Shaven Primates is an Oxford, UK-based quintet that consists of Mark (vocals), Tom (guitar), Nick (bass), Neil (keys) and Jarod (drums). Child of Dirt is their debut album.
The songs here trace their origins to 2016, when Mark decided to return to making music after a 17-year break. His experiences and memories during that long hiatus form the basis for the album. Child of Dirt tells his own story, and it’s a dark tale, starting with childhood emotional trauma and abuse. As a teenager, he looks for a life restart, which he gets (due to a severe case of meningitis). He drops through a multi-year bender, and finally exits the other side, reconnecting with feelings and life, while continuing to search for answers. All of this is detailed across seven tracks and fifty minutes of music. It is heavy stuff!
This story, and the lyrics that tell it, are set against layered, well-arranged, often operatic tracks. Throughout, the band shows great command of dynamics, and is able to shift effortlessly among hard rock, prog-rock, funk and jazz-tinged styles. They’ve weaved in many different parts and tones; little riffs and turns are abundant and keep the listening interesting. Shaven Primates is quite a capable band.
When spotlighted, the instrumentalists can step forward and deliver. Neil’s keyboards are terrific throughout; his funky, fuzzy clavinets on “In Transit” and his solos on “Answers” were particular highlights. Tom can hit a heavy riff, or rip off a solo as needed. His guitar solo and Nick’s bass solo on “Outside” were spot-on. Jarod keeps everybody locked in, and is rock-solid with the band’s tempo and meter shifts.
Against this instrumental backdrop, Mark’s vocals unfortunately fall a bit short in places. To be fair, the melodies are challenging, and difficult to sing, but his performance comes off as unsure in parts. He seems a bit lost during “The Zoo,” and in parts of the long suite that forms the centerpiece of the album. The equalization could use a little tweaking, as well; his voice didn’t always cut clearly through the instrumental thickness of the backing tracks.
This doesn’t detract from Child of Dirt’s achievement, though. It’s a well-executed concept album, and Shaven Primates have channeled intricate, emotional music to tell Mark’s story. We’re glad he’s here to share it with us.
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