When you listen to any given record by The Shorelines, you won’t get the same exact sound on each one. Yet in absorbing their catalog, every one of their albums evokes a similar feeling. Mystery embedded in nostalgia. Intimacy dispersed by abstraction. Distant emotions pervaded by rhythm. If there is a consistent quality about their songs, it’s that they charmingly invite the listener to enter their cosmic atmosphere. Their universe is simultaneously serene, turbulent and welcoming.
Throughout their brief tenure, the West Coast outfit has explored various styles of rock, their sound being informed by psych, garage, blues, jazz and more. After recording together for the past several years, band members Maxton Schulte (guitar/vocals) and Justin Kass (drums/vocals) are veering separate ways to pursue other creative projects. On their fourth and final studio album, The Venus Vegas Blues Band, the duo have become space travelers, embarking on their most ambitious and fun musical concept to date while retaining the core elements of their artistic personas.
Recorded in the spring of 2019, the release was originally inspired by some improvisational jamming during recording sessions earlier in the year. In past material, the band has had a tendency to drift into lengthy, occasionally meandering psychedelic riffing – a natural result of toying with extended instrumental passages and experimentation. In this vein, The Venus Vegas Blues Band is similarly wild and sprawling, all while being more theatrical and cinematically-riveting than anything The Shorelines have ever done.
An instantly noticeable quality of the record is its sheer volume and pace. The band finds a new groove simply by playing louder and faster. The results are captivating. “Live From Venus, Pt.I” is packed with Hendrix-like ruckus, unleashing an attack of Led Zeppelin-esque party riffs played with a surfy gloss. Another bone-crunching instrumental shows up on “40 Billionth Reunion Tour,” which sounds like a cross between Delta and Chicago blues on speed. Here, Kass not only keeps time, he propels it forward, accelerating the beat with each crashing sequence. A similar energy shows up on “Live From Venus, Pt.II,” a hybrid of surf and blues that would make axe master Dick Dale proud. Perhaps no track gets wilder than the fitting album closer “End of the World.” With Schulte’s invasive guitar tone front and center in the mix, the song bursts into an apocalyptic boogie on which the band sounds like they are having the time of their lives.
As manic as the music on The Venus Vegas Blues Band feels, there is a refined quality to the production that speaks to the band’s steady technical improvements in the studio; the record was engineered by Schulte with the additional hand of Killer Kaya’s Zach Rengert. Throughout the album, they are able to maintain their intoxicating lo-fi aesthetic while tightening up the interior and exterior details of each song. This is best exemplified in the effectiveness of the arrangements and overall tone of the record, which frequently evokes extraterrestrial feelings of suspense and doom. “Tune In” leans in an ominous direction, embracing darkness rather than rejecting it. Though sonically more light-hearted and playful, the alien march of “Good Morning Beautiful” offers its own type of cognitive dissonance, its ambiguous lyrics teetering between optimism and dejection. “Good morning sexy girl / You tried to take my soul / You wanted the whole world / But I wouldn’t give you much.”
The instrumental surf-jazz on “Boom Bah Bah” – which appears to borrow its title from Kass’ studdering bassline – and the sublime riffs on “Faces in the Light” allow for some breathing room and provide a soothing break from the madness that adorns much of the record, but in the end, the album’s overwhelming sense of chaos is what makes it so sinfully pleasurable. Ultimately, the frenzy is what makes the cosmic carnival that is The Venus Vegas Blues Band. If this is indeed The Shorelines’ final record, it is a vibrant and worthwhile musical send-off. As a body of work, it stands as the most exciting project released during Kass and Schulte’s creative partnership. Should they ever decide to reunite, it’s reasonable to expect something great.