One day, I was given the task of reviewing this album, a debut, no less, from a band I had no idea what to expect from. All I got was a set of audio files from the album 8-Track Mind, and a brief description of Left Hand Shake’s members, David Decker and Blaze Sepowski, and the previous projects they’ve been involved with, featuring names like Bang Zoom!, Picture This, and Bottle of the Dog. Initially, I thought this would just be something I could sit through and move on.
Even the album cover itself led me to think anything could be inside. It’s of a suit with an old speaker where the head should be with an 8-track of the album loaded inside. Upon further research, I saw it was named album of the year by WVCR, the radio station for Siena College. Okay, I thought. College-age people like this. I finally got around to listening to the album, which started off with the various synth noises of “F.S.B.” until 45 seconds in when the slow drumbeat and guitars finally kicked in. And from there, I was hooked.
The album comes across as a breath of fresh air because it delves into a particular genre I don’t think gets enough credit: dream pop. There are definitely artists nowadays influenced by this particular underground scene, M83 comes to mind, but it’s rare to see an act fully embrace the mindset. The mid-tempos that put listeners in a state of bliss. The sweeping, soaring guitar lines. The echo-y vocals less concerned with singing clear lyrics and more with being another texture of the song.
In terms of extent of what Left Hand Shake is willing to do, it’s on the second song, “Being There (Django).” Along with the ethereal 80’s dream pop guitar work happening, there are also hints of violin and a mandolin underneath. Of it’s eight and a half minute runtime, the last five are purely instrumental. And it’s not only more guitar work that gets to shine, there are harmonica, saxophone, and trumpet solos dispersed in that time. And oddly enough, though it sometimes feels it goes on for too long, it all works in making the dreamy atmosphere stick.
There are also songs that tone down the dream atmosphere considerably. “Right Hand Shake” reminds me of “She Bangs the Drums,” by the Stone Roses, with the similar guitar tones and echo-y vocal work. “Fly” is pretty much a condensed version of the longer songs, but notably more down to earth.
In terms of shortcomings, I’d say Decker and Sepowski get a bit too experimental with their instrumentation. The songs that are 7 to 8 minutes long have a good chunk made up of solos that serve only to continue the state of euphoria. “People Like,” starts off sounding like a dated 90’s industrial act before it really gets going. “Fabreeze” has a muted trumpet solo while “Path Less Taken” essentially ends with a violin solo taking up the last third. The lyrics, when you can make them out, at times come across like they’re trying too hard. Lines like “Life is a garden, I’m sowing all the seeds, when something starts to grow, it comes out as weeds” (“Fly”). And “People like you, people like me, we can change the world” (“People Like”) Then again, lyrics were never the emphasis of this genre.
So, if you’re a fan of the works of The Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, and Lush, give Left Hand Shake a chance. We should look forward to whatever efforts these guys have planned in the future, if they continue this direction or move on to something else.