The first thing that grabs your attention on Shield Your Eyes’ third full length Theme From Kindness is that it sounds as though the band recorded in someone’s living room, which, sure enough… they did. The London based trio worked in your typical studio environment on their first two releases, but had a simple concept this time around, they wrote the songs in their living room… so that’s where they recorded them. Without even mentioning the actual music, the recording technique alone is going to split listeners from the start thanks to its raw and fuzzy production job, totally void of studio gloss. That being said, the trio absolutely makes their environment work for them, providing a rough around the edges sound much like the aural equivalent of chewing on a mouthful of glass… in a good way. Shield Your Eyes music is a complex breed of artistic and furious math rock, post-hardcore, and emotionally bare indie rock. Similar to The Jesus Lizard, Fugazi, Shellac, and Cap’n Jazz before them, their sound is full of discordant melodies, chaotic rhythms, and blaring intensity that is uncommon to the lo-fi treatment. The charm of their blisteringly non-pretentious technicality combined with the simplistic one mic recording is most unusual within the genre, but the album’s muddy brutality shines without the need to shimmer. The intricacies of their playing are never clouded in the process, offering a sonic clarity similar to standing front and center at your favorite grimy basement show. While some may consider their noise to be experimental, the patient listener will discover Theme From Kindness is rife with finely constructed songs at its core. For all those still interested in this atonal juggernaut, though sometimes difficult, the payoff is exceptionally great.
The album opens with “I Took My Lead From You and Your Kindness,” an assortment of sounds pieced together from what sounds like guitars, synths, mandolin, harmonica, and perhaps a cat meowing. While this track doesn’t really set the tone for what’s ahead, it leads nicely into the first real taste of the record “Pneulope”. The frantic burst of energy is immediate, roaring in unapologetic flashes of finger tapped guitars and the type of rhythms that are known to cause involuntary convulsions. The band push and pull the listener into their jagged madness before the gang styled vocals give way to the raspy untamed shouts of Stef Ketteringham. “Baby You Made a KX250 Out of Me” leaps into action directly from the start with an easy going groove that is slowly pummeled by Henri Grimes explosive drum fills storming in and out of the song with a complex progressive blues structure. Ketteringham’s vocal yelp is sparse and raw, but more than anything, his voice is honest. There’s no fancy studio wizardry in use here, just the honest bark and bite of his scratchy vocal chords. The song slinks along at a leisure pace led by Nick Baven’s bass, frequently erupting without notice into a sublime ruckus. Jolting back into a panic, “Robinson Crusoe” screeches and wails with high frequency guitar tones and manic time signature shifts that may cause dizziness to your average radio-friendly user.
The multi faceted Shield Your Eyes take a break from the musical anarchy on “Aves,” an acoustic track with beautifully strained vocals and dazzling finger picked guitars. The melody is catchy and sincere as the band double the vocals during the yearning hook. The abrasive nature of Theme From Kindness returns on “Olivers Wharf,” a song built of polyrhythmic twists and turns that moves from one place to another in the blink of an eye. The song blasts into a hyperactive blues riff from Ketteringham while the rhythm pulsates in a fury of Grimes’ crashing cymbals. “Too Little Has Been Good For The Soul” and “Ultra Serfs” are clear structured songs with anthemic vocals that soar as the intensity builds into the wild instrumental hooks of the former and simplistic and memorable melodies on the latter. While the band push the envelope of pop structure to its breaking point by rarely ever repeating riffs, they make use of infectious refrains here while still challenging listeners.
If these songs are too restrained for you, “I Don’t Know How You Do The Things You Do” is a massively expansive assault on the ears at nearly nine minutes in length that is seemingly devoid of structure upon first listen, spiraling in and out of tension exhausted waves for an exceptionally long time. Album closer “Drawn To Water” brings the record full circle with rattling acoustic guitars and fuzzy mandolin reprising its role from the opener in a relatively more structured approach. After about three minutes of noise and destruction, the smoke abruptly clears into a bluesy jam that leads the album out with a delicate groove like the sunshine after the storm. This is the record your neighbors will ask you to turn down, and for that we thank Shield Your Eyes for creating a no-holds-barred prizefighter of an album. Demanding to be listened to over and over again, each play leads to new discoveries and an infinitely growing admiration for their smattering of chaotic noise. My friend Devin said it best, "people need to know it's ok for music to be dirty and bands can hit wrong notes, and that's alright." It sure as hell is.
"Too Little Has Been Good for the Soul":
Shield Your Eyes - Too Little Has Been Good For The Soul by Function Records
"Pneulope/Baby You Made a KX250 Out of Me (Live)":