New Music | Friday Roll Out: Shame, Death Valley Girls

Shame – Food For Worms

There’s nothing confusing here, nor should there be. We often grow and palettes become more expansive. After a couple of releases within the last few years, 2018’s Songs Of Praise and 2021’s Drunk Tank Pink, English post-punk outfit Shame returns with a new album, which finds the group taking a bit of a different approach. But does that change make a band completely unrecognizable? In Shame’s case, not at all.

On the band’s third full-length release Food For Worms (Dead Oceans) it isn’t difficult to pick up on the slight nuances or the repositioning within the gravitational pull of each song. Throughout, there’s a compelling change in dynamic shifts, along with frontman Charlie Steen’s more pronounced lyricism. Both those factors come into play on the band’s single, “Adderall.” The music slowly tempts listeners with guitar notes over sparse drums right before the change comes in for its chorus. Steen’s thoughts are clear around the drug itself. But it’s the opening “Fingers Of Steel,” that captivates as the band grabs hold of the piano notes, exploding with unrelenting vigor. The song’s melody & backing harmonies are inviting and unexpected. The dueling, overdriven guitars storm throughout it, badgering listeners into submission.

Shame’s tongue-in-cheek “Six Pack” is what we expect, which is unexpected. Its rhythm never lets up, as guitars throb until the group changes pace right before it all reverts back to its beginning! This(!) is what we need. But it’s “Alibis” that crescendos into an infectious beast as we take Steen as he is, no filter, just sheer unbridled fervor. The band has obviously mastered the loud, urging, abrasive, and melodic, so when the band hits its groove on “Orchid,” things might seem confusing, but it really isn’t. Jangly guitars lead the way as Steen’s spoken vocal delivery is accented by distant backing harmonies that never distract from the growing cacophonic beauty of those guitars, as well as piano. The operative word here might just be, “wow.” If there ever was a distinctive energy around this release, this is where it would be.

Fuck what you may have heard though, “The Fall Of Paul” is a beautiful piece wrapped around gorgeous melodies echoing through guitars, along with feedback & dissonance cluttering. But it’s the rhythm that takes the wheel and controls everything. If you’re not a fan of Shame at this point, then there’s something literally wrong with you. We get multiple sides of Shame and sometimes the group incorporates it all into one song, much like “Burning By Design.” All aspects of the group are fervently captured here including dynamic shifts, captivating melodies, and deliberate attacks. There isn’t much more we could possibly want or need from Shame.

Food For Worms is only the band’s third release and you may find it intriguing to see what comes next for the 5-man outfit. Even if the band imploded at this point, they’d be going out in a blaze of glory. Food For Worms though, this is just the beginning for the young band and right now, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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At what point does a band shed its identity or what some may believe the group is, instead of placing it in a group it’s long outgrown? While psych-rock/pop is imbued within the group’s very core, Death Valley Girls left the garage a long time ago. Throughout its career, the band has obviously matured, and it can be heard on the group’s fifth long-player Islands In The Sky (Suicide Squeeze).  

There’s a definitive change in the band’s style this go around, and while it’s not so obvious, it’s definitely there. While the band is firmly footed in rock, there is an aged soulfulness thrown within the Death Valley Girls mix. You may not hear it initially, but you’ll find it on occasion. The west coast denizens open with the spiraling “California Mountain Shake,” which reverberates within a trope of psychedelia. While just under the 4-minute mark, it could go on forever and no one would care as it softly caresses the senses with angelic voices and repetitive rhythm. Yes! Now, remember that soul? “Islands In The Sky” moves like it has Ronnie Spector-like rhythm. This is not a comparison as Death Valley Girls shows it’s derivative only unto itself and vocalist Bonnie Bloomgarden’s uniqueness can’t be denied. Her voice is captivating, running melodies across basslines as Laura Kelsey’s hypnotic steady pummeling will have you running along mushroom clouds with nimble ease.

Stunningly, the DVGs will take you to church as the organ-driven “Sunday” and when Bloomgarden sings “I’m gonna be free/I need a sign…” you’ll be bouncing, raising spirits, arms lifting, responding with a hollering, “AMEN!” The saxophone is a welcomed addition to the mix, soothing souls as we listen to the gospel according to Death Valley Girls. Amen, yes. Amen. The band never lets go, at whichever speed it’s moving in, and “What Are The Odds” never lets you forget that. One can’t help but note Bloomgarden’s vocals which fill out hallowed speakers and headphones. And the reverb all around takes spirits even higher. With “Watch The Sky,” the psych movements the band glides through might be eerie but it’s inviting. There’s an odd hum throughout, like sirens of myth, that we need to follow at every cost.

Islands In The Sky is, intriguing. It does seem the album is the culmination, the point we’ve all been expecting for Death Valley Girls. Sonically, the album is touched by God himself. With that said, the band’s album is its most realized work to date but it’s also a fucking great album.

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