Shapes and Sizes : Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner

<img src="" alt=" " />British Columbia’s Shapes and Sizes deliver a spastic explosion in their sophomore release, <i>Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner</i>. ...
6.7 Asthmatic Kitty

 British Columbia’s Shapes and Sizes deliver a spastic explosion in their sophomore release, Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner. The Victoria-born band had actually abandoned the sleepy provincial capital for ‘The Toronto of the West’, Vancouver, and somewhere along the way forged Split Lips.  The album itself meanders and rambles in its journey, slipping sometimes into dragging Pacific Northwest swamps, but other times climbing grand Cascadian peaks.

Split Lips retains the low-tech instrumentation and shambling rhythms and attitude of their self-titled debut (sort of a ‘Grandaddy at the other end of the continent’), but slides from a more purely alt-folk-based sound to a more active and alive cacophony.  The record’s building and crashing between bombast and quiet twang comes right through on the opener, “Alone/Alive”, and later tracks like “Highlife (I Had Been Duped)” and “Can’t Stop That (Sinking) Feeling”.  But the craziness probably reaches its peak with the two numbers near the end, “Victory In War” and “Piggy”.  The jungle drums of “Victory” make it the catchiest piece on Split Lips, with a duet cry from guitarist Rory Seydel and keyboardist Caila Thompson-Hannannt.  “Piggy”, meanwhile, features Thompson-Hannannt’s best vocal work on the album, with a conversational, ironic tinge that weirdly marries perfectly with the song’s hooky-yet-eclectic beat.

But just as Split Lips also has Winning Hips, so too does the record have tracks that break from this route and go their own way, on this very ‘going your own way’ album.  There are a number of slower, quieter pieces that are more akin to Shapes and Sizes, like the folksy “The Taste In My Mouth”, the crackling “The Horse’s Mouthy Mouth”, the high “Canvas Skies, Muslin Trees”, and the very pretty “One, Two, Three”, which ends Split Lips.  And then there’s A Shiner, from the low-tech groove on “Teller/Seller”, to the driving keyboards of “The Long Indifference”, and even to some eastern Canadian-style expansiveness, with the more straightforward, but still convulsive, indie-rock in “Head Movin’”.

After jumping from Vancouver Island to Vancouver city, from unsigned to Conor Oberst’s (Bright Eyes) Asthmatic Kitty Records (the only northern neighbor on the label), Shapes and Sizes could have fallen apart from their already less-than-moored beginnings.  Instead, they just kept on jumping, infusing Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner with an electric energy to go with their bursting, scatological beats and rhythms.  They also stuffed the fourteen-song album with measured alt-folk and hard-hitting alt-rock experiments to boot.  Split Lips may get stuck once in a while in its shambling nature, but there’s always another eruption around the corner.

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