September 27, 2021

The Shivas Make Me Feel So Good.


Back in the early 1970s, the rock music writer Lenny Kaye was asked to put together a compilation of lesser-known songs from the 60s. The result was Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. The album featured raw, DIY music from bands practically no one had heard of, or at least heard from in a long while. This music, later tagged garage or psychedelic garage, became highly influential to the emerging new wave scene in New York. Kaye himself became the guitarist for one of the most respected of the bands in that scene, The Patti Smith Group. The connection between garage and new wave is direct as is the influence of new wave on many styles that came afterwards including the power pop revivals of the early 80s and again the 90s and the garage rock revival of the 2000s.

That brings us to the band The Shivas. Tagged by critics as a psychedelic garage (revival?) band, it’s easy to hear the Nuggets influences in their music. Buzzy guitars, Farfisa organs, and a DIY sound all make The Shivas obviously in the garage revival camp. Or are they? Don’t you hate when people say that.

Listening to the new album Feels So Good//Feels So Bad at first would confirm the critics’ assessment of The Shivas as garage. The opening song, “Feels So Bad” has all the elements of classic garage. However, so did Blondie in the 1970s. Sounding garage band-like is not a definitive marker. The second song on the album, “Undone” and later “My Baby Don’t” have more power pop influences including the beach Boys like harmonies that are power pop hallmarks. “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “Don’t Go” could easily be songs Blondie would have recorded back in their prime. You really can hear the 60s girl group sound that made Blondie unique back in the 70s. Shades of The Shirelles are heard throughout the album and “Don’t Go” echoes Blondie’s “In the Flesh” so strongly that it almost feels like they were copying that style consciencely. Later, the comparison between “Rock Me Baby” and Mink DeVille’s Spanish Stroll practically slaps the listener in the ear. At the very end, “Please Don’t Go” is reminiscent of the Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby” but in a “60s pop influences 70s new wave influences 2020 music” fashion.

None of this is to say that this isn’t good. The album is very good. It’s just good in the way new wave was good. It’s not garage good. As the old commercials used to say “But wait! There’s more.”

The second half of the album is littered with songs that have ethereal, echoed vocals and layered distorted guitars. That should sound familiar to anyone who is a dream pop or shoegazer fan. “You Wanna Be My Man”, “So Cold”, and “For the Kids” all feature droning guitars and those echoey vocals common to both genres. As was the case between shoegazer and dream pop back in the 80s, it can be hard to tell the difference. These songs lean more toward dream pop, lacking the aggressive noise of shoegazer but some songs, “For the Kids” especially, are more like toned down Jesus and Mary Chain than amped up Cocteau Twins. Still, there’s a lot of both on this album.

The Shivas are clearly revivalists. The only question is “what are the reviving?” Given the shoegazer/dream pop influences and obviously girl group and Blondie homages, I would say they are a new wave band, not a garage band. That might be splitting hairs given the close connections between new wave and garage. Having been part of the 70s new wave scene more than the 60s garage band era, maybe I’m biased. Still, it’s hard not to hear the 70s and 80s and rather than the 60s in Feels So Good//Feels So Bad. I’m going with new wave.