Dreamy desert rock
When an artist releases a new album of music, many diehard fans expect the artist to create magic once again and come up with a release almost identical to the fan’s favorite tracks from the past. But more often than not, an artist evolves and changes their sound in an attempt to match their changing studio preferences or simply as a decision to reinvent themselves as an artist. At times, this can almost completely change the presentation of the artist and thus alienate their original fan base. Other times, their original fan base embraces the change while a whole new swath of fans jumps on board the bandwagon. For Shakey Graves, his latest release is a different sound, but still a hit worth listening to.
Austin, Texas gentleman Shakey Graves released his fourth LP, Can’t Wake Up, on May 4th on Dualtone Records. This new release serves as a departure from Graves’ cultivated image of the cheap t-shirt-wearing, one-man-band that mixes influences from indie rock, blues and folk music into an energetic and soulful blend of Americana. Can’t Wake Up, true to its name, feels very dreamy and relaxed throughout the length of its 13-song playlist.
Songs like “Dining Alone” offer the image of a clear and calm night in the Texas desert, perhaps with the addition of some form of hallucinogen. But there’s zero fear of a freak-out on this journey with Mr. Graves. The album cover is the perfect backdrop for this album as it shows the nearly 31-year old in the middle of an old Wild West main street at dusk, with fuchsia, purple and black dominating the image. Graves described it as a “dreamscape set on a budget,” in an Instagram post.
Whereas older Shakey Graves albums, like And the War Came, prominently feature Graves with an acoustic or electric guitar alongside his trademark suitcase kick drum, Can’t Wake Up steps away from these clap-and-stomp cornerstones and instead embraces more poppy, atmospheric sounds. Additionally, the album features different instrument choices like harps (“Foot of Your Bed”) and woodblocks (“Tin Man”) as another reminder of this departure in musical direction. On its own, the former track sounds like a calm-yet-creeping lullaby with heavenly harps and a steady one-two marching rhythm.
Overall, the album sounds like a marriage of folk and indie rock, with a touch of a spaghetti western soundtrack. This is specifically heard on songs like the opening track “Counting Sheep” and “Climb on the Cross,” the latter of which features a mysterious and delayed opening riff that immediately piques your interest. A common theme of the songs on Can’t Wake Up is the presence of dreamy melodies and mellow rhythm tracks like on “Counting Sheep” or “Back Seat Driver.” You can still slightly hear the spirit of old Shakey albums in the background with a steady drumbeat and half-measure guitar chord changes on the latter track.
Elsewhere, “Excuses” is arguably the hardest hitting of the album’s songs, with power chords, hard-hitting drums and piano notes that travel up and down the high and low ends of the 88 keys. “Aibohphobia” (which Urban Dictionary defines as “a fear of palindromes”), though whimsical at first, becomes grand and dark, before ultimately returning back to a soothing flow at its end. The track even features more than a few palindromes itself in the lyrics: “Mum’s the word, dad’s a nun / She plays games, she’s no fun / Racecar, kayak, nurses run / I have Aibohphobia.”
The dreamy chilled out excursion of Can’t Wake Up might represent a surprise for fans who have come to appreciate the boot-stomping “honky-folk” image of Shakey Graves’ past. The journey he takes listeners on with Can’t Wake Up is by no means an overextended or strange trip. It is one that is well worth the listen for a newcomer or a long-time Shakey fan.