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Mishka Shubaly - 'When We Were Animals' Album Review


1. Forget About Me

2. Animals

3. Death In Greenpoint

4. Willin'

5. Last Of My Kind

6. Destructible

7. World's Smallest Violin

8. Wooden Crosses

9. Never Drinking Again

10. Leaving Feels Like Flying

11. Death In Greenpoint (Xmas Mix)

The life of a reviewer is a rich and varied one. The last album I reviewed was Tancred's latest offering, with Jess Abbott's sweet vocals. Shubaly's vocals may have been described as many things, but sweet is not one of them. Canadian born Shubaly is a former drug addict and now ultra marathon runner. 'When We Were Animals' was recorded when he was in a state of quasi-homelessness between motel rooms, couches, an unheated trailer and housesitting for friends during one of the most run-and-gun times in Shubaly’s adult life. Astonishingly, this didn’t result in a sketchy, edgy mess, but a lavish production, his first just-might-be- a-classic record. Lyrically, Animals is about the aftermath: the end of love, the hangover, the comedown, life after addiction. Despite or perhaps because of the dark material, the record still crackles with black humour, a brutal sort of tenderness, and defiant fire.

The album opens with 'Forget About me' , which I do not know if it is an apology of misogynism or just an acknowledgement of it. The song starts with the lines 'I don't want to be replaced, I want to be erased. You want my head up on a spear, I just want to disappear' The vocal delivery is gruff and hints at regret. 'Animals' starts with a nice guitar riff with a supporting slide guitar. The vocal is reminiscent of Nick Cave. Star Anna's vocals compliment the rough vocal delivery of Shubaly and smooth the rough edges. The instrumentation is fuzzy and scratchy. This is much more accessible than the previous track. 'Death In Greenpoint' is the stand out single from the album. Guitar chords and a keyboard support the intro vocals until the drums kick in. This is great bit of storytelling where you can visualise everything being sung about. His eventual probable demise is even described at the end with the lines 'I know I'm going to go with a head full of blow, in a Polish disco in Greenpoint'. Whether this is a good way to go or not, I am not sure. Joanna Erdos provides the female backing vocal on this track, as she does on most of the album. 'Willin' is a great bit of Americana. The slide guitars and steel acoustic shine through on this version of Little Feat’s 'Willin'. When I say version, it is like those films 'based on true events' as the lyrics have been changed significantly to make this simultaneously funnier and darker than the original. An example of the black humour is the line 'I have driven every pile of shit Detroit ever made'. However, in the arrangement there is still enough DNA to say it is a cover version.

The sense that Mishka Shubaly, struggles with adaptation even though he knows that the world has moved on is palpable in 'Last Of My Kind'. This is real barroom ballad, with exquisite backing vocals from Cait O’Riordan from The Pogues. The song conveys the realisation that you are a relic in a modern world, and that, that realisation is pretty useless as you are unable to evolve. With a touch of Johnny Cash, 'Destructable' is a slower tempo ballad. I am sure that Farmer John's blood would run cold if he heard Mishka say 'Farmer John, you've got a lovely daughter'. I know mine would. In this track Shubaly exposes some of his vulnerability. This is followed by one of the funniest tracks on the album. Black humour oozes through 'World's Smallest Violin' which recounts a drunken encounter from meeting to waking with regret in the morning. This is the antithesis of a love song but has quite brilliant lines in it. The first lines are ' We met in a bar, I can't remember the details. I passed for conscious, you passed for female' and ends with 'Darling tell me your name again. I swear we'll part the best of friends. At least until the tests come back negative. Then we'll both agree to never speak of this again. 'Wooden Crosses' is grungier, and has a heavy reverb guitar and reverb on vocals. It is as dark a song as you likely to hear and you are likely to feel sleazy just having heard it. Unfortunately the album does not come with free anti bac.

'Never Drinking Again' is pretty self explanatory, but again shows off Shubaly's mastery of black humour. It starts with a sweet acoustic guitar riff and an almost gospel organ. as it transpires drinking is the least of his problems as the song escalates pretty quickly from drinking to smoking to various strong substances that are probably best avoided. The instrumentation is spell binding with great keyboards and somewhat clunky twangy guitars. There is even some nice slide guitar in there somewhere. 'Leaving Feels Like Flying' starts with some brilliant steel guitar riffs, and has one of the best opening lyrics for someone down on their luck. 'One more. One more. One more kick in the balls. New York, did you have to? I guess you had to see me crawl'. You sense that Shubaly was regretting having to say goodbye, but that New York was pretty relieved! The album ends with the optimistically titled 'Death In Greenpoint (Xmas Mix)'. This is the same track as previously but with a different arrangement. The tempo is quicker and more upbeat. The backing vocals from Joanna Erdos is more prevalent, which gives a softer feel. However I suspect this will not challenge for the Christmas Number one. Which is a shame.

You can tell that Mishka Shubaly has created these tracks through bitter experience. As is often the case, black humour is often a defense mechanism, and because of this it tends to be very funny. He is a great story teller and this is in no way a novelty record. It is however pretty unique. If you can imagine a cross between Nick Cave and Lou Reed with added brutal reality, then you will come close.

Mishka Shubaly has voice that can best be described as 'lived in' and he has crammed some living into his years so far. I would not recommend his previous lifestyle but it has led to a uniquely dark, brutal and at some times funny album that I would highly recommend listening to again and again.

Review - Tony Creek

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