By Jack Stokes
Though they released Inside a Broken Clock in 2011 as Circus Cat, their previous incarnation, Rascal’s Antique is The Shaker Hymn’s first EP.
This album paints a good picture of who The Shaker Hymn are. With a sturdy four-piece band, heavy on unflinching drums and fond of strings as backup, you can easily picture seeing them live in the cozy venues they reportedly frequent in Cork. They’re respectful of a good guitar solo and fond of stop-your-heart punches of silence in fast-paced songs.
Here are some of the highlight tracks that make this an album worth sitting down and listening to through the end.
“You Taste Like Nothing (On The Vine)”
A holdover from their days when they were known as Circus Cat, “You Taste Like Nothing (On The Vine)” is a somewhat lighter, more playful song than their other entries. The strong bass, chords, and backup “ooh”ing harken back to an early 60s feel. This song got stuck in my head for two days, but I didn’t really mind too much.
“Hunter & The Headman”
“Hunter & The Headman” is deservedly a song that The Shaker Hymn will likely get famous for. It’s undeniably their strongest track, particularly because it pushes their boundaries and has a distinctly “otherness” compared to the rest of the album. The vocals in this track are outstanding- raw, rockish, and daring in a way that doesn’t have a chance to show up in later songs.
This is a ballad, tried and true. It sounds actually closer to an old school country song, but the added distinction of strings and soulful acoustic guitar make this a real pearl. The vocalist’s intense timbre doesn’t soften much for such a tender song, which gives it a rough-around-the edges feel that will probably define the band as they progress.
Of note is the strong guitar work, which has a moment where it channels Santana. The vocalist goes for the lower register vocals, dipping lower than feels particularly safe with his tenor. But it’s a pleasant tension when he swings low and hits every note.
Showcasing particularly powerful lyrics and poignant use of the piano, “Cold Unknown” embraces the melancholy sound that the rest of the album has been hinting at. It’s an excellent downer song in an album that arguably is mostly downers.
“Your weakened spine, a shallow goodbye.
The God that you loved has lost his mind.
The shadow cast from words of the past have left you numb and fading fast.
There’s nothing left to say.
It seems you’ve lost your way.”
“What The Enemy Calls The Heart”
This is an exceptionally strong way to close out an album. The strings in this track, particularly, support the band’s twanging and the Oasis-esque vocals.
“I was sure right from the start
What the enemy calls the heart.
And I’m dreaming aloud.”
It all feels very vintage. A cohesive album that flows together this well is a promising start for the trajectory of their career.
With any luck, The Shaker Hymn will embrace the rawness that they’ve delved into in tracks like “Hunter & The Headman” while exploring the orchestral grandeur of “What The Enemy Calls The Heart.” Whatever direction they choose to go, it’ll be worth listening to.
Go get Rascal’s Antique, available May 30th
Jack Stokes is the kind of music aficionado that insists on organizing his LPs by genre. His wife says he needs professional help – you know, the “men in white coats” kind. He writes on behalf of Zu Audio, manufacturers of high-quality hi-fi speakers.