Here’s hoping that most casual listeners do the necessary due diligence to find out what Shapes and Sizes’ Candle to Your Eyes has to offer. Lord knows that I dismissed it as arty bullshit on my first listen, but there’s a reason most critics go back to an album a few times before they come to a firm conclusion, and Candle to Your Eyes makes a good argument for repeated, attentive listens. It’s not my intention to make the latest from Shapes and Sizes sound like a collection of inscrutable, pretentious, half-formed ideas. There are some hooks, loosely tethered as they are to long, airy passages of bass-heavy noodling and pseudo-tribal drum work, but they’re hooks nonetheless. Enough listens and you’ll start to hear them.
Then there’s that initially off-putting stuff. Shapes and Sizes occasionally putter around with seemingly little purpose, as on opener “Tell Your Mum,” but that’s part of their brand. The guitars are inconsistent and sputtering, and both vocalists (Caila Thompson-Hannant and Rory Seidel) allow themselves a lot of room to roam before reaching a chorus. The freewheeling vocalizing and instrumentation make Talk Talk and Yeasayer’s All Hour Cymbals decent points of reference, but that description only gets you part of the way there. “Sing Them Songs” pulls off a tricky little transformation, moving from paranoid, reverb-heavy, art rock to outright danceable choruses and back again. Follower, “You Don’t Have to Drink From Here” takes a similar course, this time relying on Thompson-Hannant’s unpredictable and versatile caterwauling to carry the dynamic shifts.
But if there’s a real star of this show, it’s the rhythm section. Nathan Gage and John Crelin (bassist and drummer, respectively) are, by and large, left to make the most sense out of some fairly tangential material, and they keep the music structured without losing a much-needed sense of improvisatory abandon. It can’t be easy to operate as the grounding force in a band that demands some disorderliness from its members, and Gage and Crelin manage those ostensibly contradictory tasks with aplomb.
Obviously, Thompson-Hannant and Seidel still deserve a great deal of credit. Vocally, Seidel is no real match for Thompson-Hannant, but the songs he leads are imbued with a sharp ear for unusual melodies. “I Need an Outlet” in particular sets a number of trippy rhythms against each other, yet they interact seamlessly thanks to Seidel’s guidance. Nonetheless, Hannant-Thompson songs tend to stand out the most. The minimal arrangement of “Too Late For Dancing” would seem to disqualify it as a contender for a standout track, yet Hannant-Thompson’s cool and confident delivery turns that minimalism into something alluring, even sultry. Candle to Your Eyes is certainly not mood music, but that label occasionally applies, as do many others. Shapes and Sizes traverse a thorny and adventurous path, and they’re bound to hit on something you enjoy, even if it’s merely a stopgap.