The press photo that accompanies Shapes and Sizes’ self-titled debut has the four band members posed for one of those cozy little family portraits that you find adorning grandparents’ houses, or receive along with those cloying holiday letters sent out to affirm that all is well on the homefront.
But if Shapes and Sizes are passing themselves off as family members, than their unpredictable, scattered, jarring brand of indie-pop ultimately paints them as those hyperactive younger cousins that are always tearing through the house during family reunions and holiday parties. Who are terrorizing the family dog, making messes, and generally having a whole lot more fun than everyone else around them.
Shapes and Sizes starts off sedately enough, with “Island’s Gone Bad“ ‘s plucked guitars and strings, quaint handclaps, and slightly nasal, unaffected vocals. But then the second half of the song comes around, and everything changes abruptly. A ragged pop beat and wiry, squiggly guitars kick up a bit of a storm, while the band members shout out such nonsensical, absurd lyrics as “I like eating fruit off of trees/When I’m with you” and “Children going mad, Children going bad/It’s so sad, eating moms, eating dads/Children going mad.” (How’s that for hyperactive?) There’s even some squawking saxophone thrown in for good measure.
And so on it goes throughout the album. “Weekends At A Time” starts off in a constant state of build-up, with incessantly pounding drums and colliding guitar melodies, before sidling into a subtly lounge-inflected bridge with Caila Thompson-Hannant’s strong vocals reminiscent of The Millions. But it’s not too long before that segues into buzzing keyboards, angelic vocal choirs, and shimmering, crystalline guitars.
“Northern Lights” begins almost quaintly, with Thompson-Hannant’s simple yet lovely voice sounding forlorn and pensive over a ukulele. But you just know the rest of the band is itching to join in, and sure enough, guitars and drums begin stomping along with the beat. And “Wilderness” manages to combine tenor sax, a whistling choir’s drunken songbird melody, and vibes into a package that is semi-cohesive.
Shapes and Sizes is maddeningly chaotic and riotous at times, like trying to get a classroom of hyperactive kindergartners settled down long enough to take roll. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing more than once that the band would pick a melody or style and just stick with it for more than two minutes. Or that they would settle down, focus a bit, and make a strong part even stronger rather than dropping it for the next interesting little bit that pops into their little heads.
Shapes and Sizes’ ultimate saving grace, though, is the utter lack of pretension in their music, as well as the sense of unassuming wonder that they manage to imbue their songs with. How can you not at least grin when the band proudly declares “Kisses are our friends,” actually sounding like they mean every word?
Individual songs might suffer, but overall, there is something infectious, toe-tapping, and even joyous about the album as a whole. And it all does come together from time to time — the aforementioned bridge on “Weekends At A Time”; the morose ballad “Rory’s Bleeding” that achieves a hypnotic daze with its wordless vocal melodies and bassline; and the lap steel-blessed “Boy, You Shouldn’t Have,” with a call and response bit that only adds to the song’s country swagger.
While the kids in Shapes and Sizes get underfoot, break the china, and generally wreak all manner of havoc, it’s difficult to stay mad at them for too long. Rather, you find yourself wishing that you could fine the same sort of simple happiness that they seem to achieve so easily and frequently.