Shimmercore, a.k.a. Mike Contreras, is back with his second full-length album, Catful of Wallow; again with a kitty on the cover, and again with plenty of buzzing guitar and heavy bass work. But that's where the similarities with his last album stop.
His 2011 album, Dronelands, was, as the name suggests, a sonic landscape filled with rivers of deep, muddy bass cutting through wide, rolling hills of repetitive guitar chord changes stretching out as far as the eye could see or the ear could hear. But, the sky was always a little overcast in Dronelands; a little tense, too, as if always threatening to burst open into a thunderstorm.
This latest release, Catful of Wallow, is undoubtedly a more fun and more varied album. At times he harkens back to his days with Indy-based power pop group Pop Lolita, a band whose aesthetic leaned toward upbeat, '80s new wave, reminiscent of Duran Duran and even the Go-Gos.
That sound rears its fun-loving head on Catful a few times, especially with tracks like "You Are Gorgeous" and "You Are the Sunshine in an Otherwise Dark Dimension," grouped together as the eighth and ninth songs on this 14-song album.
However, though echoes of Pop Lolita show up here and there on Catful, the album not merely a paean to Contreras' new wave days (though the album's name is a twist on The Smiths' Hatful of Hollow).
In fact the album veers off into so many different musical directions that it seems a bit schizophrenic at times. Contreras himself refers to Shimmercore as "indie shoegaze garage psych pop" in his band description. The first song, "Graveyard Stars" might lead you to believe this is another drone album. Not so.
Is it a dream pop album? Not necessarily, but the song "Getting High With You," could lull you into such a state.
Other times it seems Shimmercore is putting an alternative take on '60s Britpop, with "Cross My Heart Hope to Die." The third song, "Come True Someday," is undoubtedly this album's go-to track, the one I found myself immediately clicking to on my iPod. It's reminiscent of the Foo Fighters and, on a more contemporary note, The Men; it immediately knocks the listener back with fat, buzzing guitar chords and heavy, low-slung bass, countered nicely by Contreras singing in a sweetly melodic register high above the guitars, culminating perfectly as the first chorus takes the song to its close.
The song somehow captures what the giants of '90s alternative rock managed to capture; that peculiar mix of angst and vulnerability otherwise known as adolescence. Another of this album's really high spots is "Dig for the Sun," the final song. This time Contreras seems to be channeling the sort of raucous, unified, and (again) adolescent spunk of bands like The Black Lips.
At only 2:26, this is the track I wished was longer. I have a personal affinity for this kind of high-pulse, fist-in-the-air bro-punk, as well as the gnashing guitars of "Come True Someday," and for that reason I think this album is at its best when it hits those notes.
My only major critique would be that with so many styles and directions, and with the tracks averaging only about two and a half minutes, Catful of Wallow seems more like a Shimmercore sampler pack than an album.
Granted, there's no law that says an album always has to be a coherent musical statement. But, it's obvious Contreras has a deep reservoir of songwriting talent and I'd like to see what would happen if, as he seemed to do with Dronelands, he explored one of these musical themes in more depth.