Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Shapes and Sizes: Shapes and Sizes
Asthmatic Kitty, 2006
Shapes and Sizes might deny it, but all the band members are dyslexic.
They don't satisfy themselves with simply transitioning between different
tempos and rhythms within each song on their self-titled Asthmatic Kitty
debut, instead jumping between genres. This kind of problem isn't rare: The
Fiery Furnaces, Of Montreal, Deerhoof and others have already defined their
own spazzy pop neuroses, and Shapes and Sizes’ own condition is a natural
descendant. In this case, it's fueled by the contrasting vocals of Caila
Thompson-Hannant -- a born belter -- and her softer-spoken male counterpart
Consider the opener "Island's Gone Bad": Over a sparse guitar, ukulele and
strings combo, Seydel laments being sadly confined on an island, when
suddenly the track starts to chug forward, powered by drums. It twists with
a confession that instead of this being personal sadness, "that's what she
said," hesitates, and then suddenly switches to solo drums and Thompson-Hannant's
joyful cries that she "likes eating fruit from the trees when [she's] with
you," paired with a sax, guitar spazzes and chanted choruses. For all the
mood and style changes, it's a pretty song: easily-sympathized-with
emotions, cute phrases and interesting instrumentation.
That track is Shapes and Sizes at their best, a best they also reach through
the art-noise and pop rock of "Goldenhead," the whistling sweetly over fuzzy
guitars of "Wilderness" and at different moments throughout each track. The
problem with this is simple: While Shapes and Sizes try many experiments
that often succeed, they also fail, and such a collapse ruins both the music
and the lyrics. The problems feed off each other. "Topsy Turvy" goes awry
lyrically as soon as Hannant moans that she's a "hurly burly piece of meat,"
and is only complemented by a corresponding painful dissonance in the
instruments. The beautiful pairing of Hannant and Seydel's icy song on "I Am
Cold" with the slow, graceful march of the instruments is given a painful
mirror when Seydel repeatedly declaims that "killing Peter may save Paul"
over painful dissonances.
While these might be combined failures, the burden is on the lyrics. The
band specializes in over-emotion, over-affectedness, and this works
excellently when the lyric is simple. Consider "Golden Head"'s repeated
joyous chant of “golden head upon my shoulder" -- paired with oohs and an
accelerating tempo, such strong desire is easy to buy. But complex
semi-stories that feature a sincerely delivered line like "another wire
linked up to my heart" or the aforementioned bit from "Topsy Turvy" can't be
taken without a grain of salt, and music that refuses to acknowledge that
When the band keeps it simple, its inventiveness is easy to see and some of
the best around; there are plenty of reasons that "Weekends at a Time" has
circulated the mp3 blogs. Once Shapes and Sizes put less emphasis on their
lyrics and shifting vocals down in the mix, and constrain their most
complex, overwrought verses, it will be possible to talk. At present,
they've released a debut that showcases their best and their worst, and we
should be glad that the former outweighs the latter.
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