I started playing SHADED’s “Dream Girl” at full volume in an isolated study space tucked away in my departmental building one night, just to hear it, and – after quickly hitting pause and turning down the volume upon the initial eardrum quake – thought ‘man, I really like this’. Then I thought that the vocals needed better equalisation, which for the average listener just means that despite being pretty loud you might feel like you’re straining to hear the voice over the music. Thankfully, this doesn’t persist through the whole track, and is a non-starter in the rest of the songs.
And when you can hear the vocals, you pick out something not often seen in this soft-punk-pop since Avril skated away: the singer really cares about vocal quality and technique, and isn’t afraid to show off in ways your average neon pink emo ‘00s tween would think were just not cool compared to the generic shout-singing that made us all think we could start a band. I had to hit pause again at the first “but you’re not the one that I need girl”, as clichéd as the lyric is, to just appreciate this. Because if 2018 can’t bring about a real embracing of musical skill no matter the fragile semantics of genre, what can?
The vocal excellence shatters a bit when it veers into common practice (with a bit of a country tone? Though you can’t go wrong with mid-transition Taylor Swift as inspiration) and then into repetition. We can’t condemn songs for repeating lyrics in the appropriate places, but vocal variety is something you have to afford if you don’t want me to feel like only one take was good enough and you Ctrl+P’d it for every chorus. Saying this, the bridge smashes vocal complexity, so the three lines of slipping into boring territory can be ploughed through.
“Dream Girl”? I’d listen to that at the gym, on a walk, studying. It’s good, and it works, and you can forgive it those minor grievances because it’s an unguilty pleasure.
The title track (“A Familiar Love”) suffers a bit more: a long intro shortly followed by an early bridge is confusing, and the music definitely rules in this particular song – which would be fine if not for the fact that it is, for the most part, barely distinguishable from the previous song (“Dream Girl”). Back-to-back, this creates a postmodern listening experience where there’s a slight mood shift but it feels like an extension of the same song, or a deliberate interval between tracks. It doesn’t get to two minutes before it feels like the song should have ended, and it might not be enticing enough to keep people listening past this point when it plays on shuffle, which is a little bit tragic because after this is when the variety and technical ability (shout out to the guitarist) finally shifts into fifth gear. It’s worth listening to, because it’s not missing anything it needs, though it feels a bit wobbly, so I wouldn’t isolate it as individually powerful. And why is the fade out so long?
Contrastingly, the final track “You” is a firecracker of a song that sounds like it was written for a film soundtrack. Possibly for the ending credits, but also potentially during some dramatic rom-com airport chase scene. Now, again, let’s not overly-concern ourselves with the words, instead focusing our attentions on the nice scaling of the musical scale done for some of these notes. I don’t think you need more of me saying that it’s musically good, but you need to know that the progression is very well done – songwriting is more than just music, and they’ve mastered the structure here, too.
As a short slide away from compliments, I have to tell you that my first impression of “Tell Me” is that it, without lyrics, is perfect as an alternative music track for “Party in the USA” until 35 seconds, and then for Miley’s actual pop-punk dabble of “7 Things” after that and, seriously, why make me think about Hannah Montana releasing an emo EP? But you know what, I’ll go back and restart it once I’ve cleansed that from my mind.
Hey, this is a really good song. It doesn’t hit stride till around the minute mark, but if you listen to the voice as well then it segues from Miley into something that I can’t think of a suitable comparison for. Let’s call it SHADED.Their sound is well-defined in this track, and I will now, for you, define that sound as a wonderful complement between the singer’s vocal abilities – constantly at a soft shout and having the occasional quarrel with the confines of range, to his advantage – and the tuneful bashing by crowbars of every instrument they could find in his garage that constitutes the music. That guitarist also comes out to shine again, so the next song best have a solo in it à la Queen. Ironically, “tell me I’m fine for the hundredth time” is also the thing I say most often in relationships.
That’s a lie, I just can’t date. Which gives me the time to have enough of a musical variety stored in my noggin to know that the intro and opening chords of “Dead Feelings” were both sampled, I just can’t remember what songs from. The whole song, following suit, feels like the bastard child of songs from different branches of the genre of rock. It’s like an All-American Rejects angry ‘I got just dumped’ song and a Say Anything sad ‘I just got dumped’ song were shoved into a blender and the result was discarded on the countertop – which, in genuine retrospect, is a process that would make me feel angry, sad, and dumped, so I guess that works.
Realistically, the EP is a pretty basic dive from the springboard of pop-punk, and its cheesy uninspired lyrics aren’t much to get excited about, but even from half a song you can tell that SHADED has talent. It’s like no band has really had the courage to tiptoe towards the pool since about 2011, and these guys have not only tried, they’ve definitely succeeded. It was simple, but they didn’t splash everyone, and after years of nothing I’m personally into this approach to a revival. So they’re not hitting Blink or Paramore’s records, but with execution marks like that, a bit more experience will see them onto the scoreboard. They’re musically gifted instrumentally and vocally, and not so punk that they’re going to scare away your little sister; I really hope for more music from SHADED. And this EP? Send it to the ex you’re pissed off at.
Text by Hannah Mickleburgh