Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CD Review: Shelter Belt's "Songs from Extraordinary Leverage"

By Amanda Mull

Certain cities become famous for certain types of music: Detroit and R&B, Atlanta and hip-hop, Seattle and grunge, and most recently, Omaha and hipster indie rock. From the Omaha music scene that has brought us indie wunderkinds such as Bright Eyes and Cursive now come Shelter Belt, a seven-member collective that are positive that they’re the best band you’ve never heard of.
It’s a lofty assertion indeed, but after a few spins through their most recent material, Music from the film ‘Extraordinary Leverage,’ you just might be convinced that they’re right. The higher-than-average number of people in the band allows them to achieve a sonic richness that few bands strive for and even fewer attain, and it allows them to make every one of their songs different from the last.
Music from the film ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ is the soundtrack to a short film produced by Anthony Knuppel, the band’s drummer, and featuring several band members as actors. The film is amusing, but the musicians should probably stick to their day jobs, because the accompanying music is excellent and at times even innovative.
Some of the credit can be given to the fact that Shelter Belt collaborate on the music with Omaha legend Luigi Waites, a jazz drummer and vibraphonist that has played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown in his decades-long career. Waites’ contributions to songs like “Only So Much” give the music a depth of sound that makes them intriguing even after repeated listening, and he brings to the table many sonic flourishes largely missing from modern popular music (when was the last time you heard a vibraphone in a pop song?).
The fact that a legend like Waites is not the first thing you notice about the music, though, is a testament to the quality of work that the band is producing. “What Do You Say?” thumps along with a beat highly reminiscent of Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield” but somehow manages to not sound at all retro or rehashed.
Shelter Belt’s particular brand of rock is both happy and sad, fast and slow, heavy and light. They change their style with every song and show an amazing range of talent, since all of their material is at least reliably good, and some of the quicker songs are great. They should easily be more famous than they are, but at least now they can’t claim you’ve never heard of them.

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