For a band with an established base of devoted fans, there’s a fine line between maintaining your image and cultivating your sound. Nobody wants their new album to be the equivalent of the Clash’s Cut the Crap or, well, any record by the Wings. The natural desire to grow as an artist has to be balanced against the expectations of the audience.
This is all the more challenging if you released no less than four records the previous year. Enter the Blind Shake, whose quartet of new LPs in 2015 were each individually solid enough to sustain the trio’s reputation.
Full disclosure: one of those four albums, Shadow in the Cracks, was a side-project, and another, Modern Surf Classics, was a collaboration with underground guitar legend John Reis. Each of those is unmistakably in the Blind Shake oeuvre.
In 2016 the band often regarded as the best live act in the Twin Cities has offered a more modest program of one LP, out this week from Goner Records who released two of last year’s releases. Celebrate Your Worth is their most expansive and inventive album yet, and if any fans felt record collecting fatigue after last year’s onslaught, they won’t regret purchasing this one.
Opening in familiar territory with a song called “I Shot all the Birds,” the new album quickly follows the form of last year’s Fly Right by moving in multiple moody directions. Celebrate Your Worth, surprisingly, contains the most ‘pop radio’ song the band has ever recorded — maybe the Twin Cities’ Current will finally recognize this band after giving “Reasonable World” a listen.
“Reasonable World” is also notable for its vocal clarity, contrasted from the previous track on which Mike Blaha’s vocals are steeped deeply in reverb. This is also the first Blind Shake record to include the lyrics inside the jacket. Jim Blaha tells us this is because they were especially proud of this album, and they should be although we believe they have been consistently compelling since Breakfast of Failures a couple years ago. Not surprisingly, the band is still singing about (alternately) alienation and self-determination.
Celebrate Your Worth also delves into almost drone-y psych rock territory in “Alicante,” an epic for the Blind Shake in that it clocks in at around four and a half minutes. They even expand their sound with the unexpected but absolutely fitting appearance of an organ. This creates one of those moments where the production is so tastefully rich it recalls the massive-budget big name albums of the 70s. “Alicante” is one of those songs that simply sounds so good you feel like you could pick it up and hold it.
This isn’t to say the band doesn’t deliver on what they do best: “Corpse on the Roof” mines the manic and angular territory of their classic sound, and “Broken Racehorse,” which Goner Records debuted last week, feels like a marriage of new wave and post rock. In this same vein the second side provides one of the catchiest moments on the album in “Demox,” which sounds like the evil twin of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”
We don’t doubt that these three could keep delivering the same old sound and record labels would compete to release the results. While we’re certain we’d still enjoy those records, what we think fuels the devotion of the Blind Shake’s fans is their willingness to experiment. Celebrate Your Worth is a risky album for a group who’s really striven to establish a national name, but the gambit is sure to pay off. It is one of the best records from the Twin Cities this year.