The Shilohs Tame it Down To Reveal So Much More
On rare occasions the phrase, â€œblessing in disguise,â€ can actually lift above its clichÃ©d status. One might make that case for the Vancouver pop rock quartet, The Shilohs, whoâ€™ve had a history of delayed releases from their inception in 2008. Founding members, guitarists-vocalists Johnny Payne and Mike Komaszcuk recruited bassist-vocalist Daniel Colussi and drummer Ben Frey, and with a number of locally played gigs under their belt, recorded a self-released EP, though for a number of reasons, wasnâ€™t released until 2010. Their debut full-length, So Wild, recorded in 2010, didnâ€™t see the light of day until 2013. Their sophomore self-titled album illustrates how the band, on a number of levels, benefited from these unplanned lags time.If there is any criticism that can be lent to The Shilohsâ€™ impressive and ambitious debut So Wild, is that Payne and Kamaszcuk tried to cram too many ideas or parts in the individual song. For their second effort, The Shilohs, after road-testing their new compositions, learned to scale back, following the worn adage: Keep it simple, stupid. The result allows the core of each song to be highlighted, and for the bandâ€™s primary songwriters, theyâ€™ve loosened their connections to The Beatles and The Kinks, dominant influences on So Wild. And by doing so, Payne and Kamaszcuk may have moved closer to their own distinct voices.
The Shilohs opens with Payneâ€™s galloping â€œStudent of Nature,â€ bursting with rising melodic hooks and strings, â€˜60s bubblegum backing vocal arrangements (well-placed â€œoohsâ€ and â€œaahsâ€) and riffs, with Payneâ€™s angular vocals, reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock and fellow countryman, New Pornographers/ Destroyerâ€™s Dan Bejar, narrating hard lessons of heartbreak and self-reflection. Kamaszcuk counters with the chiming rhythm guitar riff propelling â€œOrdinary People,â€ a deceptively ringing pop song about financial loss and dire sacrifices, sung with a near-deadpan style, recalling The Go-Betweens. Added to the songwriting fold, bassist Dan Colussi contributes the pop-waltz â€œChampagne Days,â€ one of his two gems on the record, a bittersweet toast while everything seems to be sinking past the horizon, as in Ray Daviesâ€™ â€œWaterloo Sunset.â€
Collectively, the opening song trilogy of songs set the tone of The Shilohs. Theyâ€™re songs about loss, the type of loss that is commonplace among most of us. The Shilohs cloak this melancholic emotion in an upbeat pop sandwich. Itâ€™s not the type of sun-drenched pop that ruminates about how the sun shimmers over the oceanâ€™s surface. Itâ€™s masked by the exuberant, bright execution and orchestration. Veteran producer and engineer Dave Carswell (whoâ€™s worked most notably with aforementioned New Pornographers), in co-production with the band, captured a clean, uncluttered sound, lending attention to the craft of the individual songs.
These are only a handful of the collection of pop nuggets featured in The Shilohs. â€œSisters of Blueâ€ is Payneâ€™s glowing soul-pop ballad, accompanied with a near-perfect guitar solo. Kamaszcukâ€™s insightful â€œPalm Readersâ€ is a minimal-pop-meets-psychedelic country track that seamlessly combines the influence of New Zealandâ€™s The Chills with psych-country of The Byrdsâ€™ Gene Clark. Colussiâ€™s breezy â€œDown At The Bottom of Bottomlandâ€ whose swift folk-pop that disguises its tragic lyrical content. The sole collaborative composition, â€œPorch Light,â€ is an economically straight-forward, mid-tempo pop number, and aptly autobiographical. â€œSo Iâ€™m up every night, smoking out by the porch light,â€ Payne sings, â€œalways singing in the same old yard, always singing in the same garageâ€.
As songwriters, Payne and Komaszcuk are more derivative from The Beatles/ Lennon-McCartney offshoots, most notably Squeezeâ€™s Glenn Tilbrook-Chris Difford and XTCâ€™s Andy Partridge-Colin Moulding. Though distinctive from one another, they share a building confidence in their songwriting and execution, with the influences distilled in a unified band sound. And, it should be noted that Payne and Kamaszcukâ€™s excellent guitar interplay throughout The Shilohs, as featured in â€œDown At The Bottom of Bottomland,â€ can be overlooked.
To make a reference to â€œsmartâ€ pop songs, thereâ€™s usually an underlying reference to cleverness. The Shilohs, however, display a transparency to each song without the self-consciousness and an over-eagerness to impress. Here the songs are â€œsmartâ€ in the context of solid, simple pop songs. With the benefit of time, The Shilohs have matured by drawing attention to the song, rather than the songwriter. And they are that much smarter for it.