Shapes and Sizes
Union Hall, Brooklyn, May 13, 2007
By Sufjan Stevens
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007


Photo by Murat Eyuboglu
Union Hall’s interior design mixes its metaphors between home library and bocce ball club on one floor, parlor room and taxidermy museum in the basement. It is a haunted house. Dark wood paneling, Tudor portraits, Victorian lamps canvass the walls with the ominous formality of a funeral home. But then there is the candlestick, the sitting room, the loveseat. It’s like the board game Clue, only without all the violence. Enter Shapes and Sizes, stage left. With the din of a few guitars, a drum kit, an electronic organ, and voices that shriek and bark with the music of whales, they bring as much hostility as they can muster to an otherwise sedate, academic venue. This is an afternoon show, mind you, where listeners bring their children in strollers, sip mint juleps, and nod their heads at each other. We’re all friends. We’re doing the crossword puzzle. It’s Sunday afternoon. What I like most about Shape and Sizes is their disregard for politeness: no, they are not going to turn down their amps for the sake of a little afternoon sunshine. The songs they’ve created for their latest album are gargantuan pop songs deconstructed with a succession of ax hits, bombastic drum fills, reckless guitar. It’s gorgeous, vigorous noise. They hardly let the songs take flight before shooting them down with the cunning of a duck hunter. But this is where things get interesting. The jumping and barking of hound dogs, the breathless sprint to the mallard, slumped and bloodied in a sanctuary of water, the howling reeds, the ghost of the wind. Well, my metaphor gets the best of me here. In the song itself, it’s the clawing vocal antics, the swooning melodies, the drunk guitar, the drum kit thrown down the stairwell. These pageant tricks intercept every song, sometimes one, two, three times. The song is not the song. The song is the deliberate mangling, defacing, decomposing of the song, the consequential facelift of the song, the piecemeal song, the resurrection of the song, Frankenstein’s monster. It makes me wonder: what is a song without melody, without chords, without jurisdictions? But the car wreck of the song is, in fact, the song itself, the collapsible chord progression, the confrontation of interposing things, the cut-up crossword puzzle of music. They engage in this mess without a hint of angst or agony. It’s all played with laughing and stomping and clapping and singing, the unbridled determination of youth, the generous noise of the human heart. Everything else is just decoration. The song is no longer relevant anyway. But this is no longer the band’s selling point. Or any band’s selling point. It’s more satisfying, instead, to hear a song take itself beyond the recognition of itself, the black hole, the vacuum of space, where all sound eats itself. This is where we find rest and recognition: we begin to know each other and ourselves with the gratitude of mother and child, in the heart of the noise of the song, the quiet noise of compassion humming itself to sleep.

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