[Exotic Fever; 09/20/2011]
Punk Rock Power Ballads
By Beverly Bryan
The Shondes’s third album Searchlights is a rare example of maturity finding a band at their best. On this expansive, heartfelt release the Brooklyn quartet has taken their unabashedly emotional lyrics and bold Klezmer-influenced rock and smoothed it out into ten melodic songs of uplift for miscreants and wanderers.
They are back and definitely stronger than ever after everything that has happened to the band since the release of their sophomore album My Dear One. That was their searingly intense break up album, full of Sleater-Kinney-style fire. This is the post-break-up album, with a wide-open spirit and a bounding all-American alt-rock energy.
The sound of having finally won free pervades Searchlights. Fist-pumping, sing-along tracks like “Are You Ready” and the album’s title number overflow with the feeling of being half-mad with joy and restlessness.The band isn’t chilling out or losing any kind of an edge, but they are tying together the disparate elements and loose ends in their music, and sounding more and more like The Shondes. In this case, that means writing anthems for people who never give up and never settle — even when everyone they know has told them to.
Here are some of the most memorable and hum-able songs of their career, with a touch of Bruce Springsteen, a touch of Nashville, and plenty of gritty ’90s pop punk imparting the feel of an instant classic. If you’ve got a soft spot for the power ballad at all, these are the kind of hooks and melodic resolutions that can induce chills. But there’s still a hint of Klezmer in Elijah Oberman’s graceful, persistent violin, in the lines of melody that bend but don’t break, and the incredibly wounded vocals.
Lead singer Louisa Solomon steps out of the role of the one who has been wronged, and back into that of the unrepentant sinner, which suits her better. She’s her old self again, on the loose and in top form in her performance as a punk rock femme fatale. Not the ersatz Suicide Girls kind of femme fatale either, she’s the real kind that most people couldn’t possibly hope to handle. She creates the feeling that the stage is the safest place for her — and for all concerned. At any given moment she might be giving off a little Dolly Parton or Joan Jett vibe, but underneath it, and at all times, her own voice and personality are both growing so dominant and distinct that they seem to have their own gravitational pull.
Despite the freer mood and sunnier sound of Searchlights, The Shondes remain a formidable band, even more so now that they’re getting a little sleeker.