps been alluded to enough though in the last analysis that may be impossible, Casey’s drumming is cagey, persuasively atmospheric and astutely muscular, unshocking since his playing in a live setting is coiled explosive, watch him long enough you walk away exhausted. And speaking of the live component, Jesse’s presence on bass is often scene-stealing, he dominates with an electric restlessness and a tone that swallows your heart whole. And speaking of Electric, Jason is the charismatic anchor, riffing with a sharp, easy virtuosity while presiding over these lovely patches of high melodic noise with a devilish gleam of calm. All happy news if you get a chance to see them live – fercrissake don’t miss that opportunity if you get it – but even if you don’t the news is still good as they’ve succeeded in the main – as many bands don’t, first album or not – in transferring the essence of their performance ethic to vinyl.
“Clean Life” seethes with allure and restraint, a song born for the smoky dark spotlit stage of 1981, “Comfort,” sung by Jason, goes to that place you wish the Comsats would’ve gone post-Waiting For A Miracle, mournful, hopeful, driven (and no dancey, gated-drum sheen obscuring the power), while if it’s an adrenalized push you’re after, the band oblige with “Get Gone,” sung by Casey (with Amy behind the kit) and packed with a pounding, barely veiled menace a la the Attractions in their primal prime (circa Armed Forces, say) had they found themselves in a Battle of the Bands against the Stooges. Elsewhere the translucent “Liberation,” downcast of bass, eldritch of synth and the epic “In Time” that makes a monument out of dystopic yearning and a forlorned poignancy (between the sparse cinematic ringing of Electric’s, er, electric and Sabin-Logan’s cliff’s-edge vocal this really could be the end) before surprising all existence by taking off at a world-beating gallop, ending in sheer accelerated triumph. There’s more, of course, but my pen thinks you’ve heard enough for now.
So there it is, my latest dispatch from Portla- Hey, wait a minute! Look, yonder! Aren’t those debut albums by Vice Device, Spirit Host, and Dead Cult rising like black moons on the horizon? Ohhh my, what a time to be alive and living the post-punk life in Portland OR.
When are you moving here?