CD Review

Shamra – “Frieze”

By Marcus Pan

FriezeJonesing for something that wasn’t created by and manipulated by machines, I turn my attentions today to Shamra. Off of Fum Records in my own home state of New Jersey, Shamra’s sophomore full release, Frieze, being touted by NY publicity friends of mine ISL, who’ve introduced me to such new favorites bands of mine like Collider(1) and Alice Donuts(2), arrived in my mailbox. A pop/rock outfit that take a more folk-sound tack on things, Shamra’s Frieze is a great album for its simplicity, clean ideals and talented musicianship.

Turning down Columbia Records in 1999 following the release of their first demos, the band turned to such small-sided labels as Gig and Fum Records in order to remain true to their ideals. One of my favorite musician quotes comes from the frontwoman of Shamra, Carrie Bolger, who says, “I think we are obsessed with ourselves and our music. So, when you hear a Shamra song at least you know that at some point someone actually cared.” The band has lived up to this standard by telling Columbia to bugger off upon reading the terms of the companies offered contract and going about it in the underground where they can remain real.

Made up of Carrie on vocals and guitar, Joe Cannone (guitars, dulcimer), Henry Borovitz (guitars) Krisjan Karu (bass) and Bob Fontana (drums), the band’s most notable claim to fame was inclusion in TV’s well known Dawson’s Creek. Their music is unabashedly simple – strange yet interesting lyrics, Carrie’s sultry breathing vocals reminiscent of Alanis Morrisette without the yowls and the strumming folk Dylan-like guitars. One of the bands that comes to mind that I’ve reviewed, so that I can make something of a comparison for my readers, would be Chika(3).

Frieze is a full length album of twelve tracks, none of which hit four minutes in length adding a garage-punk sensibility to the songs by keeping them short and to the point. The entire album of twelve tunes clicks just over thirty three minutes total and makes listening to the album a simple pleasure. Have somewhere to go tonight but want to chill out and relax for a bit before? Shamra’s what you throw in the player.

The songs are smooth and seductive, from the partyless lament of Hand Stamp to the regret filled war-discussion on State of the Nation, which I want to say is about the Iraq situation except during the chorus there is mention of “fighting Aryans” which confused me (Aryans being a World War II thing) – but then again most of the lyrical content of Shamra’s tunes are hard to decipher. Draw your own conclusions.

ShamraTrack nine, Cruizin, is one of the critical tracks of Frieze that I’m not too fond of. The off-key guitars and vocals just lend itself to chaos, and I find Shamra does better with radio-friendly pop songs than your off-kilter left field genre. Favorites however include Scorpions and Mudpies, a strangely David E. Williams(4) style piece inasfar as lyrical content goes, the beauty of Shamra is while you think you know what they’re talking about the off base lyrics tend to send you down what could be a number of paths. Meanwhile, Strange is a song of being an outcast – a freak’s anthem if you will. The lyrics are straightforward at the outset, “If you think I’m strange, you’re strange as well.” But by the second stanza Shamra wanders off again with the interesting lyrics, “If you don’t hit them over the head, then anything can happen.” What exactly that means is anybody’s guest – possibly only to highlight the fact that for a song about being Strange, then so should the lyrics be…?

This is only one example of Shamra’s surrealistic lyrics coupled with pop style musicianship and arrangements. So you see how warped things can get within the confines of Frieze. Say Um on the other hand is an example of Shamra doing everything they can to keep the story straight – but still will use interesting analogies to highlight their point even when they try.

If the lyrics are the highlight of Shamra’s thinking pop fans, then the comfortability of the guitars, musical arrangement and low-key folk style is the highlight for their shoegazer fans. Enjoy Frieze like you would a good old pair of old boots that may look worn and dirty, but pull on comforting and easy. Shamra is my well-worn flannel shirt that I refuse to get rid of that I will wear and relax in when nobody’s looking. Give them a shot and maybe you also will find that at some point you’ll actually care too.

(1) See the review of WCYF in Legends #139.
(2) Three Sisters was reviewed in Legends #143.
(3) Little Ship Head reviewed way back in Legends #85.
(4) One of my wife’s most hated artists, two releases of which were reviewed in Legends #97 and a prior release reviewed in Legends #91.
Contact Information:
ISL Public Relations, LLC
Post: 333 W 52nd St Fl 9, New York, NY 10019-6238, USA
Phone: (212) 541-7595

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