Review: Shesus – Ruined It For You

 

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy Feb. 14, 2005

Forget O-Matic. When it comes to gauging Michelle Bodine’s work as a guitarist and songwriter, the standard is always Brainiac’s Smack Bunny Baby, the only full-length she recorded with Dayton, Ohio’s favorite Surrealist pop-punk noisemakers.
On the disc, released on Dutch East India-distributed Grass Records way back in 1993, Bodine’s guitar is less an instrument with six electrified strings than it is an open window peering out on colorful and often-bizarre horizons.
There’s that grungy slur of a power chord and the rousing chorus, sure, but there are these strange little bursts of sound, atypical chords used sparingly but also filtered through effect pedals to saturate the listener’s ears with microscopic sound-portraits in each precise strum and upstroke. Bodine further refines the technique on Shesus’ addictive Ruined it For You EP, a seven-song offering that, on first blush, is an energetic addition to a growing line of female-fronted indie pop-punk outfits.
But that’s first blush.
Ruined it For You is, without question, a powerful outing from a band that would be easily dubbed
pop-punk if the term hadn’t been watered down and bastardized by every Sony-constructed group of idiots with nothing in their musical arsenal but a Marshall stack, an engineer who knows how to work the boards, and some really killer promo pics. Shesus is more than that.
For evidence, look no further than Bodine, whose guitar work on the Narnack Records disc is inspired and deceptive in its sometimes-muted, sometimes-flashy complexity.
Take “Debbie’s Shoes,” the opening track. On it, Kari Murphy’s driving bass and Dave Colvin’s tinny pitter-patter of drums are cut with quick stabs of funky but distorted guitar chords before the whole quartet launches into the bizarro chorus, complete with swelling Moog-ish keyboard textures and vintage Brainiac guitar leads that sound like Bodine is hammering out her refrains underwater.

It’s also right from square one that the listener is introduced to vocalist Heather Newkirk, who seems to be the only one who could make Bodine share the spotlight.

Newkirk snarls and wails her lyrics in a liberating, punkish voice that calls to mind a list of leading ladies stretching back to Debbie Harry. But she also has the good sense to use her moments in the limelight well.

Unlike some singers who are all too aware of their abilities or the allure of their confident performances, Newkirk is willing to sublimate her status as band leader to the power of a key instrumental segue or a moment where the band’s chemistry is on full display.

(There may be few other yard sticks for great band leaders, it could be argued, than knowing when to take a step back and, you know, let the band lead.)

On songs like “Debbie’s Shoes,” the borderline fight-song “K-O,” or the urgent dance-floor punk shuffle of “Cheekbone Dance,” her delivery also has an instrumental charm all its own, the way syllables get spit out or stretched to match with Bodine’s and Murphy’s pacing or play as a kind of sugar-coated harmony to the band’s more acidic refrains.

(Newkirk’s half-cooed, half-spoken delivery of lines like “Distilled / Diluted / What makes the difference? / Do I embarrass you?” plays as big an instrumental role in songs like “Debbie’s Shoes” as does the guitar.)

There are moments when the band strays from this surefire approach (the spare but soulful lead on “For Now,” the naïve playfulness of “Overseas Alert”), but even the departures are great. And then there are songs that are just incredible.

The album-closing “K-O” starts with just a simple walking bass line and some almost skeletal drums, but it quickly gives way to quirky and jagged-edged guitars and a high-octane Newkirk punk performance filtered through a guitar pedal that makes her sound like she’s barking, at times, through a bullhorn.

The anthem “Weapons of Love Destruction” is the finest moment on the disc and one of the finer examples you’re likely to hear in the first half of 2005 of energetic but inventive punk. The song has its edgy and new-wave 70s-inspired interplay of guitar, bass, and drums, but Newkirk steals the show, laying down multiple backing tracks in the chorus where she spits out lines like “Don’t count on me” over an infectious groove of vocals and guitar.

Placed at the EP’s end, the track would be the encore-inducer, the rousing track meant to bring the big red curtain sailing down. Situated in the middle as it is, though, the track feels more like a promise or a harbinger of things to come.

Let’s hope so.

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