The new album by Vancouver’s Shimmering Stars, Bedrooms of the Nation<, could easily have been named for its second song. Anomie – defined as personal unrest and alienation and uncertainty both resulting from and leading to social instability – leaks out of the music. Right from the beginning, the music is consuming in its vision of bleak landscapes and barely repressed anxiety.
The beginning feels epic. The first piece, Intro, sets the scene, with the initial drum blast, scattered scratch of a radio broadcast, and moves beyond. There is the harmony of voices, the hint of the Everly Brothers. But this is the music that they might be making now, filled with disappointment and depression, in search of something else. That influence, mixed up with a very immediate sensibility, creates a unique palette of sound and color. The wall of sound, the Sixties’ sense of space, the vocals softly centered, are coupled with industrial breaks and a guitar sound that drills through it all. The first question that comes up is, “We all love each other don’t we?”, reminding you that if you have to ask there’s a problem.
Anomie lives up to its title with “I feel so fucked up all the time” and bass, lots of bass, pulling us down, in.
Dérèglement takes what could be catchy, poppy, and contrasts it with the serious lyrical content and the mournful progression. It’s hypnotic, intense -“I’m so alone I want to be alone”.
You Were There is slower, stately. It gives the feeling of pushing through depression, walking through heavy air, fighting with every step to be a little more free.
There is something so lonely in the music on this album, and the in-between moments of industrial noise and badly tuned radio, are like being dragged through an audio soundtrack of lost weekends, lost decades.
Role Confusion is a stand-out, with a fuzzy guitar bursting out to become piercing and the line “I was chasing a vision it became something else/spent the last two years debasing myself” as a repeated mantra.
First Time I Saw You has its happy sounding vocals but the guitar is like a warning, a siren, an alarm to evacuate before it’s too late.
Ego Identity takes one guitar and high vocals and the rhythm of the sixties abruptly interrupted by “I’m leaving all that shit behind me now”. There’s the tormented sound in the background, the sense of decay, the twisted steel cut sound.
The depth here doesn’t just come from the introspective material, but from the sonic and emotional distance between the then and the now – whenever that might be – bound to a kind of acknowledgement of the near impossibility of making a carefree happy record anymore.
The album ends with I Found Love, a tentative ray of hope, nostalgia for now.
It’s a long way from the Everly Brothers’ “here he comes, that’s Cathy’s Clown” to “spent the last two years debasing myself” but Shimmering Stars sense every rut in the road, look up to see every dying star, and gaze at the world we’ve created in the illusive safety of our rooms.
James Dean said “as long as the audience sees your eyes, you can make the performance real.” Listening to Bedrooms of the Nation is like being turned, again and again, to stare into the eyes of the performers, finally understanding that anxiety is our own.