by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
It is impossible to predict what you will hear when you hit “Play” on a new Sharkmuffin release. Tarra Thiessen (vocals + guitar) and Natalie Kirch (vocals + bass) have been around for a few years now, releasing fun, bizarre, maniacal punk rock music. Well, at least most of the time they are. Last year they released a kids’ album, Songs for Strange Kids, which is perhaps the most appropriately-titled release since Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Most of their music however, like on their two full-length records Tsuki and Chartreuse, is loud, funny, and cool as hell. However, dear reader, I’ll put forth the case that their new EP, Gamma Gardening is their best set of songs yet, and the reason why comes down to two words: Jordyn Blakely.
Blakely has run around in many of the same circles as Sharkmuffin – she’s been a member of Stove and Jackal Onasis – but Gamma Gardening is her first appearance as a full-fledged member of Sharkmuffin. It’s not that Blakely was the missing piece of the puzzle; it’s that she is a new ingredient that makes your favorite goulash better than you even knew it could’ve been. You know, if your favorite goulash wrote songs about Dana Scully, tampons, and snake-haired seductresses from space. The band’s music feels newly unchained. Blakely’s furious drumming gives Kirch’s bass a playground to run around in and Thiessen’s guitar the foundation it needs to go absolutely nuts. Take “Too Many Knobs”, for example, where the guitar is so loud, psychedelic, and propulsive, you have to concentrate on not hallucinating. Gamma Gardening’s resulting sound is The Stooges, if they were played at a 50% faster tempo.
Gamma Gardening is a high-concept mini-album, with its story centering around Serpentina, a cosmic dominatrix who lands a job behind a reception desk (“Receptionist”), births a custom-fitted baby that is stolen by cultists (“Designer Baby”), attempts to take her own life (“Serpentina”), and has a sudden moment of sublime clarity about free will (“Fate”). But much like the self-aware concept of Krill’s Steve Hears Pile In Malden And Bursts Into Tears, knowledge of the plot is not necessary to enjoy the hell out of these songs individually or as a whole. The album’s centerpiece and character namesake “Serpentina” is the highlight of Gamma Gardening, and maybe even of Sharkmuffin’s career to date. It’s got everything you’d want from Sharkmuffin: an incredibly catchy chorus coolly belted out by Thiessen, guitar and bass lines that restlessly trade off each other, vivid, surreal lyrics, and an attitude rarely seen outside of the ‘70s punk and glam scenes. Is it strange? Yes. But is it a hell of a good time? Also yes.
Across five tracks, Sharkmuffin bursts brains, splits eardrums, and sets the room on fire. Gamma Gardening exceeds the already high standards for the Brooklyn-based band.