Shovels & Rope

Shovels and Rope

Wanted to check in quickly and say something here that I said on the radio last Saturday when I joined Doug Nunnally for his Sound Gaze show on WDCE:

I really like this Shovels & Rope album.

That’s the short version, at least. The long version won’t be all that long, but I did want to point out something that I think is really special about what Shovels & Rope are doing.

My dad loved the Everly Brothers — their A Date With… album is the one I remember seeing around the house most often — and their harmonies undoubtedly shaped the way I listen to vocals in music. Their singing is pretty and precise and comforting. Even when they’re about sadness, Everly Brothers songs sound bright — uplifting, even. I’ve always known that their style is called “close harmony,” and I’ve heard other things that made me want to use that term, but I only recently took the time to look up what it meant. We’ll go with Wikipedia’s definition, because I’m lazy:

Close harmony is an arrangement of the notes of chords within a narrow range, usually notes that are no more than an octave apart.

Swimmin’ Time is what made me actually look this up, because what Shovels & Rope are doing on this new album strikes me as such a fascinating take on the idea of close harmony. This album feels so grimey and dirty to me — miles away from the sugary sound of the Everly Brothers — yet they’re using this musical technique that’s the embodiment of all that’s clean-cut and pleasing to the human ear. In the chorus of “Evil,” which uses a menacing, fuzzy synth, they sing about a “dead dog lying on the sidewalk” and being “a victim of the mortgage bubble pop, waiting for the other shoe to drop,” all while keeping in close harmony and deftly playing around with major and minor key elements.

There’s a really interesting tension there, I think. I know they used close harmony on their debut album, which I also love, but with Swimmin’ Time, I think they’ve found a creative space that’s truly theirs — one that’s defined by juxtaposition. Both loose and tight. Both pretty and ugly (see “dead dog” above). They make those contradictions sound so, so good.

Check “Evil” out below and click here to buy Swimmin’ Time.

Shovels & Rope — “Evil” [Spotify/iTunes]


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