I want to be Ian Shuler’s voice for one day.
The frontman/principal songwriter/drummer for Seattle combo Invisible Shivers possesses a croon that rests somewhere on the fault lines of Lou Reed’s streetwise beat-poet drone and the weary boyishness of The Church’s Steve Kilbey. It is lounge lizard, disillusioned noir heel, and bright-eyed little boy all at once, and it’s a taste worth acquiring. Shuler makes abundant, welcome use of that unique, oft-theatrical instrument on What Makes You Feel Alive, Invisible Shivers’ latest long-player.
Shuler delivers his playful, sometimes disarmingly self-probing lyrics with an actor’s sense of personal shape-shifting and drama. One minute he’s the swaggering glam alien on “I’m Back” and the title track; the next he’s the fractured soul man on “Slippin’ on Changes.” In an age when most indie-pop singers reach for clipped and adenoidal high notes, Shuler gets optimal mileage from a low-slung but nimble baritone.
Like a lot of modern indie pop bands, Invisible Shivers frequently go to the well of post-punk and new wave on What Makes You Feel Alive. But there’s an organic feel to the record that’s definitely its own beast. The great, analog-sounding (self-) production skews to late-‘70s crispness, with Shuler’s singing largely backed by guitar, bass, drums, and very old-school-sounding keyboards and piano. That means that the songs are substantial enough to grow with successive listens. Imagine a less-mathematical variation on Television with an early Roxy Music chaser and a pinch of Pet Sounds density, and you’re on the appropriate sonic topsoil.
And there’s an awful lot to love here song-wise, too. “Glass Slippers” moves along with Shuler’s persistent drums, a stark and sturdy piano melody, and concise rhythm guitar, as Shuler’s lyrics take on a protagonist’s self-delusion with acerbic wryness. “Hold You in the Light” flirts with bossa nova flourishes, with Shuler digging into some deeply self-reflective lyrical terrain. “On Your Own” opens with the hookiest whistling part this side of Peter, Bjorn, and John’s “Young Dudes.” And “I Need Love” boasts the kind of compulsive chorus that’ll refuse to let go of your gray matter.
Shuler, his voice, and his lyrics definitely occupy much of What Makes You Feel Alive’s spotlight, but he’s amassed some damned impressive collaborators. Multi-instrumentalists (and ostensible permanent members) Luke Logan and William Cremin do their goodly share to flesh out the songs. Cremin co-wrote about half of the material here, and he’s logged in an obscene amount of time playing in about a bazillion PNW bands of note, including Cumulus and The Torn ACLs.
The Shivers also corralled a small army of local talent to lend a hand. Alexandra Niedzialkowski of Cumulus lends her ingratiating pixie voice to “Slippin’ on Changes.” Smokey Brights singers Ryan Devlin and Kim West harmonize fetchingly on “Glass Slippers,” while former Smokeys guitarist Michael Kalnoky contributes some fat, glammy licks on the arena-ready title track. Elsewhere, violinist Alina To of the Passenger String Quartet adds elegance and beauty to “Glass Slippers” and “End Song,” and Jamie Henwood and Jessie Allen of Seattle indie-pop act Fine Prince pop in for cameos on a couple of tracks.
In the end, though, all the name-dropping in the world runs a distant runner-up to the music. From the vintage rock strut of the opening track, “Let’s Get Real,” to the absolutely frickin’ irresistible new-wave burble of “I Need Love,” What Makes You Feel Alive is imaginative enough to keep listeners on their toes, but inviting enough for them to come back to, repeatedly. That’s a combination that can make you feel–yes–very damned alive indeed.
Invisible Shivers play their record release party at Conor Byrne Friday night (July 19), with Seattle pop sophisticates Hotels and the hard-candy guitar rock of Local Liars lending support. Tickets available here.