Neolithic Dog by Shjrunken Heads

Release date: December 4, 2020
Label: Hot Fools Records

As a fan of Hot Fools Records and We Wild Blood, I immediately seized the opportunity to review Shjrunken Heads for the first time due to the fact that two of their cohorts Andy Clydesdale and Marion Andrau are also in We Wild Blood. As someone who plays music in a fairly incestuous scene themselves, I find that usually more directions explored from people who’s work I like is almost always a good thing. I’m definitely intrigued to hear what the direction of the project is and hopefully, I won’t think it’s shit.

‘Mr. Nice Guy’ opens the album and whilst off the bat, I think it’s a great track, the only catch is that it sounds a lot like We Wild Blood to me. Makes me wonder what the major difference between WWB and Shjrunken Heads is and how they approach selecting songs for each project. To me this sounds like something from the sparser/quieter collection of We Wild Blood songs (e.g ‘Osiris’ off their latest album Viscious Virtues). There’s a clear difference between the two sounds elsewhere on the album, but with this being the first song I have ever heard by Shjrunken Heads (despite my understanding that they’ve been going for a while), the first thing I thought was “what is the real difference between the two bands?” However, this question has likely led to me turning a much more meticulous lens onto the idiosyncrasies of Shjrunken Heads than I might have done otherwise. I suppose there’s an extent I would say the difference in this opener is that the synths feel a bit more krautrock-esque.

‘Depth of Feel’ reminds me of Forest Flowers. Something about the melody and vocal delivery is just very Noel-esque to me. To be fair, I’d say that of the previous track to an extent as well… The title of the song is remarkably self-reflexive, this album sounds simultaneously achingly austere and rich in depth, like looking through a sheet of ice to see a deep chasm below. Like the band is on its last legs, there’s a fatigue that permeates through the sound, dichotomously sweltering and withered in the heat and atrophied beyond motion by the frost. I guess some of the credit there has to go to the ubiquitous Wayne Adams who mixed this album and is credited somewhere on most of the best albums I’ve heard over the past few years. Ellis Gardiner has done a good job with the recording as well. I really love the overall vibe of this song though, there’s something hypnotic about it and welcomely disorientating.

‘Karnaval’ rocks into the album with a really cool walking bassline, it has a great swing to it somewhere between Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe’ and The Cramps’ ‘Human Fly’. There’s a vocal similarity to the latter, but what I like here is that it feels like they’ve held the pop version of ‘Karnaval’ somewhere in the ether of their collective subconscious and then buried it under about thirty pints of lager and turned it into something that sounds a bit more left field. It’s kind of what I imagine the B-52s would make if they were insanely hungover and hair of the dogging it. The track bleeds into an outro/transition named ‘Whiskey and Poppers’ either after the lyric from ‘Karnaval’ or inspired the same presumably nauseating mix. I can’t say I’ve tried the combination, but have enjoyed the elements separately many times. Alas since the death of live music in March 2020, I have only supped upon the occasional Whiskey Thief for the nostalgia alone. Usually, I get a load of free whiskey for working at The Lexington in Kings Cross, but the pandemic has rendered me unemployed and the venue on the brink of permanent closure. But, have no fear folks, you can still buy high quality poppers in all good off licenses for that brief moment of release followed usually by a headache and/or anal sex…or more often soul-crushing reality. But, I digress…

‘Jump in the Nile’ is another track that really stands out to me for the bass, it’s so sedately and smooth, it’s great. The rundown transfixion of the album once again stands out as the consistent characteristic of Neolithic Dog. ‘Cremantique’ is really cool because it just feels like such a change of mood from the austerity into fucking trip-hop-esque basslines and these like 80s kind of Cocteau Twins/Blondie-esque whispered vocals. The guitars and electronics/synths/et cetera, kind of remind me of The Ape of Naples era Coil and generally speaking the band White Noise whose song ‘Love Without Sound’ is a favourite of mine. There’s an old school avant-garde mystique to it, a dusty hue and a romanticism, like a French movie by Goddard or Truffaut. There’s an extent to which these facets also travel across the album as well.

‘Age of Old’ feels like the moment where the band really ramps up, probably to go out for another piss up…Heralded by lightning strike synthesisers, a warm bassline and unusual rhythms slamming on the drums. The vocals gently unearth themselves as a collaborative effort with a kind of tribal gang vocal style dancing around the electronic ostinatos. It reminds me of an acoustic psytrance band called Hilight Tribe but, obviously done in a London odd-rock/psych scene kind of way. The way that the track unravels and then slams back into the resounding opening riff is fucking awesome. It’s definitely amongst my favourites on the album.

‘Neolithic Dog’ closes the album, the title track also has a kind of groovy swing to it, the rhythm section for Shjrunken Heads seem to enjoy a nice sway. It’s quite danceable. I like it. The chants of “neolithic dog” are once again very tribal and catchy, the vocals that follow the refrain are awesome. The ending of the track was very unexpected for me, I like that it sounds like someone singing in a pub toilet with an inexplicable speak-easy piano and Elvis impression. It’s kitschy and lo-fi in a kind of Daniel Johnston way, which is extremely high praise.

Overall, Neolithic Dog has gotten me invested in Shjrunken Heads, I wonder how the band’s sound will translate to a live setting and I also want to see what direction they’ll go in next. I definitely feel a desire to revisit this album to try and work out why it has such a magnetism to it, despite seeming so sparse and understated against the stuff I usually listen to.

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