Foot Shooter began as a 2008 solo project by Shane Ellis (vocals/acoustic guitar/piano) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After relocating to Memphis Tennessee, Foot Shooter added guitarist Chris Jensen and three members of the Loomis family (Seth, Zach and Jesse) on electric guitars, mandolins, horns and drums. They played shows and festivals throughout Memphis and released two albums.
Their third album Etiquette finds songwriter Ellis exploring some of his recent life changes including marriage and parenthood, balancing work and living, and “the appreciation of (life’s) smallest moments.” Much of this album was purposely recorded in bedrooms, as the sounds of Ellis’s home life enhance the songs written about those very experiences. Some material was also recorded at Churchill Studios, and a string session by Polish artist Itaya was added remotely from Wiktorow Studio in Warsaw, Poland.
Instrumentally, Foot Shooter has moved away from their full-band approach for a more intimate feel. Recordings began with acoustic guitar and built from there. They describe the sound of the record as having “elements of folk, electronic synths and dreamy indie rock.” Band influences include early Bon Iver, Frightened Rabbit and The National (the last being the clearest to me).
My overall reaction to this album is gratitude that another songwriter has captured the joys and tensions of starting a new family, especially as an independent musician. For artists who are not exactly “famous” but still must create, the push-pull between music and parental responsibilities is even greater than for “stars” since indie players are often perceived to be hobbyists. Judgmental folk believe the choice between music and family should be easy (family always wins), but for the musician it’s a bittersweet struggle to honor all the facets of their being with equal fervor. Add to this the fact that, for many younger listeners, “new family” songs are something they won’t relate to for many years.
My secondary reaction is to the sound of this album. Ellis is a fine singer and songwriter, and his idea to begin his songs intimately and ornament from there has paid off nicely. The album sounds full without ever feeling bloated; in fact, there’s never a time when I didn’t feel I was listening in a wide, open space where all players could be heard. Certainly the mastering by Jeremy Chua of Chadstone, Australia has helped in this regard.
“Statepark” is a short introductory song with tentative acoustic guitar, lonely horn and layered vocals with a bit of a Hozier vibe, which then bursts into a more aggressive tempo while the horns continue to wail. It effectively “sets the table” for the album’s instrumental sound. “Heartsick” makes a lateral move into more traditional folk-rock territory with the horns even more prominent. Dramatic, yearning vocals sing: “In my past-life shoes / I plan to escape from the city… for my heart is sick in Los Angeles / Heartsick!” I always love a shoutout to my hometown!
“Weakpoints” is another short, stark acoustic tune with emphasis on the vocals and background synth washes. The lyrics are a moving meditation on the tentative nature of relationships: “After the rising / while we lay listening / I’m still lying in the need of you… I’ve got weak points, you’ll find / if not the first time, then the next one.”
“Fairrides” is an amiable rock shuffle that might possibly reference back to Statepark with those creaky carnival thrill rides (“the temporary coaster”) as an analogy for the dangers of life. “Holding on to the lap bar / This thing could kill someone / I’m never at these fair rides / yet here I am screaming… playing that song we both hate / we sing along as they shut the gate!” This song also features a quiet coda that nicely channels the Fleet Foxes. Bass and drums interact nicely for “Tangle,” a mellow-groove song bathed in synths and a gorgeous sting section, which induces an almost hypnotic state in the listener. Ellis contributes more pitch-perfect harmony vocals for one of the best songs here.
“Runout” Introduces ukulele in a touching song about raising a new family: “What if they turn out like me? / if they do I can’t help but feel sorry / Late at night / when you can’t sleep / a small voice tells us which books she’s gonna read.” As a father of two, this song stabs me right in the heart. Drums, bass and electric guitars join in just when you think it’s over. “Roadbliss” seems to begin with distant voice samples of the aforementioned children, leading into a mellow, spacey mediation with an easy beat and floating backgrounds of disembodied chords. “I should be home with the ones I belong with,” Ellis sings (guilt for being on the road instead of playing with the kids?) Extremely cool “dive bomber guitar” ending.
“Torpidity” creates an exquisite tension between the colors of the slightly sour bass and guitar with distant, nicely realized vocals as always. “Capillaries” is a beautiful, pastoral tune that again so closely aligns with one of my favorite groups, the Fleet Foxes, that I’d assume it was the Fleets on the radio. Gorgeous acoustic, gentle piano and more excellent string work by Poland’s Itaya throughout. The final track “Etiquette” starts with a thick wall of slow harmonies before kicking into high gear with nicely grungy guitars and a full-band finale, before hard-cutting to an apparent acoustic demo, bringing us full circle.
This is an album that interested me as a musician, entertained me as a listener and touched me as a person. It makes me wish we could all have a string section in Poland to back us up, but I doubt most artists could pull all these elements together as well as Foot Shooter has.
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