In popular music, there’s a fine line between indulging nostalgia and getting caught up in trying to sound like somebody else. It’s one thing to take lessons from your influences — as long as you focus just as much on your music as you do that of your predecessors. That line is one that L.A. rock quartet The Shelters navigate with pride, plumbing the depths of the best sounds from classic rock and blending them with their own unique sound.
There’s something quintessentially American — and quintessentially classic L.A. — about The Shelters upon both first glance and first listen. Maybe that comes from their murky origin story — three of the four members were previously in a band together and eventually came together to form The Shelters, steadily gaining popularity by playing local clubs. Maybe it’s the fact that vocalist-guitarists Josh Jove and Chase Simpson seem to be the perfect juxtaposition of some of American rock’s most iconic looks and sound: Jove could be a blend between Johnny Cash and James Dean (right down to the neo-greaser hair) while Simpson is somewhere between Steve Perry and the skate punker next door. Their vocals interplay like a dream mashup of Ray Davies and Tom Petty (yeah, Ray Davies isn’t American – but still), giving them a sense of being quintessentially American rockers (without veering into Americana territory) in a variety of iterations.
Whatever the image, the fact that The Shelters seemingly came from out of nowhere and got out of nowhere fast (their first EP, released in October 2015, got them enough attention to release a full-length album as well as snag some sweet opening gigs for such acts as The Struts, The Wild Feathers, and Gary Clark Jr.) is just a testament to their talent. Some of that talent caught the eye of Tom Petty, who gave the band the keys to his own home studio (and agreed to co-produce their new album) after just a few listens. Their debut eponymous album, released June 10, is a blend of indie rock with tinges of good old-fashioned American rock n’ roll and enough energy to keep it current.
Listen: “Rebel Heart” – The Shelters
Kicking off with the catchy “Rebel Heart,” it’s somewhat easy to track some sonic and thematic similarities between The Shelters and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. However, it’s painfully clear by the time we hit the opening that The Shelters are something different. The song’s energy is unapologetically upbeat, much more than most rock (and even some pop) songs today. As the song states that “there’s more than meets the eye” with the woman of interest, perhaps that extension can be drawn further — “Rebel Heart”’s infectious energy and rock n’ roll sensibility make it a perfect hit and sets it up perfectly to introduce the rest of the album.
She’s got a rebel heart
One day she’s gonna fall
Watch: “Rebel Heart” – The Shelters
The next two songs (“Birdwatching” and “Liar”) both made appearances on The Shelters’ first EP and are natural progressions from “Rebel Heart.” “Birdwatching” captures The Shelters as themselves free from comparisons to their influences, chronicling a classic what-you’re-looking-for-has-been-here-the-whole-time scenario amid plenty of percussion. “Liar” picks up with an oh-so-Deep-Purple-y riff and plenty of feedback before launching into a haze of drums, guitar, and just heavy enough to put a lover on blast. Simpson traces a dysfunctional relationship, arriving at the conclusion that the loss of identity isn’t worth keeping it alive — lyrics like “I’m becoming just like you/I can’t trust the things I do” and “I’ve deceived you too, I guess/We should put this love to rest” suggest that there’s a well-restrained venom at bay, which releases itself fully in the pure rock n’ roll chorus:
Okay, I’m a liar
Tell me what to do
Hey, I’m a liar
Yeah, and you’re one too
The Shelters have figured out that sometimes the best words are simple, and sometimes the best medicine is calling things exactly as they are. With plenty of guitar solos.
Listen: “Liar” – The Shelters
Following “Liar” comes a cover of The Kinks’ “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl,” which is perhaps where the comparisons to rock n’ roll predecessors are best-placed. Though its similarities to the original are almost uncanny at times, The Shelters still manage to put their own subtle twist on the song by slowing it down ever so slightly and taking out the electric guitar at the end. “Surely Burn,” which follows the cover, speeds things up again and sets the stage for the delightfully Doors-y “The Ghost Is Gone.” Pillot’s deep bass line, coupled with Jove’s measured vocals and Harris’ hi-hat, come together to create the song’s bluesy bittersweet atmosphere. Given the heavy bass, Jove’s Morrison-esque tone, and the dreamy prophetic quality of the lyrics, it’s not hard to believe that “The Ghost Is Gone” could have been ripped right out of a Doors set — until the guitar solo. There, once again, we find The Shelters channeling their rock predecessors only to flip our expectations once again.
Looking over your progress
There’s nothing left to hide
We don’t quite understand this
In you we hope to confide
Listen: “The Ghost Is Gone” – The Shelters
The Shelters do likewise for the remainder of the album, especially in “Gold” (think Tom Petty but more orchestral and on the way to join Don Henley somewhere), “Fortune Teller,” and “Born to Fly” (no, not “Born To Run,” but with a similar sense of freedom). “Never Look Behind Ya” finds the speaker “walkin’ down these streets of gold” amid spider-quick guitar riffs, propelling the song (and perhaps, reminding the band to keep moving) forward as Jove cries out the title line at a mile-per-minute pace.
“Dandelion Ridge” finds the band somewhere between the more psychedelic highlights of Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Blue Jay Way,” and something Father John Misty might cook up for fun on his day off. It’s like every 60’s band’s navigation of psychedelic rock blended with recent experiments of folk crossover acts, and the result is a summery, dreamlike tune perfect for drinking an Arnold Palmer in a field to.
The album closes out with “Down” and an “Untitled” hidden track. And here, perhaps, is where some of the strongest Petty influence can be seen. The story of the “country girl” who “won’t be here for long” in “Down” could be Mary Jane from “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (or any woman from a number of rock songs, since that theme is so prevalent in this genre). However, this woman is no fool — she is the only one governing her decisions, choosing not to “go down to the same old place she’s been.” Much like the realization the speaker reached in “Rebel Heart” way back at the beginning of the album, the speaker has once again come to the conclusion that this woman makes her own iron-willed decisions, whether that be to her benefit or detriment. Strong guitar mirrors the woman mentioned. The album’s last track is wordless – the sound of waves with a mix between classic guitar and what could be muted alien sounds or carnival music lasts for fifty-nine seconds. It could be an outtake from Smiley Smile – or (and here’s a revolutionary thought) an outtake simply from The Shelters themselves, using sonic techniques from past rockers to create something entirely their own and plant a flag for themselves as both rockers and California rockers.
Throughout their first album, it may seem impossible not to compare The Shelters to classic rock bands. But similar to their English counterparts The Struts, The Shelters aren’t recycling the music of yesteryear — they are bringing the energy (or chill vibes, if you will) of their predecessors and of their homeland (whether you see that as something intrinsically L.A. or something falling more into a broader American quality) back and channeling it into what they produce. Point being, we can compare The Shelters to whomever we’d like and that wouldn’t change the fact that what they produce is fresh and sounds pretty damn excellent.
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:: The Shelters Live Dates ::
June 17 – Firefly Music Festival, Dover, DE
June 19 – The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
June 20 – The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
June 22 – Fox Theare, Oakland, CA