Review Summary: Evocative, beautiful, and at times bizarre: ladies and gentlemen, the definitive Shakey Graves album.Can’t Wake Up
, the aptly-titled fifth record from Alejandro Rose-Garcia (Shakey Graves), feels like the pinnacle of everything the project has been building towards since its under-the-radar inception in 2011. The laid back, stripped down folk vibe of And The War Came
remains, only taking a turn for the atmospheric – this eerie
vibe that envelopes the entire album like fog hanging over a city street at night. It is a foreboding, somewhat unsettling experience that also feels right at home, and the organically dark evolution in sound will have followers of Shakey Graves smiling ear to ear.
The groundwork for Can’t Wake Up
’s mysterious shroud is laid early with the groovy, spooky ‘Counting Sheep’, a song with undeniable staying power that feels like it is trapped between realms – in one world grounded by earthly acoustics and pitter-pat drums, in the other suspended mid-air by ghastly, apparition-like ooh
’s. The sound of the song reflects the album’s cover art, leading one to envision nights in dark alleys under a crescent moon, walking alone alongside the soft yellowish glow of the street lamps. In short, it’s both beautiful and kind of haunting. As the record moves into ‘Kids These Days’ and ‘Climb On The Cross’, there’s an apparent transition from the Americana of previous records to more of an indie-rock approach, with the former in particular adopting a very upbeat, percussion-driven melody. While the pristine acoustic folk of past outings also remains evident throughout (‘Dining Alone’ is downright breathtaking), Rose-Garcia melds the styles together in a fashion that only additionally facilitates its vast, effortless flow. Songs such as ‘Excuses’ and ‘Mansion Door’ weave in and out of hushed, bare bones folk and propulsive, showy rock grooves – a sign that everything has truly come together for the progression of Shakey Graves.
These reasons alone are not what make Can’t Wake Up
such a fitting magnum opus, however. Sure, the project espouses a darker brand this time around, but it’s the vocal efforts of Rose-Garcia that truly affix this album to a state of persistent excellence. In the past he has always exhibited multiple talents, but generally stayed the course – opting to remain inbounds for what folk vocalists should
be. Here, there’s a rougher edge and a willingness to embrace the direction of his music. Whatever country-like twang helped to secure And The War Came
’s Americana status has been replaced with a deeper, more thoughtful and introspective tone residing somewhere between Elliott Smith and Brand New. There’s also a bluesy slant in his delivery, giving the vocal approach across Can’t Wake Up
a unique flair that fits right in to the album’s swaying, staggering means of progression.
One trait that can’t be lost among all of the improvements to Shakey Graves’ sound is the thematic focus. This record is more unified than anything the project has put forth, and it is directly attributable to the increased emphasis that Rose-Garcia places on album subtleties. What I mean by this is the echoed conversations that fade ‘My Neighbor’ out; the vintage, cartoonish jingle that opens ‘Aibohphobia’ before it closes out to a peculiar, somewhat discordant blend of acoustic picking and high-pitched vocals; the morning birds that announce ‘Foot of Your Bed’; or even the inclusion of a track titled ‘Big Bad Wolf’ on an album that commences with ‘Counting Sheep.’ It’s these strange little quirks that lend Can’t Wake Up
its identity as more than just a well-crafted indie-folk outing. Piecemeal, they may seem insignificant – but together they are what make this whole experience so damn tangible
. It’s what makes Can’t Wake Up
feel ambitious by comparison to Shakey Graves’ other works. Alejandro might sing it best on ‘Big Bad Wolf’ when he croons, “ but the truth is I am just someone who's hungry…let me eat.”
Between the obvious stylistic growth of Shakey Graves and Rose-Garcia’s ramped up creative appetite, Can’t Wake Up
presents itself as the definitive album of the project’s discography. It masters its own atmosphere, swelling with confidence at each and every turn while inviting all who listen to join in. It only gets stronger as it goes on, too, with the star-lit ‘Backseat Driver’ proving to be one of the most beautiful, shimmering indie rock moments of 2018. Even the off kilter, to-and-fro hollow taps that provide the percussive bassline to the curtain-closing ‘Tin Man’ feel like an essential culmination of the subtle twists and turns strategically placed throughout the album. It’s a beautiful, weird
album that only gathers steam while managing to be both simple and complex at the same time. Can’t Wake Up
is a difficult album to qualify for all these reasons, but they all result in a level of intrigue that simply can’t be manufactured. No matter what, you’ll find yourself wanting more.