I saw the Shoestringers not knowing who they were – they were an extra name on a billing of mostly Portland local bands. They were the unknown quantity I had gotten used to seeing at local shows – the local opener no one’s heard of. And they kicked ass. They played the type of raw and rocking punk rock the kids who grew up with Against Me! grew up to make. There’s a sense of mature melodicism abound in their work and tight musicianship. After their set, they gave CD’s out like candy to whoever wanted one. Still stoked by their performance, I grabbed one and told them I’d review it – slipping awkwardly into my punk rock mogul persona. I’m a man of my word, so I guess I’ll do my best to spread the noise.
Monument is a six song EP and on it a lot of the bands influences come through a lot stronger. Its electric punk by way of acoustic, athletically strummed chords backed with vocals on the bleeding edge of desperation. Against Me! is there, for certain, but so are guys like Frank Turner and Paul Baribeau. The way they play and arrange the skeletons of these songs remind me a little bit of the bass heavy side of Hot Water Music. The Shoestringers give everything room to breathe in their arrangements, so when a chords needs to be hit hard, you feel it in your bones.
EP opener and title track “Monument” practically codifies their sound, with the merging of electric and acoustic, anthemic hooks, and dual vocals. Its one of their best and most immediate songs, instantly hooking itself into your memory. “Ocean” is another standout on Monument, but for different reasons; it’s an acoustic song heavy on ocean imagery with a lot of hooks. The lyrics are a bit a heavy-handed, and the imagery of nautical vagabonds comes off as perfunctory punk, but otherwise its a cool change of pace.
The Shoestringers on Monument are having fun. They’re playing the music that inspired them and learning the ins and outs of their own sound. The recording is sub-par, which is to be forgiven, and the vocal takes are sometimes imperfect. Falsetto background vocals ring out on “Rock And Roll Song” and you can tell they’re smiling through the mix. But for all its imperfections, I was left with the feeling that this is an incredibly talented group who just happens to be a little young still. The perspective and polish will come with age and practice, but the ability to write a hook and the instincts to arrange a song so it crushes you in its most emotional moment is all natural talent.