Written by: Dave Cantrell
Released Dec. 10, Shadowhouse’s debut LP proves that, at least in terms of post-punk, 2014 saved one of its best for last.
Hand in Hand comes to one’s attention in a way similar to how the band themselves emerged a couple of years ago, suddenly just there, rising out of a towering blue shadow, Shane McCauley’s (and briefly-returned original member Nick Torres’) guitar tones sounding like a sharp urban loneliness personified. The song is called “Start Again,” a fitting title as it turns out, since there’s little doubt from those first plangent notes that you’ll return to this album again and again to catch the rush of a relatively new band getting it right the first time. Fact is, as already stated here, one couldn’t ask for a more assured debut. Hand in Hand shines (if rather darkly) from, um, start to finish, fulfilling the sparkling germ of potential that was immediately apparent when your correspondent received a mystery message late one night back in early 2013 with an mp3 attached, wherein was found a track that sat him back in his chair in a state of paralyzed astonishment. Songs like this, he kept thinking as he played it back three times straight, don’t just appear out of the ether like this.
That track was “Lonely Psalm,” a shamelessly Burgess-addicted slice of chill-inducing post-punk yearn and release, McCauley’s baritone both pleading and matter-of-fact as it wrestles with the what-the-fuck? of existence, the dramatic churn of Rickenbackers bouncing back and forth off the walls of the mix, enhanced by the ever-present reverb and a killer riff, Ashley Geiger’s synth piercing its own fog with a fraught melody while the rhythm section – drummer Josh Hathaway and now-erstwhile bassist Samantha Gladu – plows the depths with a steady hand, the bottom end of this record everywhere as sure a furrowed pocket as the genre demands. Re-recorded here after appearing as the B-side (!) to the band’s introductory 7″ – the moving, elegiac “Haunted” copping the top spot, the singer’s timeless tribute to a late beloved friend, also present here and even more effecting in the new mix – “Lonely Psalm” will nonetheless remain a personal favorite, representing as it does the pure thrill of discovery and the shiver of promise that comes with it. Having gotten to know them via my radio show it doesn’t surprise me to say this but I’m still delighted to report that that promise has, gloriously, not gone unfulfilled.
Crafted at Portland’s Red Lantern Studios with producer Evan “Maus” Mersky lending it exactly the sympathetic sheen it demands, HiH is a bit of a rookie tour de force, from the resigned eloquence of “Toys,” dedicated to the cannon fodder we all are, to the deliberate drive of the indicting “Sea of Cruelty,” wreathed in sadness, to the existential anti-prayer of “We Don’t Belong,” Geiger’s synth sounding from the deeps like the pinging of a doomed submarine while the rest of the band rage with a measured anger in the swells above. Throughout the record McCauley resists the scream, forgoes any cries of plaintive angst in favor of a declarative empathy, a sort of Murphy-esque croon minus the gothy histrionics. It works. Hand in Hand is a work of accretive power, the melodies abundant and straightforward, the playing as sure as it is inspired. Before you know it – and don’t even bother trying to be careful around this record – songs like “A Darkness” with its echoed vocal and the chimed guitars that give the song the feel of a dawn somehow breaking without light, or “Stay Away,” rather thundering with an accomplished restraint, or the cavernous, midnight majesty of “Oldest Crime,” will take up permanent residence, roaming like shadowy ghosts through your consciousness, pulsing inside your jugular. They just don’t make albums like this anymore, except they just did, and for your convenience, you can order it just below the video. Why wait?
[Hand in Hand available from Mass Media here]