WHO: Shana Cleveland & The Sandcastles
WHEN: Sunday, May 31
WHERE: UFO Factory
Hardly anyone was there on this Sunday night. They didn't play long enough. The photos I took are terrible. The band themselves had driven much of the day, from near Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (where I once myself had a year-long pass to Dollywood, when I lived in Oak Ridge nearby — a gift from my then-mother-in-law). And the show was well over a week ago, so why am I just now getting down to writing a review? Seriously, it's taken me the extra week because it was one of the best shows I've seen in ages. And I wanted to have a moment to adequately try to get my thoughts down on the show.
The touring version of the Sandcastles sounds even more spare and pared down than the excellent record they're touring behind, Oh Man, Cover the Ground (which Pitchfork foolishly gave a 7.3; shit's a 8.8 at least). Shana Cleveland plays guitar and sings. Will Sprott is the bassist. Jenny Asarnow is on backing vocals and occasional tambourine, while Christopher Icasiano is the drummer.
This band is plugged into serious sunshine bummer vibes, and exactly what they're doing is exquisite and original and fucking amazing. I really hope they make some recordings with this lineup very soon. Ms. Cleveland and her band often sounded as strong as Kendra Smith or Olivia Tremor Control at their heights. A few songs even reminded me of Mayo Thompson's Corky's Debt to His Father. And nothing ever reminds me of that, and it's the best thing.
As with La Luz, there is more going on than you think at first, as your brain scrambles to contextualize and slot this work into the proper categories. If these are genre exercises, what genre is she messing with? (I seriously am asking.)
You have the sinewy song structures and deliberately lazy vocal style of Tara Jane O'Neil or Kevin Ayers grafted to a loopy, slow pace that's harder to do well than you'd think. It's shuffling, smart, beautiful music. There is a lot of space inside of it, and I really appreciated how in control and spacey and not-there yet totally there the band acted. They seemed so in their own zone that I almost felt like I was eavesdropping. I cannot wait to see where this music goes next. This is one of the best live bands on Earth, right now.
The video below is from a day or so earlier than the Detroit show.
Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...