A trip to the record store is looking mandatory for those looking for something new that combines the old and the new and makes it fresh. This performance is only a few weeks old, awesome to watch, full of fun….
The Shivas are the latest coup for Olympia, Wash.’s K Records. To the untrained ear the Shivas would seem somewhat out of place in the current K roster. While they definitely wade in waters familiar to labels more like, say, Burger Records, the band holds the key ingredients of any great K band: teenage exuberance, a slight nostalgic wink and, at times, a slight sense of naiveté. The Shivas, however, are much more polished musicians than some of their contemporaries, and Whiteout! exhibits this maturity in abundance.
Whiteout! has been floating around for over a year, originally released on cassette by the aforementioned Burger Records. The album finds its way to vinyl for the first time courtesy of K. The songs on Whiteout! have a familiarity that is instant to anyone who has listened to garage, surf, psych and even twee in the last several decades. It is very apparent what The Shivas value sonically.
Lush with bright and full production and almost entirely augmented by light keyboards, Whiteout! is a tight, and brilliantly executed, set of recordings. While the majority of critics have cast them into a broad category of Beach Boys worship, it simply is lazy writing to do so. There are no overt signs of the Beach Boys on this album: end of story. The type of surf that The Shivas mine is more reverb rich, more forlorn and more in line with groups like the Astronauts, Surfarians, Ventures, Invictas, or just about any surf band that is not the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean.
“Thrill Yr Idols”, released on last years Believer Magazine compilation Love Songs for Lamps, brings the band through a Byrds-eque mid-tempo stomper that can get stuck in your head for days. Perhaps that is mark of distinction for the band; they craft instantly memorable melodies, so familiar you feel that you have heard it before. This is not to say that it is entirely derivative, simply they are putting together a confluence of elements that have worked for a generation of bands.
“Living and Dying Like Horatio Alger” displays the most overt signs of why fans of the K Records catalog should go bananas for this album. At times the song feels like the classic Beat Happening song “Bewitched”, although more polished and filled out. It is by the mid point of the album, midway through “Horatio Alger” that things begin to sink in: The Shivas may not be living up to their full potential. Whiteout! is a beautifully produced album, rich with finesse and ideas, but there is the slight feeling that this album does not begin to define what The Shivas are or will be.
The Shivas are a supremely powerful live band. [Full disclosure: my band did one west coast tour with the band.] The foursome — who began while still Vancouver, Wash. high school students — are road warriors. When the band isn’t attending school in their new hometown of Portland, Ore., they are traveling the country honing their live sound. As a live band it is often difficult to translate what you have learned playing live to a recorded format. Live, The Shivas are a fiery, agitated enigma: at once both Velvet Underground disciples and reverb heavy surf based garage stompers. The darkness that the band exudes live helps propel it past their numerous contemporaries mining a similar blend of surf, garage and psych.
That is why it is disconcerting at times that on Whiteout! the band almost completely abandons any hint of the urban-scuzz influence that makes their show so compelling. Rather than incorporate some of their more fuzzed out, proto-punk influences, the band treads closer to a retro sound. On some of Whiteout!’s tracks, the band has a Del Fi/Mustang Records sound that befits bands who are more wholly retro than The Shivas. Live, The Shivas do not come off as a retro act, but a band taking elements of the past to create their own sound – and this perhaps is why they still have yet to completely live up to their full potential on record.
The Shivas at times verge dangerously close to being too enamored with this retro sound on “Paradise”, a lovely duet so in lockstep with songs like Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” that it feels almost like pastiche. It should be noted that live, “Paradise” is a showstopper in the greatest sense. Sadly, therein lies the plight of The Shivas record: Whiteout! is too glossy, too easy on the ears and lacks the heartfelt grit of the bands live act.
All this is not to say that Whiteout! is not a fine record. It does a fantastic job of riffing on age-old tropes, adding plenty of danceable beats, oo’s and ah’s, driving tempos and upbeat deliveries. But where Whiteout! widely succeeds, it also neuters the full potential of the band in creating and album that would feel entirely original. With Whiteout! the Shivas have proven they can record and excellent sounding album, that can keep your foot tapping beyond its own trappings, but have yet stepped into the shoes of a band able to create a statement of their own in the same way that they are more than capable doing live.