by Joel Greatbatch
While there aren’t a lot of sharks in the waters of Austin (Ladybirds aren’t on their menu) there is the Austin based Sharks In The Deep End, a promising group who hunkered down for a month to create and release their debut album Killin’ Machine. I’ll start off by saying when I initially saw the band name Sharks in the Deep End and the album title Killin’ Machine, I thought I might be in for quite a foreboding listen. So when I played the album and the first 30 seconds revealed a slightly slow and gloomy tone I thought I had correctly surmised what I was in for. But as opener “Love In Reverse” continued, its potential grimness abated and opened up for a sweet falsetto chorus with the spoken word outro of “The first date the first glance/The first mistake, the first kiss/ The first time holding hands.” It’s all very sweet and sinister at the same time (I mean… any sentence about love that features the word mistake might not have so cheery an outcome). But the tracklist that follows the bittersweet “Love In Reverse” is filled with glorious dynamics, sky scraping vocal melodies and some pop sensibilities that regularly shoot into space.
Second track “Shadows In The Sunset” is a post punk jingle that delivers on every scale and kicks the album off in full. Cool guitar jabs, outstanding bass lines, sweet synths peeling through the air, New Wave disco drums…I could go on. The whole sound has great shades of David Bowie, Talking Heads and New Order to it all, but something which stands out across the entire album is how fantastic a vocalist Tucker Jameson is, with a wholesome bit of grit in his throat, smooth emphasis when singing straight, and a heck of a high note. And he can do all of this variation within one short chorus.
While he makes singing sound easy, the lyrics with his melodies combine to what could be featured in a Perfect Pop Music 101 college paper. “Shadows in the sunset, the push and pull of time/The future isn’t yet set but I feel it on your mind…”, just reading it without the rollicking melody and instruments accompanying it is already poetry in motion. Every song has words which are clever, quotable and forever bouncing around in your noggin. You’ll find “Cherry Blossom” is easy listening Prince-like sweetness, “Crash Test Doll” has those catchy keyboard notes, and when title track “Killing Machine” rocks up it’s more of a U2-type affair with its delayed guitar chimes leading to some “When The Streets Have No Name” drum rumbles. And it gives some insight into the intention of their audio and visual demeanor.
Sharks might be an “indie band” of sorts, but so were The Killers and Kings of Leon when they started, and they eventually captured the airwaves and many a stadium speaker. But what might The Sharks find standing in their way of reaching these heights? If anything, they’re nothing new. It’s heavily drawing from mid-2000s music which had already heavily drawn from the mid-1980s. And since that sound was ten years ago, and coolness culture seems to swing in 20 year roundabouts, they may look like they didn’t get off the bus— in other words, “Killin’ Machine” doesn’t sound like it’s from the ‘90s so it will likely fly under the radar. Which would be a huge shame as it has plenty of good radio hit potential that can transcend whatever era the current public wants recaptured.
Nonetheless, I’ve listened to this album constantly for the past few weeks and it’s showing no sign of relinquishing its activity on my iPhone. Once you start it you have no real desire to stop, especially when it all finishes with the finely extended “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” type guitar solo. When earlier track “How Many Reasons” asks: “How many reasons do you need?” I reply that your killer nine tracks are all I’m needing, and when we start crafting those “Best of 2016” lists at the end of the year there is a very high chance you’ll be on mine.
Joel Greatbatch is a Kiwi, but please don’t eat him.