Shannon McArdle – Fear the Dream of Axes

It’s been four years since Summer of the Whore, singer-songwriter Shannon McArdle’s colorfully titled kiss-off of a debut solo album, a potent “she said” take on marital collapse. How encouraging it is to report that the Albany, Ga., native and Brooklyn-based performer has lost none of her lyrical bite or DIY verve, even as she’s clearly moved on with life. Produced by former Mendoza Line bandmate Adam Gold, who doubles as a McArdle’s one-man studio army, the album’s dozen songs trace a complex emotional journey with a disarming degree of pop finesse – there are passages here that chime like vintage Elvis Costello and lots of haunting sonic embellishments, like the keyboard drone that ushers in the atmospheric “The Chase Scene” or the spare piano balladry that slips into the Paisley Underground-influenced chiming guitar of “Decalogue.” The beguiling mix finds a match in McArdle’s voice, which often hovers in a breathier register, letting lyrics float like internal reveries – laden with memories and fixed with resolve. “No grey skies when you gouge your eyes/ No mediocrity/ No disappointing me” she sings on “Tar.” Far from being a dark reflection, the words tumble out almost playfully, matter-of-fact, against a twangy organ/guitar arrangement suitable for a honky-tonk two-step.

That sense of humor abides in “Adult Rated,” a perfectly crafted bit of old-school indie-pop, in which McArdle’s ruminations on the theme of maturity are accompanied by a mocking, child-like chorus of “na-na-na-na-na’s,” before the track downshifts into 40 seconds of spooky electronics. An air of unpredictability makes the song cycle hard to take for granted – you never know what’s going to hit you next – and also makes it unlikely anyone will peg McArdle as a “type.” Even with some obvious touchstones, the songs are as personal as a fingerprint. By the time the stories begin knitting together, you’re already hooked and more than spellbound.

Shannon McArdle
Fear the Dream of Axes