Mother Hips have been rocking Chico, California for fifteen years and still aren’t letting up, but that hasn’t stopped guitarist Greg Loiacono and bassist Paul Hoaglin from creating Sensations, a side band formed with former Cake drummer Todd Roper. But don’t look for Sensations to be a smart-ass alt-country band. Instead, this trio’s music is rooted deeply in late ’60s and early ’70s power pop. Listen to My Shapes is like the beneficent side of the force compared to the Raconteurs’ dark side. At times lighthearted, pretty, funny, or rebellious, Listen to My Shapes is that little album that packs a punch, one that could end up taking evil empires of major labels by surprise (though most secretly cheer for the Vader-like Broken Boy Soldiers), knowing that eventually, it will be their daddy.
With Listen to My Shapes, Sensations has recorded an album that rewards those who pay attention. Witty and clever lyrics accompany deliciously catchy guitar tunes, each song distinct, as if they were writing an entire album of singles. Loiacono’s voice fits this genre so well that he falls into that `born in the wrong era’ camp. Psychedelia mixes with cowboy backup vocal harmonies and confident brash vocals. From song to song, Sensations seem to be trying to prove true the title of the album, as if each song is not just a `genre,’ they are shapes, molded and formed through music, each one unique.
Take, for instance, the opener “Incredible Man.” With Beatlesesque and Kinks-like guitars and harmonies, Loicano weaves in lyrics that recall They Might Be Giants’ “Particle Man,” though with more personal relationship connotations. “Slow to Show” has that kind of cowboys around the campfire, or Crickets backing Buddy Holly background vocal sweetness. “Winds of Emotion” is a strange proggy number that recalls Cream at its peak. “He’s So Brave” has that riff-heavy Raconteurs feel, but with funnier lyrics like the opening lines, “He rides a big pink Mike McGill, but wait for a second, it gets better still.” “I As a Ghost” and “Avery (I Hear You)” are quieter meditations in contrast with most of the album, such as the Zeppelin-esque “Superscout.”
Two of the best tracks on the album are tucked away at the end, that being “This All According to You,” an at times funky and at others funny number that begs the attention of the listener, and “Listen to My Shapes.” Is is strange or fitting that Loiacono sounds like Jack Black when his voice rises toward the middle of the former song? The title track is one of the most memorable, a musclebound, classic rock, prog guitar jam that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the album. To follow the analogy I made earlier, the song is like Luke Skywalker’s moments of doubt, wearing all black in Jedi and conversing with Vader as if they were old pals. It doesn’t take away from the previous songs, it merely adds an exclamation mark at the end, and maybe even a question mark, which makes it both a question and a WTF moment. In a word, sensational.
The Kinks- Muswell Hillbillies
The Byrds- Younger than Yesterday
My Morning Jacket- It Still Moves