It’s release day! The Shondes’ fourth album, The Garden, dropped today, and if you haven’t gotten into these guys yet a.) why not? and b.) there is no better time like the present. The Garden builds upon what the band did on their last album, Searchlights, creating a record that, while it doesn’t top their last effort, is fantastic in its own right.
Okay, I’m going to just mention the one real weak spot, get it out of the way, and move on to the rest of this great album: “Dr. Manhattan.” It’s a weird track, punky with really prominent finger snaps in the mix. The backing vocals are too spacey for the overall tone of the song, and I did not enjoy the solo at all. I appreciate that the band was trying something new and different, and parts of the song work (the fast paced dance, punk feel), but the bridge is just so disjointed that it really throws me off the whole track. Bright side: this is the only weak song on the album! So lets get to what’s great about The Garden.
Since their founding, The Shondes have been a band built on anthems. From “Let’s Go” off of their first demo (later on their first full length) to “Are You Ready?” and “Give Me What You’ve Got” off of Searchlights, The Shondes have clearly demonstrated that they know how to write a track that gives you that swelling of emotion in your chest and makes you want to sing every word at the top of your lungs. With The Garden they have further refined that talent, giving us another handful of these tracks. I honestly have never encountered a band that can write anthem songs so consistently well, and can write them in such a way that they don’t become stale. “Nights Like These,” both the first single and my favorite song off the album, is the strongest example they give this time around. It plays perfectly with the listeners emotions, building from the dissonant piano intro through the subdued verses into a perfectly cathartic chorus. On top of that, this track also introduces new elements to The Shondes’ sound that I hope become fixtures. There’s the piano, but also melodica, which is featured prominently throughout the track. Much like violinist Elijah Oberman, it adds this haunted and mournful feel to the song, which makes the joyous release of the chorus even more pronounced. “Nights Like These” may be the best song The Shondes have ever released.
As for the rest of the album, like I said, it really builds upon the incredibly solid foundation that is Searchlights. Sonically and thematically the two records come off as fairly similar, but perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference is in the drumming. Now, I have promised myself I won’t make this review my eventual book that I will call “I Have Too Many Feelings About Drums,” but I have a lot of feelings about drums. The Garden was recorded with The Shondes new drummer, Allison Miller, but many of the songs were written with former drummer Temim Fruchter, and comparing live videos of The Garden’s songs with Fruchter with the record, it seems as though Miller stuck with many of the original beats. However, there’s just something off about the drums that I can’t seem to put my finger on. It could be due to different mixing, or Miller’s kit having an overall tighter tone, but this record is missing the more booming, looser drum sound that the last three records featured, and it was something that I really enjoyed about the band’s sound. Miller is a phenomenal drummer, and her playing throughout the record is excellent, especially on “The Garden” and “The Promise,” but the new tone is definitely going to take some getting used to, at least for me.
All of my drum feelings aside, the rest of the instrumentation gets better with every album. The sound on this record is lush and full in a way that The Shondes have never really been before. A lot of that has to do with guitarist Fureigh’s playing and tone. A great example is on “On Your Side,” a great 80s influenced rock track whose main riff is just chunky power chords, but the sound is stadium filling, which is the first time I think I could ever say that for a Shondes song. A problem that the band has had throughout its past is a thin guitar tone, which made many of the songs sound a bit weaker than they actually were, but that issue seems to be solved on this album. Oberman’s violin is as beautiful as ever, and his playing is always a highlight of anything The Shondes release. He really adds a cinematic quality to the songs that punches up the catharsis many of them provide. Unfortunately, his parts are a bit buried in places, but I understand that is a necessary evil in order to not crowd the mix. Louisa Solomon’s bass playing adds grit to many of the songs, as she favors a very treble heavy tone without a lot of warmth to it. It gives the songs some punk realness, which I appreciate.
There’s nothing I can say about Solomon’s voice that I haven’t gushed about probably a million times by now. She has one of my favorite voices in rock today, and The Garden only further solidifies that. It’s soaring, it’s soulful, and it’s perfect for the type of music that this band is making. She only continues to get better with every album, and I can’t pick one track as a perfect example, because she phenomenal on all of them. On the track where he is the featured vocalist, “Running In My Sleep,” Oberman shows how he has continued to improve vocally. He is more quiet and mournful sounding, and serves as a great counter to Solomon on the rest of the songs.
The Garden is The Shondes’ best sounding record, and perhaps with time it will become my personal favorite as well. Almost every song is a standout, and it is their most technically proficient and well produced album yet. If you aren’t a fan already, and are a fan of solid rock music with a strong dash of 80s pop-rock appreciation, this is your album. Hell, this is your band. The Shondes are only getting better as far as I can tell, and I’m sure their other fans would agree with me.
You can get The Garden at Exotic Fever Records, on iTunes, or at one of their shows when they go on tour this fall! Check their facebook for dates.