Shapes Freely describes itself as the musical equivalent to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The band — made up of visual artists and musicians Brook Caballero and Ben Milner — certainly has the spacey and dream-like atmosphere down pat, and while their self-titled debut doesn’t exactly reach the epic and classic status of the film that inspired it, the soundscapes and genre mixture, highlighted by ambient psychedelia, prove that they’re definitely capable of it in due time.
The album starts off with its longest track, appropriately titled “Born,” filled with echo-y vocals and vivid sound effects that whiz past each ear to establish an intended course — a spacey soundscape in the vein of something like pre-Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd or any variant of early British prog rock. This lingers with a repetitive and siren-like guitar riff, before exploding with some fat bass by Jonathan Hischke of the band Hella and steady drumming from David Torch, which all sounds empowering until it sort of peters out by track’s end. It’s a good exercise in testing out instrumental flavors, but it doesn’t necessarily invigorate enough to warrant any further dissection.
It thankfully picks up with its second track, “Spirit,” which hearkens back to mid ’90s Flaming Lips, but perhaps with a more folk-driven emphasis. This sounds more like a “song” and utilizes its intended spacey atmospherics with synths and effects to give the track growth over its runtime. The bass playing (performed here by Caballero himself) is much more collected and compliments the track’s lighter tendencies, as Jessica Henry’s lovely back-up vocals harmonize with Caballero’s hazy demeanor and guitar playing for some great chemistry.
Though the band itself is in its infancy, the instrumentation of each track feels very lived in, such as on “Now,” this Yo La Tengo meets Fleet Foxes track with orchestral qualities, whispery vocals, beautiful guitar work and lively drumming. The scope becomes less grand but more intimate — a suburban sprawl with more rounded delivery and homey, pleasant registers such as on the tracks “Me Vs. Sea” and “Metropolis,” which rest on lucid and soft textures.
Most of Shapes Freely gracefully follows in this manner, with a wavy flow, and it’s that direction that actually benefits from not being the all-out space/prog epic it started out as. It works best as a road trip to another planet more-so than the mysterious and terrifying awe of a distant future that it likes to compare itself to, but don’t think into the context and you’ve got yourself a nice 45 minutes of low-key spacey folk rock that’s waiting to be explored.
This record was played on an Audio-Technica LP-120 USB using an Audio-Technica DR750 cartridge.
Shapes Freely made sure to note that this heavyweight 180-gram record was pressed at Record Technology, Inc. (RTI) in Los Angeles, a facility known for their stellar, high-fidelity pressings for major and indie labels, and the results show.
This is a finely crisp and mostly flawless pressing, with instrumental clarity that allows the record’s spacey direction to feel intimate and equally immersive. The mastering from Golden Mastering in Ventura is so greatly represented here — round bass fill each side nicely, guitars have wonderful depth, drums are complimentary and vocals are generously blended in. As Shapes Freely’s debut record, they sure knew how and where to have this record mastered and pressed in order to deliver and best capitalize and present their sound.
The LP is housed within a unique plastic jacket that adorns the album’s name right on the plastic, so when you remove it, the album cover is void of any print, which makes for a cool illusion and you receive a personalized record sleeve in the process. The bottom of the album’s cover art also contains the front of one’s hands, as if to assume you will place your hands in their position to claim it as your own, which is also a really neat and novel concept. The fact that the band makes this disc an interactive one gets high marks and the hands feature is something you probably can’t physically attain the same way if it were on a jewel disc case or, obviously, a JPEG image.
The record itself comes in a single inner sleeve, with one side containing the band/album name in shiny print strewn all over the place, and the other side containing the album’s lyrics, along with album credits.
This vinyl edition of the record contains a card with a unique code to download the album from their Bandcamp page. You are given the capability of downloading the album in MP3 and high-definition formats such as FLAC and ALAC, which is more than welcome for audiophiles and especially for a recording such as this.
The biggest extras draw comes from the fact that the vinyl edition of Shapes Freely also arrives as a limited edition clear and white haze colored record, which looks really wonderful on the platter and compliments the record’s color palette. This is a pressing of 500.
Shapes Freely is a record capable of stirring and spacey tunes. It doesn’t take a lot of time to establish that, which makes the record a longing and dreamy experience that doesn’t necessarily have the staying power it really wants to achieve by record’s end, but it nevertheless sounds wonderful, feels good and assures a textural statement for an up-and-coming band.
Their vinyl presentation is beyond anything I would have asked for, with excellent production in quality and well-above-average packaging that’s intuitive and unique. Though the band doesn’t even have enough Facebook followers to deliver as many records as they’ve pressed for, I wouldn’t be surprised — based on the quality of this pressing and the kind of music they produce — if this thing is snatched up in the coming months, as the physical product wonderfully compliments their sound.
“Spirit,” “Apple,” “Metropolis” and “Love Does.”