The Shivas – Whiteout (K Records)
DL / LP / CD
There are fewer record labels about these days where you know, just by their stamp on the cover, that you’re going to get something amazing. Glenn Airey’s trust of K Records leads him to impulse purchase The Shivas and boy, is he glad he did.
It pays, of course, to keep an eye on K Records. Guardians of the International Pop Underground up in Olympia, Washington, the label has been releasing great music for so long that its famous shield logo can be implicitly trusted to offer protection from whatever crap the cynics and imposters might try to fling in your direction. It also looks rather like a prefect’s badge from my old school, although the proud owner of this one would be more likely to ruffle your hair and lend you a Make Up LP than give you a Chinese burn and steal your lunch money.
So yeah, when K calls I pick up, and as I was skimming the venerable Piccadilly Records mail order website one night last month, a new K pre-release caught my eye. The K stamp and cool sleeve art already had my finger twitching over ‘add to basket’ by the time I noticed the following quote: ‘Imagine the Stone Roses meeting The Cramps in a dark alley and both bands coming out smiling.’ Now, truth be told, I only really care for one half of that equation but maybe it’s wiser not to admit which half on Madchester-loving Louder Than War. But I was intrigued as hell and Whiteout by The Shivas duly found itself nestling in my virtual shopping bag.
I can tell you that I’m very pleased it did. I don’t think a day’s gone by since it arrived when I haven’t played it. If you’ve read this far, we can probably agree that surf music, punk rock and the Velvet Underground are all good things. We might also agree that it’s getting harder for people to incorporate these over-familiar elements into new records that deserve our time and money. But guess what? The Shivas have cleared that hurdle with room to spare.
I’d use the word ‘effortless’ if that didn’t imply a lack of care. Let’s go with ‘instinctive’ instead. Despite their low mileage age-wise, Jared, Eric, Rob and Kristin are clearly so immersed in this stuff that they have no need to fake it or force it. Plus, they’re all shit-hot players, which obviously helps.
The Shivas can switch gear from a headlong, three-chord guitar chase into girl-group drama in the time it takes your needle to glide from their superb single Gun in my Pocket to the Shangri-La perfection of Baby, I Need You. For each laid-back take on the third Velvets LP (The Sun Don’t Shine is a very Lou title, and a fittingly beautiful song) there’s a garage-band stomper just crying out for one of those dances where you pretend to be swimming. Chief among these is No Waves, which should hopefully make the swimming a bit easier.
There’s a yearning quality to the lead vocals throughout that hints all is not as perfect as the dreamy backing harmonies might suggest. For all the apparent limitations of its field, this is an album of contrasts, which goes to show that narrow-mindedness can be a virtue if you know what you’re doing.
And talking of contrasts, what about this hypothetical Stone Roses / Cramps confluence? Well, I must admit I’m struggling with that one, except perhaps on the marvellously-titled Kissed in the Face. What begins as a stealthy ‘50s switchblade strut does indeed throw off its cape to reveal a much funkier, bass-driven second act that could feasibly get away with wearing flares.
Kissed… begins the final straight and we’re almost home with Manimal, a proper kitchen-sink-and-all surf rocker, before the aptly Hawaiian-sounding Paradise ebbs away, leaving us hoping it won’t be long until we return to The Shivas’ shores.
All words by Glenn Airey. More from Glenn on LTW here.