Jupiter Sidecar

The Shelters

Warner Brothers, 2019


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The Shelters know a thing or two about the highs and lows of the rock and roll life.

Once upon a time, Chase Simpson and Josh Jove were in a band with Tom Petty’s stepson Dylan, a former schoolmate of Simpson’s. (Jove, meanwhile, had moved out from Florida, Petty’s home state, to explore the LA music scene.) When that group broke up, Petty took Jove and Simpson under his wing and invited them to keep plugging away at Shoreline Recorders, the studio / clubhouse he’d assembled at his Malibu home.

Soon the Shelters were born, a band that took the driving, hooky sounds of British Invasion groups like the Kinks and the Who and filtered them through glam and greasy California nightclub rock to deliver something fresh and different. With songwriters Simpson and Jove handling vocals, guitars, and keys, Sebastian Harris on drums (joined for a time by Jacob Pillot on bass), and Petty producing, the group delivered 2016’s The Shelters, an album whose shadowy after-midnight-on-the-boulevard grit was brightened considerably by Byrds aficionado Petty’s sunnier melodic sensibilities, heard especially on ringing, driving single “Rebel Heart.”

And then in October 2017, the band’s mentor, the rock and roll icon Simpson and Jove called “Tommy,” died.

It’s taken a full and no doubt very difficult two years for the Shelters to re-emerge with sophomore album Jupiter Sidecar. Absent Petty’s innate gift for the jangle, these tunes manifest a darker, glammier Sunset Strip rock club persona; there’s less Kinks and more T.Rex, a seedy heaviness that stands in sharp contrast to the whimsical cover art. The song titles alone – “Tangled Up,” “Strange,” “Bad Dreams,” “Girl Under Fire,” “Nothing’s Safe Tomorrow,” “End Of The Fun,” “Can’t Go Home” – tell a story in terms of the album’s mood. The album’s often dreamy, atmospheric lyrics are ribboned through with alienation.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“You’re Different” kicks things off with a hard-driving tune about reaching for connection only to find your partner has moved on, decorated with synth flair that reminds of Brendan Benson (and in fact co-producer Joe Chiccarelli has worked with the Raconteurs, along with Young The Giant, The Shins, and The Strokes). What feels like it’s missing is the laconic smirk that Petty applied to everything he did, that easy confidence; by contrast, this iteration of the Shelters is all about anxiety and dislocation.

Highlights from there include the punchy glam-rocker “Tangled Up,” the grittier stomp of the rather Black Keys-ish “Down The Line,” well-crafted acoustic folk-rock interlude “Kimberley” and its heavier successor “Bad Dreams.” In each case Jove and Simpson take lead vocals on their own compositions while singing backgrounds for each other, but they’re so complementary in phrasing and approach that you have to pay attention to tell their voices apart.

With that said, in places it feels like the Shelters and Chiccarelli might be trying too hard. Both “Strange”—a song which dates from the first album’s sessions—and “Hourglass” take a kitchen-sink approach to arrangement, layering on instrument after instrument to deliver a density of sound that can feel a bit labored and that one suspects Petty might have encouraged them to prune back. With “Nothing’s Safe Tomorrow” the issue is the combination of aggressively cheesy synth tones and overly filtered-and-processed vocals; I know it’s what the cool kids are doing, but clearly I’m not one of them.

What it comes down to for this non-cool non-kid is, track by track, does the overall vibe work? On “End Of The Fun,” it does, a loose and playful rave-up with farfisa organ adding to the atmosphere. It is, ironically enough, the most fun tune here, though closer “Can’t Go Home” offers it some competition as Simpson and Jove’s guitars grind and purr. If only they’d left the vocals raw instead of tarting them up with filters.

Coming off at times like a dive-bar Oasis going full glam, the Shelters ramp up the density and complexity of their sound on Jupiter Sidecar. Putting further distance between themselves and their audience certainly mirrors this album’s disaffected attitude, but it also makes it harder to find your way inside these songs. If your thing is dirty/greasy guitar licks layered on sizzling, shearing synths layered on heavily processed vocals, then this glamfest may well feel like small-n nirvana. For this listener, the production razzle-dazzle too often feels like a distraction from the songs themselves.

Rating: B

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