KURT SHANKS – Seven Flights Up EP

Kurt Shanks is a singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand.  He was previously the bassist with the band Stellar*.   His debut solo EP ‘Seven Flights Up’ isn’t a release that’s easy to pigeonhole since its five numbers cross different musical boundaries, but the core of his sound is most often rooted in alternative rock.  If you’ve been looking for someone with a bit of edge, look no further, since Kurt’s debut EP has moments of sheer brilliance.

The EP’s title cut isn’t far short of being absolutely immense. The drum sound is big, which alone grabs the attention.  The drums collide with muted guitar strings played in a seventies cop show style and then – BANG! – the bass kicks in…and its rolling nature has the potential to crush everything in its path.  Occasionally the guitars break into shimmering chords and a little organ fills out the sound, but most of the presence comes from the dominant rhythm section.  Shanks’s vocal is a little breathy, but somehow he maintains a presence within the barrage of sounds.  These elements would have made a great arrangement alone, but Shanks tops everything off with a semi-aggressive guitar solo full of wah-wah and blues rock tendencies.  In just under four minutes, ‘Seven Flights Up’ rewrites the book on how to make an impression.

Unsurprisingly, a couple of the following numbers veer rather more towards the ordinary, but are still good in their own way.  ‘We Shall Have Another Day’ is musically much safer, but on the plus side, comes with a bigger hook.  It’s a decent piece of jangly pop/rock, where Shanks blends tuneful electric guitar work with mandolin, with the end result sounding very radio friendly.  ‘Where Would You Go’ has a more 80s feel with its use of synths and muted chords, while Shanks’s softer vocal has a hint of Karl Wallinger and World Party.  While a world away from the opening track of this EP, it’s still very strong.   These two numbers are the ones which showcase “Kurt Shanks the songwriter” as opposed to “Kurt Shanks the musician and arranger”, and since they demonstrate a different side of his talent, they still have a very welcome place here.

‘Shoot To Kill’ is a little unexpected, casting Shanks in the role of a trashy rocker.  Here, he spouts anti-religious lyrics against a rousing arrangement which pulls together the best elements of The Replacements, Coyote Shivers and a pinch of glam (in a Beat Angels/Ryan Roxie style).  His band is tight, with a heavy focus on the guitars, pulling together a hefty twang and crashy chords.  Disposable it may be, but it’s hugely enjoyable, especially with Lani Purkis’s shouty backing vocal.  For trashy rock, this scores very highly indeed.  The EP finishes of with a short acoustic tune which mixes acoustic guitars and mandolin, over which Shanks’s voice is deep and soft.  It’s a number which sells itself a little short, since it ends just as you think it’s going for a chorus or climax of some sort.  It’s the EP’s filler, but it winds things up nicely.

In approximately fifteen minutes, Shanks demonstrates a variety of styles, and while it’s his more aggressive tones which prove to be the most thrilling, he pulls off each style with relative ease.  While a bit of a mixed bag stylistically, everything on this EP is well played and really well produced, making ‘Seven Flights Up’ a fantastic release overall.

August 2011