Shivas - Better Off Dead LP
Languid and lazily blissful, like a lo-fi Brian Wilson on a heavy dose of pain killers, the Shivas sound a little less retro but no less poppy on their third proper album, 2016's Better Off Dead, which is significantly more cheerful (and a bit more lively) than the title might lead you to expect. Produced by Calvin Johnson (who also worked with the Shivas on 2014's You Know What to Do), Better Off Dead is a few steps up on the ladder of fidelity from the band's early home-brewed four-track releases, but the aesthetic drift is very much the same. The recording and production approach is aggressively simple, and the unforced, ambling spirit of the instrumental work and the vocals all feel casually rehearsed, making this album play as much like a loose jam session as a proper album. But like the saying goes, not all who wander are lost, and if the Shivas sometimes seem to be sauntering through their own album, their canny pop melodies indicate they have a reliable road map on hand. The reverb-soaked six-string work and frequent peals of slide guitar lend this music a potent psychedelic ambience that meshes beautifully with the simple but evocative tunes (and are a suitable match for the just-woke-up vocal stylings). Some bands put a lot of effort into seeming casual, and that may well be the case with the Shivas, but Better Off Dead sounds more like the work of people who really are willing to follow where the songs take them, and these songs are strong and imaginative enough that the strategy works. If you're looking for accompaniment for an afternoon stroll or an excursion into space, this will suit either trip beautifully.