The Shilohs Tame it Down To Reveal So Much More

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Foggy notionOn rare occasions the phrase, “blessing in disguise,” can actually lift above its clichéd status. One might make that case for the Vancouver pop rock quartet, The Shilohs, who’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, wasn’t released until 2010. Their debut full-length, So Wild, recorded in 2010, didn’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 Shilohs’ 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 band’s primary songwriters, they’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 Payne’s galloping “Student of Nature,” bursting with rising melodic hooks and strings, ‘60s bubblegum backing vocal arrangements (well-placed “oohs” and “aahs”) and riffs, with Payne’s angular vocals, reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock and fellow countryman, New Pornographers/ Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, narrating hard lessons of heartbreak and self-reflection. Kamaszcuk counters with the chiming rhythm guitar riff propelling “Ordinary People,” 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 “Champagne Days,” one of his two gems on the record, a bittersweet toast while everything seems to be sinking past the horizon, as in Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset.”

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Collectively, the opening song trilogy of songs set the tone of The Shilohs. They’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. It’s not the type of sun-drenched pop that ruminates about how the sun shimmers over the ocean’s surface. It’s masked by the exuberant, bright execution and orchestration. Veteran producer and engineer Dave Carswell (who’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. “Sisters of Blue” is Payne’s glowing soul-pop ballad, accompanied with a near-perfect guitar solo. Kamaszcuk’s insightful “Palm Readers” is a minimal-pop-meets-psychedelic country track that seamlessly combines the influence of New Zealand’s The Chills with psych-country of The Byrds’ Gene Clark. Colussi’s breezy “Down At The Bottom of Bottomland” whose swift folk-pop that disguises its tragic lyrical content. The sole collaborative composition, “Porch Light,” is an economically straight-forward, mid-tempo pop number, and aptly autobiographical. “So I’m up every night, smoking out by the porch light,” Payne sings, “always singing in the same old yard, always singing in the same garage”.

As songwriters, Payne and Komaszcuk are more derivative from The Beatles/ Lennon-McCartney offshoots, most notably Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook-Chris Difford and XTC’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 Kamaszcuk’s excellent guitar interplay throughout The Shilohs, as featured in “Down At The Bottom of Bottomland,” can be overlooked.

To make a reference to “smart” pop songs, there’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 “smart” 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.