2018Cut Worms w/ Shy Boys
JulyDoors 8:30, Show 9:30 - $10adv / $12
A Cut Worms song may impress an innocent summer stroll across fields of tall grass and lavender — but there’s undoubtedly a severed ear out in there in the grass. Some unseen dark forces are always lurking at the edges of songs’ sunbursts. Bright, beautiful lap steel or a cheery harmonica accompaniment often belie an impending doom or crestfallen narrator.
Clarke didn’t necessarily seek out a life as fulltime musician. Before releasing music under the moniker of Cut Worms, Clarke went to school for illustration with the idea of a sensible career in graphic design, then took on a string of handy- man type odd jobs. Still, songwriting – that semi-secret practice Clarke had been cultivating since the age of 12 – kept gnawing at him. It was the only sort of work that didn’t feel like work. Plus, if there’s ever a time to do something as unreliable, unrealistic, and imprudent as throwing yourself wholly into music, might as well be done when you’re in your twenties.
A number of songs that make up his LP, Hollow Ground, bloomed from his time in Chicago during period of driven creativity. In particular, “Like Going Down Sideways” and “Don’t Want To Say Good-Bye” find new life on Hollow Ground, polished from their initial appearances on Cut Worms’ 2017 introductory Alien Sunset EP. Both still fizzle with a lo-fi 60s sound, but cleaned up, they gleam.
The remainder of Hollow Ground was written in Clarke’s current home in Brooklyn, where he still home-demos songs. The record was recorded partially in Los Angeles at the home studio of Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, and partially in New York with Jason Finkel at Gary’s Electric. Clarke, who plays keyboards, bass, and lap steel in addition to his main guitar, handled most of the instrumentation across the set. He explains he’s always strove toward a specific musical aesthetic, and Hollow Ground marks the closest he’s gotten to hitting it thus far.
Hollow Ground is imbued with a sharp, self-aware lyricism; as strong as the music is here, Clarke shows an affinity for evocative storytelling, striking the balance between cerebral and simplicity. Look no further than the chiming, rollicking standout “Cash For Gold.” For a song with so much sock hop energy, it’s actually about being trapped in one’s introvert head — stuck on the couch or against the wall at the edges of the dance floor.
Sometimes, on Hollow Ground, we find characters impossibly lustful, sometimes brooding, while in other parts they fumble along, hopeful and painfully self-aware. If the music can be said to have any sort of through-line, it revolves around Clarke’s obvious delight in singing his heart out through varying degrees of agony. His songwriting both evokes and explores the raw realm of youth, its weightlessness and possibilities, but channels it through the lens of someone more restrained, who’s been through it all before. Someone who’s old enough to know better but still gets drawn back in to the romanticism of teenage feelings – and knows how to take the listener along, too.
Consider Shy Boys - DIY local champions of Kansas City, MO, who if you add it all up, are something sacred. Comprised of brothers Collin and Kyle Rausch and best friends Konnor Ervin, Kyle Little and Ross Brown, Shy Boys are the heartland’s answer to The Beach Boys had Alex Chilton been on guitar.
But if a harmony falls into a microphone in the middle of America does anyone really hear it? Some do. Take for instance Shy Boys’ 2014 self- titled debut on local Kansas City label, High Dive Records - I first came across this album while living in Los Angeles and catching wind of a band from my home town that I was told could “actually sing,” and after the first spin, through the muddy fidelity, man, could they actually sing.
On August 3, 2018, the world will see the release of their second record, Bell House, out on legendary and globally cherished record label Polyvinyl, bringing both their profile and music to the surface for the first time. The album’s title is taken from the band’s beloved headquarters - the old house on Bell Street in Kansas City where they lived together for the better part of 5 years.
“‘Lived’ is a loose term,” says lead songwriter Collin. “It was more like a bum den than anything else. There was a giant hole in the floor of the kitchen that had a piece of plywood over it. In the backyard, weeds got like 6 feet high in the summer. It was its own thriving biome. We lived in trash.”
Musically, Collin describes the songs on Bell House taking shape through “a group of guys trying to get through some sort of mutual identity crisis. The lifestyle became overwhelming and really seeped into the music.”
In the time since the release of ST, Collin saw himself falling in love and getting married, leaving the old house on Bell Street, and moving back into his mom’s house with his wife in a suburb of the city. It’s here where the songs of Bell House were born. Being back under the same roof he had grown up in where there was “still writing on the walls from childhood,” Rausch found himself reflective and looking out at his life as a whole.
Take closing track “Champion” for instance, a song Collin says is dedicated to his and Kyle’s mother. “It’s just a note saying that she took care of us when we were young, and now it’s time for us to be there and take care of her.”
The reflective spirit sprinkled throughout the album is also evident on lead single, “Take The Doggie,” a bouncy, guitar driven track centered around wanting to secretly rescue their neighbor’s dog from an abusive owner, or on album highlight “Evil Sin,” which tackles the memory of drummer/bassist Konnor Ervin getting robbed.
But through all of this, Rausch kept his passion in his band, if even for nothing more than to - in his own words - have an excuse to keep hanging out with his brother and best friends. “I have to keep Shy Boys alive to have a regular excuse to hang out with them,” says Collin. “To keep the band alive, I have to write songs. To be able to travel with my buddies, there has to be a new record.”
There is an old term that’s kicked around in country music called a “blood harmony” - in which two people in the same blood line, usually siblings, harmonize with one another in real time. Perhaps that is Shy Boys’ magic touch, putting them just a notch above all the other angels out there in the indie rock choir, and it makes sense, though no longer practicing evangelicals, Collin and Kyle grew up singing besides their parents in their church choir, so their keen sense of harmony is nothing new to them, but instead a life practice devoted to the voice as an instrument.
The result is Bell House, and the result is beautiful. There is something sensitive to the touch about this album, which is perhaps another way of saying that, well - Shy Boys are indeed Shy Boys. I envision the band as a solid unit, with each moving part as an equal. There is a heavy sense of family in everything they do both, literally and figuratively. Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 song “Highway Patrolman” always seems to come to mind;
“Yeah me and Franky out laughing and drinking, Nothing feels better than blood on blood.”