The Shaky Harlots Take the Catbird Seat Instead of “Third Wheel” Status: A Review of the Music the Band Has Made Thus Far
As I comb over the body of work that The Shaky Harlots have done so far, I look for signs of their growth as artists. I half expect to find a raw, playing-all-on-one-level beginning that gives evidence of the band trying to find itself in their early days, but I’m delightfully surprised to discover that the band has had versatility, great musical chops, unique ideas, and varied dynamics throughout their career.
The Shaky Harlots describe themselves on their website as “vintage fuzzy guitar surf rock for people who love cats and their grandparents.” They also say of their guitar work that it has “snarling barb-wire riffs.” While all of these claims are true, some of them are emphasized more in certain songs than others. The surf vibe is perhaps best heard on “Sleeping Under Ladders,” which captures the 1960’s feel with its swirling, psychedelic guitars. The “vintage” description is especially accurate when referring to 2019’s “Anxiety,” with its intro of staccato guitar picking followed by doo wop style singing.
Searing vocals and snarling guitar riffs are frequently heard in their work, but perhaps most notably in “Breakdown” and “F*ck You,” the former being the band’s most straightforward rock single–and the crowd pleaser to pull out at all their live shows–and the latter being more than just an in-your-face tell off as it is equal parts giddy delight to bulldozer rage so that the audience makes their own interpretation as to which takes priority and the song’s true intent.
When describing their 2018 EP Save It for Later, The Harlots say that amongst other things, it’s about a “mountain of emotion.” Nowhere on the EP is this heard more clearly than on “Heartbeats,” as their emotional pain intensifies and then subsides for a voiceover about true artists: “No art worth a damn was ever created out of happiness I can tell you that much.” As if to endorse this statement, the band then lurches into one more intensified height before subsiding again to a purposefully unpolished “oh well” finish.
One interesting concept that comes up more than once in their music is that of the framed record on the wall as an emblem of success in the music industry. In “L.A.’s on Fire,” after we hear someone shuffling through radio stations giving news reports on urban destruction, there are the lyrics “the records are burning, the walls are burning” in the same song that has hand claps at the bridge accompanied by a chant about the scams and fake people one finds in L.A. “Oh they just sold me out. Now I’m just another record on the wall hangin’ around” is heard on “Third Wheel,” which, just released at the end of last month, is the band’s latest track. This status symbol of the gold or platinum record mounted on a wall appears to be top of mind for The Shaky Harlots and their commentary on it suggests there might be a love/hate relationship there.
The band’s earliest song that I had access to, “Drugrug,” has a steady, quiet opening leading into a song with a hangover on a hazy Sunday morning mood to it. The singer’s voice expertly fluctuates from whine and wail to throaty screech to soothing pigeon coo and then back again, interweaving these vocal qualities seamlessly in the space of one refrain.
At the end of May, when promoting “Third Wheel,” The Shaky Harlots referred to it as a “teaser,” indicating that more is to come soon. I look forward to hearing what comes next from The Shaky Harlots, whom I listen to even as I write these words, which is always a sign that I’m truly a fan of what I’m reviewing.
The Shaky Harlots’ full discography may be found at bandcamp.com.