The Neglected Canon #6

by Billy Brooks

SHEER – Uneasy 

The most recent of the albums I will cover here (released 2015), this is a criminally under-appreciated record, from the unheimlich cover art down to the expert blend of shoegaze, pop, and punk within. SHEER are an LA band, so despite their brilliance, they lack even the necessary means for widespread promotion in one of the most saturated markets in a bazaar bursting with great guitar driven rock. Their most recent release, the Psychic Quarry EP (which boasted beautiful artwork once again), is the first and only follow-up to their debut LP, Uneasy. Two personnel changes in the interim between the records perhaps contributed to a musical direction with a less obvious pop sensibility. Importantly, the lead vocalist hasn’t gone anywhere; nor have the Slowdive-esque instrumentation and the tranquilised angst and apathy of the first record. The most notable change between Uneasy and Psychic Quarry is the intrusion of politics into the lyrics, which complements the punk edge to the arrangements. However, their debut remains their most accomplished work.

There is of course no accounting for taste, and this album’s mixture of unashamed emo lyricism and acid-wash reverb, alongside an improbable but successful pairing of no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll musicianship with the cherubic, almost folksy crooning of Gina Almaguer is not for everyone. However, if the title track can hook you, then come for the punk and stay for Gina’s impeccable control over her vocal gear change.

The lyrics – which I can describe as defeatist if the term nihilistic leaves a bad taste in your mouth – stand up tall to scrutiny, and always sit very comfortably beside the reverb-heavy, 90s-nostalgia backing. The highlight of Uneasy is without a doubt the eponymous number, which is perhaps to be expected. It’s the fastest song on the LP, and features the best individual performances from every band member. The half time chorus is balanced elegantly against both the pace of the track, and the lean song structure. However, SHEER decided in a way that can only be described as ballsy, to upend a traditional album structure on their debut; while track one is a rock slow-waltz, the band wait until track eleven of eleven to unveil the title song. This of course means that listeners need to be offered a gambit they can really sink their teeth into for the majority of the album, while the obvious candidates are saved for the second half. Biters will be rewarded, as SHEER achieved that rarest of accolades, the badge of honour presumptuously self-applied by Sum 41: all killer, no filler.

The album opens with the downbeat Monochrome, swimming through a fog of ambience and bass before exploding into a harrowingly minor key, death-pace ballad.  The lyrics aren’t easy to make out at all times on the album owing to the vocalist’s indolent delivery, which often battles with a far heavier backing for centre-stage, but the words which wade to the forefront of the opening tracks – from Monochrome: “undeserving … monochrome”; from Bored to Death: “holding my chest slows my breath” – do more than enough semantically. The recurring imagery of cuts and bruises, wear and tear, but more than anything, just tiredness, make every song feel like an epic. One of the standout tracks, Waste Away, consists for the most part of promises to do precisely as the song title threatens, in between litanies of assurances that out of unfiltered apathy in a failing relationship, the obliteration of the physical body could hardly make things worse. The chorus is devastatingly simple, but uses typically gentle vocal harmonies to contrast harmonised guitar feedback between stabs, a technique that may remind the Smashing Pumpkins fan of Mayonnaise. A less forgiving reviewer might articulate that the echoes of that song are perhaps a little too loud, but I shan’t allow SHEER’s trespass against Mr. Corgan et al. to count against them more than it needs to.  In the meantime, you can decide what you think about it. Indeed, the anxiety and melancholy of albums like Siamese Dream drip from SHEER like candlewax, although the angst of this record is never cloying, whiny, or overcooked.

This is partly down to the production of the album, which, though unpolished, is never messy, resulting in a live feel that makes the forays into feedback and reverb noise sound artfully spontaneous. The fourth track, Mask, tapers off into a delightfully messy coda, featuring heavily delayed reverberating percussion, whose tonelessness and lack of concern for timekeeping suggests the banality of clunky household objects colliding accidentally. A tasteful amount of studio noise is allowed to remain, and many of the songs include sections in which subtle time manipulation and shortened bars sound remarkably organic, where it’s all too easy for these techniques to sound plastic and false.

Uneasy’s uncompromising introspection, and unfailing melodiousness always sounds natural and never manufactured. As ever, don’t hold back from checking out Psychic Quarry.