Here’s a dark thought: if there is a genius in being aware of your own limitations, then the only reason garage rock isn’t full of geniuses is because the bands stop being garage once they start attempting to do anything intellectual with a genre that’s raw power springs from its “anyone can do it” anti-elitism. Witness the number of early 2010s garage bands now putting out double LPs of thinky prog or synth-punk. Portland band the Shivas land solidly on the “punk” side of the garage spectrum on fifth LP Dark Thoughts, where the band settle in for a solid set of righteous three-chord wonders delivered with a mean streak that will always be to the tastes of a certain doomy subset of ‘60s rock fans.
There’s a ritualistic quality to the way the band whips themselves into a spectral sonic frenzy on every track, regardless of tone or tempo. Though the Shivas are here for the party, there are no sunshine sounds to be found, even when the band is proclaiming the joys of listening to the radio (“Playing on the Radio”) with lots of “Ba ba ba’s” in the chorus for everyone to sing along with. They also leave little room for bad vibes or fresh air while barreling through the many colorful moving parts of the blaringly wet and blown-out rave up “Feels Surreal.”
But Dark Thoughts is distinguished exactly by being 99% squall. “Lush” wouldn’t be a terrible word for the atmosphere the group conjures, if it weren’t for all the clanging guitars, layered, howling vocals and pounding drums that give the whole thing a cranked-up, ceremonial feel—the kind that asks full buy-in from listeners in return for a full dose. Yet the Shivas’ ability to corral such cacophony into songs full of propulsive groove and melodic throttle is their greatest strength as a unit, and they do so with obvious delight on the clamorous, catchy and discomfiting “Can’t Relax.“ Another highlight is drummer Kristin Leonard’s delivery of the drippy doo-wop torch ballad “If You See Me.” She’s got the pipes for the kind of unabashedly dramatic showing the song requires, and her warbling, sunken vocals creep slowly up to a dramatic belt that’s thrilling in its open-hearted intensity.
For all its affected arcane gloom, however, Dark Thoughts isn’t especially mysterious—though it does keep one foot in the grave at all times. The Shivas have delivered a banging and old-fashioned good time in a slightly nightmarish sonic playground, rendered vividly enough to show that coloring within the lines can be a kind of art all of its own.