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Summer at Shatter Creek - Summer at Shatter Creek

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Artist: Summer at Shatter Creek

Album: Summer at Shatter Creek

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Mar. 31, 2003

Solo Recordings from Shatter Creek

The centerpiece of Summer At Shatter Creek, the debut long-player from the artist of the same name, is “My Neighbor’s Having a Seizure,” which, despite the humorous-sounding title (it is about his neighbor having a seizure), is a heartbreaking six-minute-plus anthem of an epic scope that most one-man-band artists are afraid to attempt these days. Maybe indie rockers everywhere are afraid of taking things too big, too U2. I say screw them. This track is a stunner, as is the whole album, an ambitious, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve anthem of the “start quiet and keep building forever” school. Beginning with a typical bedroom pop drum machine and propelled by a jittery Fender Rhodes riff, SASC (I’ll admit it doesn’t roll of the tongue like GBV) mastermind Craig Gurwich disarms you with his floating voice (a home-recorded Jeff Buckley?) and sincere delivery. When he sings “I can feel him shaking all the way upstairs” or “They say that he’s degenerative / We both know that it’s a matter of time,” it takes me back to a time before Elliot Smith went major label and before Conor Oberst started his pretentious caterwauling. It gave me chills. I listened to it three times in a row. I got misty.

And the rest of the album is nearly this good, with nary a rough spot. The whole affair is ambitious and remarkably self-assured. The sincerity can get a little overwhelming at times, but Gurwich keeps his lyrics honest and self-effacing (“I’m not going to my girlfriend’s for the holidays / …I don’t even have one). The wordplay plays it closer to the vest than a Malkmus and a Dylan, and the inventively layered and atmospheric mid-fi pop is a perfect complement. Compositionally, the songs start in one place and end up somewhere completely different. They have nifty structural inertia, surprising, but retaining aesthetic cohesion. Gurwich could probably approach Dave Fridmann, if only he had the budget.

The good-natured opener, “Home for the Holidays” is on par with “My Neighbor’s Having a Seizure” in a production sense (great E6-esque ending!), but the recording standout here is “The Essence of Time,” which sounds like Donovan filtered through Mercury Rev. Or vice versa? I want to call him up and ask him how he did it…it’s an audiophile’s dream. Most people would sound goofy attempting the torchsong melodies of “The Drive,” but Gurwich’s superior voice carries it through. Ditto the waltz of “Go To Sleep.”

I’d like to think that Summer At Shatter Creek was recorded in a bedroom after many long days of waiting tables or some such thing. I’d like to think that Craig Gurwich was so possessed with this music that he couldn’t wait around for other musicians. Full bands be damned! It’s records like this that inspire me, that take me back to glory days of Nebraska or Portastatic, when nothing except shitty day jobs and light-sleeping neighbors kept artists from creating beauty on their 4-tracks right between the dresser and the computer desk.

By Lucas Jensen

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