After first hearing The Red Shift’s single, “Seven Years Old”, for their self-titled new album, I ran a search on Bandcamp and discovered that there’s 4 other artists, past and present, who have called themselves “The Red Shift”. There had to be a reason. That was how I discovered that astronomers use the term “red shift” to describe how light waves stretch out and seem to change color when an object moves farther away from an observer. It’s like the Doppler effect– audio waves gaining frequency, and sounding “higher” in pitch, as they near the person listening to them.
They’re not the first to use the phenomenon as an artistic statement, but Cincinnati, OH’s four-piece indie rock outfit makes a memorable case to be the one that’s remembered for it. They released their self-titled debut on March 10, available on digital format. Hopefully distributors out there, like Middle-Man Records or maybe even Columbus, OH’s Anyway Records, catch on this, because it’s a sensitive debut that would thrive on a vinyl or cassette release.
The album opens at a passionate tempo with “Belly Ache”, which sets the standard for what comes afterwards. From the moment Daltin Loomis bursts across your speakers with a choppy drum fill, and Chris Coffin builds your anticipating with a squealing riff, you notice immediately that this is a band with both energy and emotion. It’s as much a garage rock album as anything else. The band notes that “we recorded the whole in [vocalist and guitarist Aaron Sutton]’s basement”, and it sounds like it. Kevin Carafa mixed it, mastered it, and made sure the low-fi aesthetic didn’t obscure a series of boisterous compositions like “God Bless the USA” and “Fingers”. Daltin’s drumming is swift and restless, keeping his cymbals busy while Evan, Chris, and Aaron speed up for rants like “Stubborn” and slow down for meditations like “My Eyes”. And did you just hear a saxophone on “Suburban Redneck”? Yeah, you just heard a saxophone on “Suburban Redneck”.
Even at it’s fastest, it’s always graceful, and usually looking down at its shoes. Aaron’s credited as the sole songwriter. The whole album is a loose reflection on relationships and futility. One of his most memorable moments comes on “Stubborn”, where he warns you “in ten years i will still drive the same car / my ears will be floating in the river all day long / I know there’s plenty i could do / but i’d never take advice from you”. He keeps coming back to the image of a tree, and the added fauna brings life to his indie rock-standard reflections. “[D]on’t make me jump off this tree,” he laments on “Rebel Leaf”, “i am a rebel leaf / the trunk says sixty-three / but i’m only nineteen,” placing you in the Converse shoes of a heartsick boy in a Cincinnati public park. Trees come up again on “No One Else” (“but i’ll keep hiding in this tree / don’t even try to save me”), gifting greater purpose to lines like “I can feel you crawling up my spine / can you feel me pulling you up to my side?”
“No One Else” is, in fact, a decent summary of the album’s bigger sound. The guitars swing and hum as Daltin revs up on his cymbals. They race ahead in a Get Up Kids-inspired gallop, before abruptly slowing into a slower groove, giving Aaron room to bring out his inner Alex Kapranos. If you were a fan of Franz Ferdinand or The Killers last decade, you’re gonna love the way Aaron sings and the way Chris’s lead guitar hums and jangles over the pop/punk rhythm. The tone is warm and oddly understated, despite the swift tempo. When Chris bursts into a brief solo at 2:27, it highlights the contrast with Daltin’s swift fills and quick rhythms. Chris is playing quick, too, but something about that tone feels oddly tranquil. Coupled with Aaron’s way of hanging on to certain phrases (“you’ve got to tell me your pla-a-an…”, “this is way too good to be…”), it makes you want to dance and read your old high school diary, all at once. As the last 30 seconds rev down, Chris slows down with the rhythm section to embrace the melancholy glow, letting out a few more strums as it all comes to an end.
It does get to be a formula, even if it’s a good one. By the time we hit “Fresh Meat”, the band has it down pat, enough that they let it run for two swinging minutes. I loved the next track. The riff for “God Bless the USA” sounds like a hardcore punk riff slowed down and built around a singer-songwriter’s composition, and it pops from the speakers with clarity and candor. After “Fingers”, I started to crave a change in the formula, and happily, I got it. The band caps the album with a final acoustic track, “Snow Day”, a love song that brings closure to the earnest heartbreak of the rest of the album. “[S]now will garnish your face,” croons Aaron slowly, “your smile will melt the flakes / when I kiss your cheek / i’ll fall out of the tree / i’ve wanted this for so long / i can’t wait to sing you this song”. It’s a sweet and sincere repetition of the tree motif that permeates Aaron’s songwriting, along with the incredible album artwork by Anni Buchner. I can’t think of a better finale.
Will you enjoy “The Red Shift” as much as I did? It really depends on whether you’re burned out on pop punk or not. If your mental news feed got clogged this decade by pop/punk and emo revivalists like Modern Baseball and The Wonder Years, you might be a little too tired to appreciate how emotionally rich The Red Shift’s take is on that sound. Then again, maybe not. Take my word for it. If you’re saturated with indie punk already, take a break, listen to some hip-hop records or some Mozart for a little bit, and come back to this when you’re ready. Give suburban angst a chance.
BEST TRACKS: “Belly Ache”, “No One Else”, “Suburban Redneck”