High Flyin' Kid Stuff


Zero Hour Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Whenever I receive a "welcome to the neighborhood" package from a newer label, I always open it with some trepidation. I can't help it - I listened to so much "must-have-been-taped-in-the-bathroom" crap when I was in college radio that I usually call in the Pierce Memorial Archives Bomb Squad ("I can't believe we're not getting paid for this") to open the envelope.

This time around, the first disc I grabbed was the second full-length release by Shallow, High Flyin' Kid Stuff. How can you not like an album with a song named "Missile Command"? (Though, as a devotee of the MAME emulator, I must point out the video game in the artwork is actually "Defender." True die-hard gamers will know about MAME - check it out while it's still legal.)

Mix the sonic energy of the Cocteau Twins with Sonic Youth and add a singer who is a cross between Juliana Hatfield and Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays, and you have Shallow. This album is almost immediately endearing, and is one you'll find you can't take off the CD player.

The husband/wife team of bassist Jason Shields and guitarist/flutist/vocalist Julie Shields is the backbone of this group, with Ryan Newton providing "guitar sounds." (Live drums are provided by three different individuals.) With the first notes of "Missile Command," Julie Shields immediately identifies this as a sonic journey worth taking. The layering of guitars and guitar "sounds" along with the trap work of Stephen Kretsinger (who provides drums on all but two tracks), and you'll find yourself reaching for the earphones to truly take this journey in. The band knows when it's time to get gentle and when to knock the listener on his/her/its ass - something you don't often find in a band so young.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If the album were all songs related to video games - as the following track "Light Saber And The Video Game God" hints at - we'd be looking at an alternative Buckner & Garcia (remember those losers, kids?). Fortunately, they quickly branch out into a different direction. "You Give Me Butterflies" is a song about intense love - and, apparently, the loss of that feeling of excitement. Julie Shields emotes this song well, bringing you on the emotional rollercoaster without making it too much like a classic tragedy.

The highlight of this album is the song I thought would have been its downfall - "Studio 54 (It must be nice)." A bit of background: I still believe to this day that disco sucks, and it's alive and well and living under the assumed name (something I can relate to very well, having originally written under one) of techno, house, rave... what are they calling it this week? Instead of weakly resorting to this form of music (as they slyly hint at in the opening bars), Shallow quickly takes it to a whole new level. Julie Shields shines on this track, and is easily my favorite on the album.

High Flyin' Kid Stuff is filled with these moments - whether it's the stark arrangements of "Birthday" to the instrumental wonders of "Wash, Dry, Fold" (where the use of the flute adds to the power of the song) to the slow build on "Slowdrone," Shallow manage to keep things sounding fresh throughout the album.

The only real weakness I can see is the multi-tracking of vocal parts. Sure, it's very pretty at times, and is an intregal part of Shallow's sound. However, I question how difficult this would be to pull off in concert. (I missed my opportunity to find out a few weeks ago when the band was in Chicago - sometimes it's a curse playing Mr. Mom.)

The sound begins to get a little tiresome near the end - especially on the feedback-driven "King Of The Wide Eyed Girls," which stretches a little long at six minutes. Still, this is a small flaw on a great album.

As I've noted in many other reviews, the biggest challenge Shallow will face is gaining people's attention. A small, independent label is just the atmosphere a band like this needs to build up a fan base, but they face an uphill climb against some of the watered-down shit the majors release in the name of pop. (This is coming from the mouth of someone desparately trying to get those same labels to notice this site.) Three words: it's not fair - to the band, that is.

High Flyin' Kid Stuff is an album that deserves to be given a fair shake in the competitive world of alternative music - and if these musicians continue to put out high-quality work like this, I think they'll get their chance real soon. This one is definitely a pleasant surprise, and is a candidate for my "Top Ten" list of 1997.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zero Hour Records, and is used for informational purposes only.