To pin an exact genre or influence to this up-and-coming Utah band’s sound is as daunting of a challenge as fulfilling the command in its name.
Shrink the Giant, based out of Kamas, drops its sophomore effort, “Faceless,” this month. The album’s intricate instrumentals hint at both strong artistic growth and the group’s greatest hurdle: crafting lyrics to complement such stunning beats.
It’s clear from track one, “Southwalk,” that rather than shrinking to normal proportions, the giant’s grown since 2012’s self-titled debut. Larger six-string riffs, a more colossal chorus and mammoth background crooning make “Southwalk” sound momentous despite that it clocks in at just more than two minutes. The dirty power chords in particular sound like Liz Phair at her career’s midpoint — after the gritty “Exile in Guyville” but before the women’s basketball commercials.
An effective intro to “Faceless,” the album’s snippets of familiar faces in alternative rock don’t cease there.
Song two, “Question Mark,” and its driving keys channel Phoenix and The Postal Service. Jack White, Cage the Elephant and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals could cover “Lovely Lucy,” the third song, at a concert, and its catchy hook and staunch bass line would fit perfect with their hits.
If anything, tracks like “Southwalk,” “Lovely Lucy” and “Sly” show Shrink the Giant has matured in an odd way: by having more fun.
The band’s first album featured a hodgepodge of themes and motifs, but one aspect overshadowed everything else — the life lessons. “Don’t get addicted to gas station vices,” “Smile, you look better that way,” and “Be yourself, even if no one likes you,” all, more or less, crept into lead singer Stefania Barr’s lyrics over the course of Shrink the Giant’s debut.
It’s not to say these messages failed to appeal to listeners, but by impacting people with instrumentals rather than somewhat preachy orders, Shrink the Giant produces a more memorable, grown-up work with “Faceless.”
And the instrumentals are worth numerous listens.
“Sly,” track four, includes jingles, organic noises and even a brass solo, pushing the mostly serious song into the realm of novelty. “Sly’s” numerous facets all fade out at certain points and add multiple dimensions.
In great cohesion, however, they return for the closing refrain. The production throughout “Faceless” morphs simple ideas into memorable songs.
“Riptide’s” drum licks add edginess, “Super Eights’” spaced-out silences contribute calmness, and “First World’s” slow strings incite fluidness. An ambitious set of instruments creates the album’s best moments.
The lyrics struggle to keep up at times.
With “Faceless,” Shrink the Giant has progressed with note-worthy backdrops — but not necessarily with words. As mentioned, simple lyrics contribute to fun tracks like “Southwalk” and “Lovely Lucy.” Toward the album’s end, though, Shrink the Giant takes a darker approach on the title track, but the repetition sounds more like a filler than a tragic story.
When stanzas fail to keep on par with music, its effect is strange. Think of if Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ lyrics to “Janglin” played over the instrumental to Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be:” Yes, limits would exist there.
But if Shrink the Giant’s improvement from album one to two indicate anything, these limits shouldn’t exist much longer. “Faceless” includes the group’s strongest work to date and provides hope for fans of Utah’s music scene.
Final Rating: Three and a Half Out of Five Suns