Remember looking into a kaleidoscope as a child? How the backlit flecks of multi-colored plastic churning along that mirrored surface would fill you with a sense of wonder, because, at the time, you had no idea how it worked. Like a Rorschach test for fragile, innocent minds, recent Montreal transplants (via Vancouver) Shapes & Sizes subscribe to such an aesthetic, rarely producing expected song structures, but often invoking a sense of childlike wide-eyed wonder with their wildly creative, sometimes bizarre, always entertaining music. Bathe yourself in the swirling geometry of the fantastically colored rainbow that is Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner, and prepare to feel like a kid again.
Shapes & Sizes simply cannot stay still. Whether musically or geographically, they are constantly heading toward some distant horizon, never content to remain in one place for long. For the sanctity of a permanent address it may be a cause for concern, but as a musical philosophy, it couldn’t be more exciting. Last year’s self-titled debut introduced the world to their singularly unique brand of start/stop dynamics, rampant tempo changes, and multi-part songs with more movements than the San Andreas Fault. Split Lips finds the band wandering even farther off the edge of the map stylistically, and they couldn’t be headed in a better direction.
Caila Thompson-Hannat’s vocals return rejuvenated, more confident and jubilant than on the band’s previous effort. Characterized by quiet restraint on the brief “Grassy Corners, A Sunset,” or darkly brooding on “The Long Indifference,” Thompson-Hannat matches note for note her bandmates’ quirky arrangements. Thematically, Split Lips takes aim at phallocentric conceptions (“Piggy”) and gender expectations (“Victory In War”) through a thick veneer of frenetic guitars and stuttering drums. The former ricochets violently off angular guitar riffs while the latter rattles with a near-calypso beat and baritone saxophones screeching over group vocals. It’s clear Shapes & Sizes have left the garden of youth for more pressing matters, abstract though they may seem at times. Lucky for us they’ve brought their renewed originality with them.
Guitarist Rory Seydel grabs the mic for the acoustic romp of “Teller/Seller,” a too-short slice of toe-tapping pop and the cymbal-crashing, discordant wailing of “Head Movin’.” The whispered intro of “Geese” finds Caila reverting to humming amid an electrifying wall of ecclesiastical keyboards. It’ll fill you with the spirit and have you shouting “hallelujah!” The tone takes a turn for the elegiac on “The Taste In My Mouth,” all banjo plucking, stray guitar licks and brass textures. “Alone/Alive” is a rambunctious rabble-rouser of an intro, with the lyrical sass to boot: “Tonight I feel that I am alive/ I spit, I smoke, I widen my stride/ drunk stumbling ain’t no reason to hide.”
Each time I listen to Shapes & Sizes, I’m reminded of the true limitless nature of creativity. Given the right muse, there is no telling what this band is capable of creating next. One can only imagine what inspiration Montreal will bring, but if the city’s current musical residents (The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, etc.) are any indication, the kaleidoscope never seemed so bright and shifting.
MP3: “Alone Alive”