The three young members of Half Shell met in college. Now, despite living in separate corners of the northeast, they’ve managed to stay connected through rehearsals, laying down new songs frequently. The band’s debut album Truly Tragic explores themes of existential crisis, internal struggle and societal critique. Though the subject matter may be dark, the word-play and dry humor something of an acquired taste, this group’s whimsical antics make for a playful release.
After listening to just a few songs, I was blown away. As the band professes, their sound is hard to pin down – they combine a wide range of influences with fierce time signatures and unconventional key changes. Part progressive, part alternative electronic, part… everything else? – maybe you’ll come away thinking this band has something truly unique and fresh. The trio consists of Nicole Hogan on vocals, Jesse Guterman on drums and keys and Caitlin Kullberg on bass and guitar. The album was recorded at Juniper Studios by engineer and producer Chads Maggs in Lowell, Massachusetts.
The opening “Skyward” professes – “I feel like there’s something’s missing / I’ve been wishing / I’ve been wishing for the end of the world” – rather bleak, yes, but the music has a lightness to it that makes the words seem not so dark. Guterman’s piano has a sophisticated quality to it and his drums are tense, Kulberg is off into her own melodious world of bass playing and Hogan’s voice has a unique range, not to mention the distinctive way she spaces her words apart. “Maybe Ghosts” gets heavier on the synth, harkening an old school ‘80s new wave sound and Kulberg is all over the place on the bass, mastering those four strings. During the solo parts of the songs, Guterman’s synth takes center stage, fulfilling the need of synth lovers everywhere.
I wasn’t ready for what “Bystander” brought forth – a highly explosive, progressive metal rock invasion of sound, with crazy, twisted time signatures and phenomenal vocals by Hogan – don’t miss this one! “Morton’s Fork” begins on the opposite end, with a quieter style on the piano, timid vocals and then a back melody of the synth – and yes, plenty of great quirky time signatures. The hallmark to this tune was the solo break – fantastic! At this point, I can only suggest that maybe Rush, Yes, King Crimson or Dream Theater influenced this trio, or a recent progressive band not mentioned here. “Constant Crisis” features a more hushed and mellow sound, with Hogan singing very direct and personal words – “do I have the strength to persevere?” “If I get too jaded / will I just disappear?”
“Barreling into an Unsafe and Unstable Future Reality” definitely has the hallmarks of a great progressive rock song from start to finish and the lyrics suggest a future that doesn’t sound too promising. Guterman’s drums and snyth on “Shadowbox” just goes nuts, Kullberg’s guitar gets mean and heavy on the chorus and the muffled effect on Hogan’s vocals, not to mention the bleakness of her words, make this tune the band’s darkest moment. “Never Got Too Far” switches gear and gets deeper into an electronic sound starting out. Overall, I thought in some ways this song had a cleaner, more stripped-down sound.
“How to Measure Happiness” ends the band’s debut with happy sounding keys, plenty of time signature twists and key changes and lyrics that ask – how does one find happiness? Why is everyone running around so distracted, forgetting where they are, where they went? In my honest opinion, Half Shell gives us the full meal on their first release – Truly Tragic is truly phenomenal. Whether or not you’re into the progressive rock style that is sometimes hard to follow, or hard to wrap your mind around with all its twists and turns, I think you’ll find this northeast band remarkably talented and wonderfully gifted.
We are dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We critique a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook