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Shakey Graves shakes things up on new album

By Andrew Elmers

Section: Arts

October 24, 2014

Shakey Graves, also known as Alejandro Rose-Garcia from his days acting on TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” recently released his second full-length album, “And The War Came.” The Austin-based alternative country/folk singer-songwriter has been building a steady following over the years through social media and by playing in numerous festivals, such as South by Southwest. His latest venture marks the start of raised expectations as more and more listeners tune in and are aware of his existence, as evidenced by Shakey Graves’ late-night television debut last week on “Conan.”

Shakey Graves seems to understand this increased pressure to perform, as “And The War Came” is much more tightly produced compared to his prior albums, which could be classified as lo-fi, with their inclusion of random snippets of conversations to segue between tracks. That’s not to say that Shakey Graves has abandoned that characteristic of his art, though. The random lo-fi aspects are still there on this album; opening track “This Is The Beginning” lasts seven seconds, and is simply just someone stating, “This is the beginning” in a deep voice reminiscent of Daniel Johnston. As an opening track, it is a complete waste, and you should uncheck it on iTunes to keep it out of your shuffle, but at least Shakey Graves maintains his weird tradition.

From there, the album transitions into actual songs with “Only Son,” a soft acoustic lamentation that eventually builds into a soaring chorus with claps and stomps serving as percussion. Not the best of tracks, but the chorus will definitely get stuck in your head. “Dearly Departed,” a duet with Esme Patterson, formerly of Paper Bird, comes next. Graves’ voice drowns out Patterson’s throughout the chorus, and the back-and-forth on the verses don’t really serve Shakey Graves’ writing style. Originally billed as a sort of lead single for the album, this song is anything but. It’s repetitive and sounds too much like a pop song to be called a real Shakey Graves song.

“The Perfect Parts” marks a bit of a departure from classic Shakey Graves as well, but in the opposite direction. It starts with an electric guitar riff a la The Black Keys and with an actual drum kit (a suitcase drum that Graves plays himself while singing and playing guitar). This track becomes a real rock anthem not seen before from Shakey Graves. Classic Shakey Graves makes a return on “Hard Wired” with a finger-picked acoustic guitar perfectly matched along to lyrics of a lost love, another signature trope of his.

The album reaches its apex on the sixth track, “Family and Genus,” a beautiful song that combines typical Shakey Graves elements with a modern flair. Acoustic verses lead to synth-based choruses and string backgrounds further on, and the song is a clear example of Shakey Graves evolving into a more refined performer and more resourceful in general. Arcade Fire could have very easily produced this track, as the intro, outro and choruses all sound like something off of the “Her” movie soundtrack, which Arcade Fire contributed heavily to. It even features one of Shakey Graves’ random moments with a part of an interview finishing the song, on topics that seem irrelevant to the lyrics. One of the most beautiful songs I have heard in a while, the choruses are intoxicating and will easily be stuck on repeat.

The seventh track, “Big Time Nashville Star,” features another duet with Esme Patterson. This one is better produced than “Dearly Departed,” as Patterson’s voice comes in clearly throughout, but the actual song itself is just forgettable. A more traditional country song, it is clearly not his best effort in terms of lyricism, and it leaves you just wanting it to be over.

“Pansy Waltz” is a much easier song to listen to, following the conventional three-fourths time signature of waltzes. And with his electric guitar, some rough percussion, a tuned down cello and his emotional voice, Shakey Graves offers a lot to listen to on this track to keep it interesting. The next track, “House of Winston,” is similar to “Family and Genus” as it takes a rough folk song and adds layers in production to give it more depth. One of the better tracks on the album, the build-up to the last chorus is memorable.

The next track, “If Not For You,” sounds extremely similar to another song Shakey Graves has performed live in the past—“The Waters.” The beginning sounds like basically the same melody, and some of the vocals are also the same at certain points. If he did rework “The Waters” for this album, it was the wrong decision. Granted, the live version greatly benefits from from his performance quality, that version is head and shoulders above the song on the album. Yet another duet with Patterson closes out “And The War Came”, and it is probably the best of all three. Returning to his lo-fi roots, Shakey Graves and Patterson croon out a lament to someone that left.

Overall, “And The War Came” feels disjointed, with a few different styles appearing throughout. In addition to that, some of the tracks just aren’t good quality—namely “Big Time Nashville Star” and “Dearly Departed.” “And The War Came” will not be one of those records that you can sit and listen straight through, which Shakey Graves’ first effort, “Roll The Bones,” was. Instead, there are a few songs that will definitely be staples and others worth skipping.

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