Written by: Dave Cantrell
It’s fun imagining things, subverting reality to fit one’s own whimsical will. Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if the Byrds had remained forever young, untouched by time and still pounding out buoyant pre-Gram psych-pop with a willful ease and a twinkle in their Rickenbacker? If the Verlaines had been as big as the Beatles but never lost their humble touch of genius. If the Velvet Underground had allowed themselves to be influenced by the Everly Brothers. If Hank Williams had been born and raised in Dunedin, NZ in 1959 and was still alive today. Now, nothing in Shifting Sands’ sophomore effort Cosmic Radio Station points exactly toward any of these fanciful suppositions – though, OK, there is the jangly melodicism to consider, and a brimming pop consciousness certainly pertains – but the overall spirit and surpassing talent found within can easily give rise to all manners of fantastic tableaux.
Striking, swoon-worthy orchestral pop without the orchestra, running a gamut from contemplative to ecstatic, from (a rather gleaming) rustic to, yes, the cosmic, this record shimmers at every level, at any tempo. Recorded during a burst of “heightened aurora activity caused by cosmic rays from solar flares” – hence the title – in a sheepherder’s shed above Port Chalmers where the three lads also happen to run hotspot venue Chick’s Hotel, the album flickers immediately to life with the surging push and pulse of “Waiting For the Sun” that has something of a bucolic Feelies feel to it (with some added sparkly piano bits added) and thenceforth maintains an aura of pop invincibility to the very end.
“All The Stars” is gilded with a delicately lilted touch of melody that, no exaggeration, is nothing less than one of this year’s most immortal hooks (those, no surprise, are getting harder to come by as the years mount up but here the Sands make it sound unreasonably effortless), “We All Fall Down” has a classic sad rock sonority to it that suggests (and here’s another of those extravagant supposings) Lee Hazlewood exiling himself to a modern New Zealand instead of early 70’s Sweden, implicitly gorgeous and in thrall to the existential calm at the heart of a storm while “Making It Through” injects itself more willingly into the maelstrom, the vocal melody inside the glorious noise another one of ‘those’ alluded to above and didn’t Jesus and Mary Chain used to do this with some regularity a thousand years ago? Perhaps so but this one here will trump those and, I should think, most other comparative memories by enveloping you in a new pop splendor. From there the lovely instrumental interlude of “Whereakeake” – a nod to said woolshed’s true locale and dispatched with a bespoke backporch charm embroidered inside a sumptuous 21st. C fidelity – and there’s side one all wrapped up in a tiny bundle of rapture that side two is only too happy to emulate, from the kiwified Crazy Horse density of “Should Be Better” that opens it through the psych-garagey power-punk-pop of “Coming Back” to the starry layered luminosity of “Radio Silence” that closes out the heavily chimed proceedings and any further details I leave to your own discovery, all the better to experience the unalloyed enthusiasms that will most certainly result.
Though not quite as deeply staked in a rural emotionality, Cosmic Radio Station nevertheless reminds, in its bucolic origins, in its textural sincerity, of the Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional, evoking a similarly deep antipodean essence, as if the musicians making it simply cannot help giving off a living vibe of the place they come from. Which makes nothing but sense, as these lads from the edge of Dunedin are as invested in their storied surroundings as is possible for anyone to be. Should you be at all curious as to the thriving sonic essence of this pop historic port city tucked away on the far side of the Tasman Sea circa 2015, Shifting Sands provide you with your concise, ultimate answer in thirty-nine luminous minutes. Or, if you’re simply a fan enamored of what’s possible at this late date from that modestly legendary place, Cosmic Radio Station is the album for you. Whichever the case, we’re wholly fortunate these strains of beauty still exist.[Cosmic Radio Station is available here or here]