The Shivers: In the Morning

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[Editorial disclosure/confession: The Shiver’s vinyl release now available (“In the Morning,” 2015), is on our record label, Untide Records. Once again, I’m a music reviewer promoting one of our own. Just pretend this isn’t me writing, if that makes it easier or seem more fair.]

The Shivers, founded in 2001 and led by Keith Zarriello, created this raw and confessional “In the Morning” in an industrial Long Island City practice space in the borough of Queens, New York, in 2009. It arrived like a storm, a revelation after the band’s equally personal “Beaks to the Moon” (2008). In some ways, these two records complete each other, reflecting an interplay of unfolding relationships between the musicians, with their emerging confidence and confessional, exposed lyrics that, after this record, become the distinguishing characteristic of Zarriello’s musical vocabulary.

Captured in just a few intense days, this remarkable moment of songwriting, performance, and recording was initially drawn from a mixtape of more than 30 compositions and fragments, both demos and complete songs, in various states of development by Zarriello and Jo Schornikow. These sessions were captured low-budget on a four-track tape deck by Dan Hewitt, sound engineer, long-time collector and student of the New York music scene, and founder of State Capital Records, the record’s original label. Hewitt even recalls that one song, “Firenze,” was recorded to a flip phone in Montreal by Zarriello, and then eventually made it into the final release. A few songs, including “Insane,” were written in a matter of hours during the sessions themselves. Hewitt then mixed the record in his home studio in Jackson Heights, and it became the fourth record to emerge from State Capital, and the fourth from the band.

Two things characterize the moodiness of this record: each song’s emotional urgency, which borders on an almost pleading sensibility, like the opening “Just Didn’t Need to Know,” and the feeling that these songs somehow capture what it means to live and love in New York City. Many of these songs explore relationships, heartbreak, suspicion, even raw anger, painting a picture of New York as a place where it’s impossible to be happy.

Throughout, there’s a collaborative DIY feeling. Schornikow’s classically trained piano anchors it all, and Zarriello’s post-punk romantic guitar and vocals (influenced by bands like Spacemen 3 and Television) adds the raw heat, then all shaped by Hewitt’s guiding influence. A DNA test on this music would show strong evidence of a rootsy post-punk influence, the clue being Zarriello’s compelling cover of “Cheree,” from the groundbreaking synth-punk band Suicide. Everyone was working fast on “In the Morning,” as if the band sensed their perfect moment would pass too soon and the clarity would fade. Hewitt the audiophile set aside his perfectionism to insightfully record and mix this record as a pure lo-fi DIY statement.

Now completely remastered for vinyl by Alex Saltz at APS Mastering, NYC, this new vinyl release includes six bonus tracks, all envisioned at the time of the original recording but eventually shelved. Two of the bonus highlights include “Magazine Lover,” which until now has only been available as a digital download single, and an alternate version of “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars,” which was released on the band’s luminous “More” (Silence Breaks, 2011) a few years later.

Architecture in Helsinki: NOW + 4EVA

NOW + 4EVA

Critics have often been confused, even mildly annoyed, by synthpop, or what might be better described as “indietronica,” especially in this brave new music century filled with genre-bending and technological mashings. If there’s “indie” in the genre label there has to be a message, even if we’re talking about music for raves made by those who simply love wires and drum machines. Popper fans, however, who still just want to dance, put a greater value on… dancing, “plur” (peace, love, unity, respect) dancing! I suppose one can dance to heavy social issues, lyrically speaking, in a club or a rave, if the beat is right, but just how important is message to dance fans?

Architecture in Helsinki (AiH), often called a “collective” of Australian musicians, employs retro and modern techniques in what they create (analog synths, cellos and violas, even a glockenspiel back in the day, if you believe the liner notes), as well as traditional guitars and drums and vocals. The number of stories about how this band came together, how they stay together (or not), how they named themselves, and how they work and make their songs in their studios in each hemisphere have inspired some to anoint them with titles and career potential that the band probably couldn’t live up to when they formed in the early 2000s. The band, then as now, seems to just want to make dance music.

AiH blew into the world in 2003 with a record (“Fingers Crossed,” Trifekta Records) that for many hinted at a vast new landscape of possible indie destinations. Any confusion was made more discussable among critics because of the record’s energy and eccentric dance appeal, coupled with the longing of some critics. The world thought it was looking at, perhaps, an Australian Animal Collective. But the signs were all there from the beginning.At the heart of this band is a genuine love and affinity for an organic dance habitat. And this is where the conflicts remain for some. “Fingers Crossed” should have been a harbinger for the most recent two AiH records, “Moment Bends” (Modular Recordings, 2011) and “NOW + 4EVA” (Casual Workout, 2014). AiH’s records seem to pair up (excluding their numerous extended plays and remixes, further clues that we’re looking at a club dance band through and through), with “In Case We Die” (Tailem Bend, 2005) and “Places Like This” (Tailem Bend, 2007), both records skewing more experimental than the most recent offerings. But in the end, this band still wants to dance.

There’s no question that the production on “NOW + 4EVA” is super slick. Recorded in Melbourne, Australia, and produced by Francois Tetaz (a brilliant hand at everything from soundtracks to electropop) and AiH, all 11 tracks bounce from one to another with nostalgic, carefree, and relentless dance beats. Breathless vocals shimmer across every surface. No individual song stands out as a leader on this record because, together, they’re all such a period piece. (Well, maybe the song “April,” a sweet, ambiguous love song that does mention an apocalypse, which proves that a love song by a dance band can gently skim its way through a little darkness and still stay sweet.) The overall feeling is one of days gone by, from a less stressed out time, before the world shrank and issues filled every corner of a life and record collection. Maybe such a time never existed, but AiH gives you the feeling that there must have been one, and we kinda need it to come back. Maybe there’s still such a vibe somewhere in Australia.

So, it’s time we face it: Architecture in Helsinki is a thrashy little dance band, and they will stay that way until they break up. Critics tried to write what they wanted them to become, but they’ve just become more of what they they always were at their core. If you can’t or won’t dance, give this band a miss. Otherwise, set your expectations to spontaneous hooky, and let their overflowing, happy vibe dance you back from the edge of our exhausting, troubled, and sleep-deprived modern abyss.