AEM119 Shiv Hurrah

When I listen to Shiv Hurrah I’m struck by a deep nostalgia for an adolescence unlike the one I actually lived. The band’s bittersweet and expertly crafted songs send me cascading down memory lane in search of a first kiss far more poetic than the one I truly gave and received, for that fleeting summer night which probably never existed outside of a movie I once watched and-lo and behold-I find exactly what I’m looking for.

Frontman David Bechle is a superb songwriter. His yearning melodic hooks are supported by the perfect balance of major and minor chords. As I’ve emphasized, this is music that memories are made of, and the songs-charming, sensitive, resilient, and above all, timeless-capture all the ups and downs. The progressions are classic-you may feel as if you’ve known some of these songs since childhood-although a few surprising and highly satisfying resolutions will keep you on your toes. There’s a strong dose of teenage angst but it’s treated with the maturity and heightened awareness that can only come with hindsight. The lo-fi production certainly helps too. Bechle’s slightly overdriven vocals struggle to cut through the mix, which creates a sense of desperation that tinges the music with sadness at even the most triumphant moments. Audiophiles may cringe at the dead snare tone and muddy low end but DIY enthusiasts will applaud the intimacy of this homely aesthetic.

In addition to Bechle on vocals, guitar, and (occasionally) keyboard or trumpet, Shiv Hurrah features Daniel Benjamin on drums, Alex Drum on guitar, Carl Robinson on guitar, and Sean McCausland on bass. The Brooklyn-based ensemble, which has frequently been compared to the likes of Wilco and Morning Benders,has been at it for less than a year under the current formation. However, all except Robinson played together in Rochester, NY a decade ago. They moved to Boston in 2001 where they met their fifth member, but things quickly disintegrated and it wasn’t until they found themselves in New York this past year that the band was reborn under the name Shiv Hurrah. They’ve recorded a 5-track EP thus far, from which both cuts on this Ampeater Digital 7-inch are drawn. I’ve included the album art (the original work of bassist McCausland) here, simply because I love itand because if I hadn’t been intrigued enough to click on it, I might never have heard of Shiv Hurrah in the first place.

A-side “Oh Oh Oh” is the last track on the EP and it ends things in grand style. The strongest hook-the title lyric-is melodic ear-candy delivered in captivating ghostlike falsettos that the lack of “real words” accentuates. There are only about five chords in the entire song but they’re astonishingly well used. A two chord hook gives way to a verse with a bit more harmonic motion before settling on the minor for the chorus. As noted, the vocals are low in the mix-a stylistic choice that I support-buried under a thick background (er… foreground?) consisting of guitar, drum, bass, keyboard, and brass section (trumpet and trombone). However, it’s nice when harmonies kick in to help the vocals stand out at key moments. If you listen carefully, you’ll find a few lyrical gems, my favorite being the delightful paraprosdokian, “I never get homesick, I just get sick of my home.B-side “Heart of Lead” shares some of the same great qualities-simple yet powerful chord progressions and memorable melodies that tug at the heartstrings A nice addition is the synthesized bassline which seems straight out of the 80’s-the vocal refrain adds to this effect-but which blends surprisingly well with the indie production and vibe.

When I asked Bechle why he’d selected these particular tracks, a question I ask the majority bands that I review, I received one of the most concise and telling answers I’ve ever heard. “If my house was on fire,” he explained, “but I only had enough time to save two songs, these would be the ones.” It’s telling because there is indeed something unquestionably dear about these bittersweet and highly evocative songs. When I listen to Shiv Hurrah, a number of incredibly visceral feelings bubble up, and I find myself sorting through memories-both real and imagined-in search of their source. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again-the music inspires a deep nostalgia for an adolescence unlike the one I actually lived. Admittedly, the idea that one may feel nostalgic for something imaginary seems rather suspect but that’s precisely the kind of nostalgia that Shiv Hurrah somehow conjures for me. How? I believe that nostalgia is caused not by recollection of the lovers we’ve lost or by the “golden days” we’ll never relive but by recollection of the emotions that they once provoked. It occurs when those emotions hit us with an urgency and vividness we’ve long forgotten. What caused them in the first place isn’t so important. How exactly does this relate to music? Allow me to digress briefly by drawing upon an analogy from the art world. Realism gave way to Impressionism and eventually to surrealist and abstract modes of representation because many artists found themselves better able to express emotion in less formally restrictive styles. There’s a big difference between technical honesty (when everything appears exactly as it really appears) and emotional honesty (when everything feels exactly as it really feels). Shiv Hurrah’s music falls into the latter category, cutting straight to the heart by conveying emotion at the expense of particulars which may or may not be broadly applicable. The listener can fill in the blanks for himself, with personally relevant imagery inspired by the powerful dose of unadulterated sensation. That’s why it’s not my first kiss that I recall-a meaningless affair with a girl I hardly knew and which ended as abruptly as it had begun when our front teeth awkwardly collided-but the imagined first kiss, the paralyzing radiance of her soft lips, two souls uniting, caution giving way to confidence as my pounding heart confirmed that this is the moment my whole life has been leading towards. Of course, it didn’t work out that way, but my thirteen-year-old self certainly devoted enough thought to the fantasy, and the force with which I yearned for it was as real as anything I’ve ever felt. I never forgot the fantasy per se, but I’ve long recognized it for cheesy, and consequently had viscerally forgotten the potent sensations it once provoked until the music of Shiv Hurrah conjured the same angsty yearning and a sense of déjá vu sent my mind drifting.

Shiv Hurrah probably won’t help you recall an imaginary first kiss, but I’m willing to bet it will evoke something impressive. Listen and enjoy!

Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh.mp3

Heart of Lead Heart of Lead.mp3