Review Summary: While it may take several listens to fully understand and articulate, Shift's music is well worth the effort.
As you read this article, the face of the music industry is changing. Yes, CD sales are no longer and bands need not rely entirely on their label for promotion, with the information superhighway known as the internet at their fingertips. Now, with the benefit and strength of home recording and the promotional means available to independent artists, the music industry is getting a facelift. Melbourne band, Shift, have come to take advantage of this new business model. As a statement of true dedication to music and all it encompasses, they have released their debut EP, Faceless, on Radiohead's recently established "Pay What You Want" model, where the listener chooses what price to pay for the music, whether that be five dollars, five hundred dollars or nothing at all. This is all well and good, but what about the music? Well, the music is, to put simply, brilliant. And while it may take several listens to fully understand and articulate, Shift's music is well worth the effort.
Frontman, guitarist and primary songwriter Rob Lambert is the sole creative force behind the band, yet the amount of ideas, emotions and styles found on the EP suggests otherwise. As unexpected as it may be from a relatively small-time Melbourne band, his songwriting style is unique and unconventional. Within the 23 minutes of the EP, Lambert dips in and out of his respective genre and explores unorthodox song structures, rarely repeating a vocal phrase or instrumental section in favour of variety and gradual building of mood and atmosphere throughout the tracks. And damn it, it works.
Take second track "For Those Who Waited", for example, which is a slowly building monster of a track that begins with a bang and ends with nothing less. The emotions throughout are sharply articulated and through the duration of the song Lambert changes vocal styles numerous times for excellent effect. His voice, a combination of cleans and screaming, is certainly unique and while it isn't anything exceedingly brilliant, it adds to and compliments the music greatly. In addition, the instruments are textured with Opeth-like density and precision, which contributes to the song's simultaneously brooding and aggressive atmosphere, while retaining a certain emotional fragility achieved through the intelligent progression of the vocals. Third track of the record, "The Bin" is without a doubt the most serene song of the record, with its delicate verse and powerhouse of a chorus. An EP highlight for certain.
"Molotovs And Rocks" is most definitely the heaviest track of the record. Palm-muting and dissonant riffs are frequent across its relatively short duration, which is appropriate for a track of such a volume and tempo. The vocals continue in their progressive style, while the riffs bludgeon and strike the listener's ears with huge force, which contrasts greatly with the following track, and second best song of the record, "Away". This may strike the listener as a surprise, being a soft, delicate track among the heavy metal fray, but its transcendant vocal line and double time Faith No More-styled instrumentation make it an essential listen. While opening track "This Brutal Embrace" is surely the most immediate of the record, its appeal soon wears off just as the true genius of the others kicks in. The repeated driving, monotonous riff is simplistic at best, and follows the typical song verse-chorus-verse structure that upholds the large majority of popular music. In addition, closing track "Hustling Paradise" is underwhelming at best, never seeming to go anywhere beyond the subdued, initial palm-muted opening riff. Lambert's vocals are surprisingly weak here and the instrumentation is quite dull. Thankfully, however, this does not detract from the excellence of the record as a whole.
The difficult aspect of the EP's aural make-up in the scheme of things is that it is, by all means, a record with which the listener must spend time to fully realise. In this case, the listener's initial impression may be the death of this record - it comes off as somewhat depressing and almost nu-metal-esque where the opener appears to be the best track. However, upon repeated listens, the listener will come to realise the excellence of the rest of the record. This being the case, while a sign of artistic excellence, makes Shift's climb up the popularity ladder all the more slippery, as the beginnings of a band's career often relies on accessibility and immediacy to earn listeners' time to truly learn their material.
"Faceless" isn't the easiest record get into, but like Queens of the Stone Age and Radiohead, the music reveals itself with time. What may initially appear as weak songwriting is eventually revealed upon later listens as true brilliance. While this may be a difficult trait amongst a relatively new band that have not quite yet earnt the time of their listeners, their critics will eventually come to the collective realisation of the band's true ability. Hopefully, Shift will even further improve with future releases on what is already an excellent and promising debut EP.