"This is a rainy day record. A stay in and make love record."
So says Tucson quintet Rival Shapes in their bio that accompanies the band's second record, Pull. (Last year's debut was called Push) As far as the "rainy day ... make love" line, it's only half correct, unless everybody except me cries when they fuck. Yet that statement's significance, with regards to Rival Shapes' music, lies in its embrace of the fundamental processes of life and nature. In other words, it's been a long time since a rock band so guilelessly offered such a comprehensive and widescreen take on keeping one's identity in the face of emotional trauma.
And that means Rival Shapes is attempting to operate in the capital-S serious realms of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Modest Mouse circa The Moon & Antarctica. They mostly succeed, and powerfully. Appropriately enough, the music, singing and recording is icy, distant, remote and austere. All of Pull's songs are ballad-tempo, anchored by intertwining guitars and punctuated by funereal organ, and backed by an understated but dexterous rhythm section. Frank Dillon's lyrics, though bleak, are ambiguous enough to acknowledge the subject matter's complexity and allow the listener to project into the scenarios of "Evaporate," "Lost in the Move" or "The Longing"—particular standouts on a remarkably consistent record. Dillon's impassioned singing performs the same function.
While the performance and songwriting of Rival Shapes impresses and moves, the band strives for greatness, and a real sense of the profound, and that's something that can't be separated from the music. But instead of coming across as crass or pretentious, the band's clarity of vision adds weight to songs. All this gives the group depth that expands past the sum of their parts: If Pull is any example or indication, hang onto your ego hard enough and your ego might just reveal something other than itself.