Written by Paria, founder of Kid With a Vinyl
To call Shimmertraps a band would be an understatement. Their music, stunningly colorful, mind-numbingly textured, and blissfully unpredictable, feels more akin to a performance art piece, a full-body deep-dive into an otherworldly atmosphere. While their 2017 debut album Ozius proved their initial skill in fuzzy, introspective lo-fi with hazy, intimate vocals to match, LOOK!, the Washington-based group’s sophomore album, instead shows a distinct and brilliant evolution for the group, every moment bursting with disco-inspired, glitchy multi-dimensional synth pop, radiating with equal parts intrigue and whimsy.
Since Ozius, they have changed from a five-piece group to a quartet, with Zach Moses on vocals and drums, Brodie Cole on vocals and guitar, Kyle Trostad-Menne on bass, and Ian MacPhee on synth. Together, they wrote, recorded, mixed, and produced the entirety of LOOK! in their Bellingham, Washington living room, the menagerie of instruments and equipment sprawled around the space wonderfully encapsulating the intricacy of their unique creative process - something in which Brodie Cole explained is, in fact, the basis of the album itself:
“The thing in my opinion that makes LOOK! sound the way it does is how collaborative we made it. We really tried to incorporate everything that was inspiring to us over the course of two years it took to write the record. Over those two years we were listening to so much different stuff between the four of us, spanning several different genres, which made a lot of the songs sound different from one another. In the end, it was our job to try and still force them to blend together to the best of our ability, and make it sound as cohesive as possible. I feel like we sort of achieved that through means of production style. While songs range from hip-hop, disco, R&B, and barber shop vocal influence, we tried to wrap everything up in our attempt at sort of that “chill wave - side-chainey” production.”
As a result, LOOK! is a synesthetic paradise. It wouldn’t be awful to judge the album by its cover - amorphous shapes, evoking the plasmic, gravity defying substance in a lava lamp, somehow in both perpetual suspension and mid-transformation, between neon and pastel, solid and liquid - in fact, Zach Moses would want you to, considering he created all the Shimmertraps artwork as a direct and conscious extension of their music. For the band, aesthetic and sound very much go hand in hand, and that extends to the composition and structure of the LP itself; the shorter interludes “seventythree,” “Circles,” “Ernie,” and even the title track that opens the album all have their respective place within the meticulously crafted release, each existing like a palate cleanser before you dive right back into the whirlpool of sound and color, a chance to reset your ears - and eyes - in order to fully imagine and appreciate what’s coming next.
“Jules Quesnel,” the very first dip into that iridescent pool, is gloriously lush, full, and colorful, with soothing vocals and instrumentals working to pull you into their current until you feel weightless, floating on its surface, a feeling that remains consistent the deeper you venture in - separated by the bouncy “Beta Club,” “Plume,” one of LOOK!’s main singles, also feels as if you are suspended in space, the ocean, or some other place where gravity is undeniably challenged; anchored on a carefree, supersonic melody, synth pulses from side to side like lightning bolts in the chorus, while the vocals, evoking the name of the track in their feathery, smoke-like tone, swirl and bounce into each other like debris. The last few moments, scintillating to the ear, house effects akin to varying beams of light hitting a chrome surface, ricocheting back into the ether they descended from. Similarly, “Shutter View,” both gritty and yet gorgeously crystalline, feels like tearing into the delicate fabric of the atmosphere, while the stunning “Lilac” maintains a pronounced effect on the senses, the synth repeatedly building and swelling only for it to explode into something positively euphoric near its close.
The overall production is especially gorgeous throughout LOOK!, offering listeners varying textures from the addictively glitchy to the soothing, buttery, and luxurious. For instance, the phenomenal “eRror!” with its whimsical, nostalgic video game-inspired effects, spliced sound bites, and eerie lyrical narrative, falls into the former, while the beautifully disorienting “Stacey” and the diamond-clear “Horror!” drifts gracefully into the latter. The sheer amount of texture and substance within LOOK! is most impressive, considering perfecting it, according to Cole, was something completely new to them as a group, but clearly something that they have managed to harness.
LOOK!, an album “conceptually about indulging in pleasant distractions,” seems to do its job in doing just that - in closer “Leaving the Dizzy Setting,” they end the album with the sentiment that “our opposites will linger for a bit/ After we’ll be happy for a while,” commenting on the nature of fleeting contentment. However, despite the wistful, maudlin tone this seems to bring, the amount of work, passion, and dedication Shimmertraps have placed into LOOK! allows it to never really feel like a mere indulgence on the listener’s part, nor something purely transitory, meant for instant gratification. Rather, it feels like an invigorating shock to the senses, inspiration to keep moving, thinking, creating - to view the ever-changing world through an equally kaleidoscopic lens.
LOOK! is out now.