erasing clouds

Universal Love: The Music of The Impossible Shapes and Chris Barth

reviewed by Dave heaton

Starry-eyed dreamers with a taste for rock history, The Impossible Shapes project a love for psychedelic-tinged rock and the world of mystery that accompanies it, while conveying an equally 60s-ish love for the world around us and the people who accompany it.

That mix of Syd Barrett and Bob Ross isn't as contradictory as it seems. As heard on their second album, Laughter Fills Our Hollow Dome, The Impossible Shapes are infatuated with the world, both what we see and what we don't, what is tangible and what is not. That infatuation is what has lead singer Chris Barth singing "I see the whole world's dreams as they're beamed through the air" and "Try to love everything that is not dead" during the same song, "Jesus and Squares." Yet despite their head-in-the-clouds of the universe perspective, they also acknowledge the darker side of life--that same song refers to "wild, hungry men…riding on through the cold, endless trails of the new beyond." Just because the universe is filled with beauty and wonder doesn't mean it isn't a harsh, unfair place.

The Impossible Shapes lyrically capture both while musically doing the same, by creating pretty melodies and lush backdrops but also dipping through darker tones and noisier settings. With piano, keyboards, organs, bass, guitar drums, trumpet, accordion, melodica, chimes, saxophone, drums and "echoing ghost sounds" listed as instrumentation for the album, it's no wonder that the group seems reminiscent at times of some of those Elephant 6 groups (Olvia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel) where the musicians are constantly switching instruments and throwing new crazy sounds in the mix. Like those groups, The Impossible Shapes also draw much of their sound for the music of the 1960s, yet like those bands they don't sound like imitators at all. They've created their own musical universe, one filled with angels and stars and people filling lost, confused and scared.

"Look for an Opening," one song is titled; that seems like a conceptual theme as well. So do "Sounds to Charge the Wind," "Go Somewhere Beautiful" and "Come This Way." Laughter Fills Our Hollow Dome is all about finding a path to new, interesting places.

That same approach is taken on a great 7" that the Impossible Shapes released for before the album's release, consisting of one album track and 5 other songs, all sparser but in the same mood. Similar but slightly softer is Chris Barth's solo debut, Loving Off the Land. It opens with a pretty folk ditty called "Peace Is Falling," a sign that the sentiment hasn't changed even if the style has, slightly. "A story in two parts," this is a concept album about love which tells its story a little circuitously but nonetheless conveys the notion of searching for love, looking for a place of comfort in an ever-shifting land. The first part is more about the search, the second part more about making it work, yet both have a similar feel, much like the Impossible Shapes but with less immediacy, more of a meditative state. The songs are sparser but still filled with instrumentation (Barth plays 8 instruments, fellow Shapes member Aaron Deer plays 6 and the other members show up here and there with 1 or 2 each). A little more same-y than Laughter… but still emotionally fulfilling, an intimate exploration of the journey for emotional satisfaction. There's genuine longing behind every word and every note, sentiment that really flows through your speakers.

{Recordhead/Mr. Whiggs}

Issue 10, July 2002 | next article

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