Violent Hearts has the blown-out quality of reverb-heavy garage rock heard from the sidewalk way down the street. Like scruffier, slightly anti-social Everly Brothers raised on Phil Spector and the Jesus and Mary Chain, Shimmering Stars play pop ditties whose memorable melodies and spacious harmonies become increasingly apparent with repeated listens. Having quickly emerged from frontman Rory McClure’s home recordings, the Vancouver-based band is perhaps most reminiscent of Stuart McLamb’s larger ensemble the Love Language. Both acts have worked to usher in a lo-fi contemporary revival of 1950s pop and its romantic masculinity.
From the first lines of “I’m Gonna Try,” the album’s second and most addictive number, it’s clear that Shimmering Stars have a streak of angst struggling to make its imprint on their warm and hazy façade. McClure explains: “Walking down the street and I wanna kill everyone I see / How come I don’t like anyone that I meet / And despite my antipathy I am longing to be someone better / In my heart is a violence I cannot dispel / I’ve lost my mind, I’m losing you, it’s just as well.” Words like these and titles such as “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dancing to Music I Hate” set a clear tone of disaffection.
Yet, if there is obvious discontentment in some of McClure’s tenor, his voice is generally too low in the mix for his words to be decipherable without inordinate attention. Moreover, even as early as “I’m Gonna Try,” he predicts that “love is the only thing that’s gonna save me.” And, indeed, it’s love of a particular aesthetic — one in which the rebels are dreamers and vice versa — that is Violent Hearts‘ most resonant quality. The Shimmering Stars are fireworks, not Molotov cocktails. Baby boomers steeped in rock and rollers from before the British Invasion might blanch at a few of the Stars’ lyrics, but one need not hear what they’re saying to understand their message: nostalgia for the pop of Del Shannon and Roy Orbison.
Violent Hearts occasionally plods, as on “No One,” “Other Girls,” and the opener “Believe,” (at least before its delightfully messy climax). But more often it quietly impresses, revealing new melodic and harmonic strands with each subsequent listen. Put differently: male anxiety, swagger and romance slowly make their way out of the abyss of echo, and they are once again in harmony.