We Versus The Shark
Styles: ultra pop/math/dancey/spastic chaos
Others: June of 44 meets Man Man meets Enon meets GBV meets none of these
Confession time: I am a fickle, vacuous consumer whore who will only truly listen to something when popular culture tells me I should. With their debut record, Ruin Everything!, Athens, GA's We Versus The Shark have allowed me see this outstanding flaw. I'm happy to say that over the course of ten tracks bursting with flavor and good times, Ruin Everything! facilitated my slow, arduous recovery process.
So the story goes, Mr P sent me a package with CDs to review, and among the batch was this We Versus The Shark album. I popped it in (probably in a bad mood), listened to the first few bars of "You Don't Have To Kick It" and promptly discarded it. All I remember hearing were disco beats and nondescript shouting over some chicken-scratch guitar. Exasperated, I cried, "I've heard it before!"
Over the next few months, I kept seeing We Versus The Shark's name here and there, and after a few friends kept chatting them up, I decided to give Ruin Everything! another chance. I re-listened to "You Don't Have To Kick It," and though the ever-present disco beats and shouting were firmly in place, I also unearthed found sounds, malfunctioning electronics, jagged guitar parts (not in the way most of their peers take this route—think more Dazzling Killmen math and less Gang Of Four skronk), and poignant melodies that rocked the shit out of my sandwich. In short: I found the group to be completely irresistible.
At their most chaotic, We Versus The Shark might recall a more caustic Q And Not U having entirely lost it, or a much more refined version of the Ex, but neither comparison does the group justice. There are certainly obvious reference points scattered about the album, but I found it nearly impossible to describe the band in simple terms. I guess the most accurate description for We Versus The Shark would be "frenzied pop."
Which brings me to how I managed to fall in love with this record: what I didn't understand at first was how to understand We Versus The Shark. The key to understanding them is looking both at the minute details and the larger picture. The minute details are that they're a pop band at heart who just so happen to perform abstruse acrobatics on their instruments.
But if you focus too deeply on the particulars, you might end up losing the soul; they're far too chaotic, too technical to be considered a run-of-the-mill dance-punk or indie-pop group; but at the same time, their gorgeous melodies and keen pop sensibilities keep the band (thankfully) out of the faceless math rock factory. You have to take certain elements as they come and go. In between and occasionally during genuine pop hooks, you will find venomous streaks of white-hot chaos; likewise, in between dark thickets of noise there's always a sweet, sentimental streak just bubbling beneath the surface.
I'm aware that I'm contradicting myself all over the place here, but I don't know how else to explain how this record clicked with me.
Highlights include "You Don't Have To Kick It," "As Good As It Gets," "This Graceless Planet," and "I Am At The Mercy Of An Ambulance Driver," but just about every track has an insanely catchy melody and something interesting going on.
The only flaws of Ruin Everything! are relying too heavily on certain contemporary stylistic cues (i.e., those well-worn disco beats, proto-emo flourishes, spastic Brainiac-style vocals, etc.), and occasionally getting a bit too radio-friendly for its own good (the chorus of "I Am Destined For Greatness" brings me back to my middle school days when rap-metal ruled my record collection).
But the thing about these less-than-stellar moments is that they illustrate exactly how successful We Versus The Shark are at mashing together parts and styles that simply should not be mingling. Immediately following the psychotic rave-up "No Flint No Spark" is a saccharine melody sung by a female voice; on "Ten Uh Clock Heart Uh Attack," the group busts out what sounds like a jumble of calculators gone hay-wire immediately following a vocal straight out of a Promise Ring record; and how about that ultra-tech off-time riff the group pulls out around the one minute mark during "This Graceless Planet"? The list just goes on and on, but the bottom line is that these are but a few moments in a debut saturated with inventive pop songwriting. We Versus The Shark are on to something truly amazing.
1. You Don't Have To Kick It
2. As Good As It Gets
3. Ten Uh Clock Heart Uh Tack
4. This Graceless Planet
5. I Am Destined For Greatness
7. I Am At The Mercy Of An Ambulance Driver
8. Easter Island Is For Lovers
9. No Flint No Spark
10. I Am Your Idea