Shakey Graves’ New Album ‘Can’t Wake Up’ Is a Bold Sonic Overhaul
Austin, Texas musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia began performing as a one-man band under the moniker Shakey Graves. He recorded his 2011 debut album “Roll the Bones” solo, but eventually expanded his act to include other musicians. The band has always played a rustic, stripped-down strain of Americana, steeped in folk and blues traditions. The new record, “Can’t Wake Up,” however, is a radical sonic overhaul, venturing into alternative rock territory, and experimenting boldly with various styles. The Americana essence is still detectable, but several levels removed, repurposed and expanded into large-scale productions.
The opening track, “Counting Sheep,” sets a dreamy tone, with lush, cinematic orchestration over a languid blues shuffle. There’s a space-rock feel, and a vague ‘50s tinge as if the rockabilly aesthetic were stretched out and given more room. Songs like “Kids These Days” and “Cops and Robbers” find Rose-Garcia channeling standard indie rock fare, with loud guitars and angular chords. “Climb On the Cross,” “Dining Alone,” and “Backseat Driver” have an understated country sensibility, replete with tremolo and twang. “My Neighbor” takes the artist’s signature folk stylings and supersizes them into an elaborate studio production. “Mansion Door” is a bit more rustic, with meandering melodies and a reflective mood. “Aibohphobia” is one of the most original and exciting moments, an old-timey jukebox stomp that erupts into a dark sprawling rock number. Another definite standout, “Foot of Your Bed,” ditches the roots-rock swagger and heartland aesthetic for dark and plush, palatial grandeur. It’s a fantastical soundscape of sweeping and swirling trills and tinkles, showcasing Shakey Graves at the artist’s most romantic. Finally, the steel guitar-laden folk number “Tin Man” closes the record with a relative return to form.
The bulk of the new album’s lyrics explore the themes of passing time and unrealized dreams, with nearly every song featuring references to these issues. Rose-Garcia appears constantly preoccupied with the fact that time is ticking. In “Kids These Days,” he asserts, “Nothing lasts forever,” and in “Climb On the Cross,” he reflects, “If nothing dies tomorrow, why remember yesterday?” “Excuses,” contains the lyrics, “No time for this, no time for that,” and “Backseat Driver” finds Rose-Garcia concluding, “If time is money / Then I’ve gone broke.” Along with the acute awareness of time’s fleeting nature comes an anxiety regarding the materialization of one’s ambitions. “Mansion Door” features the line, “Another day to sit around and dream,” while “Drinking Alone” reiterates, “One glass of wine is plenty of time / To dream about all of the things that I’ll never do.” Such worries swell to dramatic heights elsewhere, as in “Front of Your Bed,” with the statement, “Night is to day as death is to dreaming,” as well as “Counting Sheep,” in which Rose-Garcia pleads, “If I die before I wake / Save my dreams for another day.” Ultimately, however, the album takes an optimistic note, with the final track “Tin Man” consoling, “You ain’t dead yet / Twenty-seven came and went / Now you live to fight another day.”
Musically, the new songs derive much of their immediate charm from the exceptional guitar work. There are always intricate, layered melodic lines and fanciful flourishes, but without ever spiraling into flashy, overindulgent theatrics. The guitar lines are expressly purposed for pop conveyance, but crafted with a creativity and attention to detail that makes the music delightfully dense and dynamic. Rose-Garcia’s voice hardly ever presents itself alone, instead appearing throughout the album amid layered harmonies. The various vocal lines are stacked loosely, and the slight discrepancies in their meters impart a certain becoming casualness. The production is elaborate and ambitious, enabling the songwriting craft to achieve a new potency. For all his concern regarding the struggle to race against the clock and realize one’s dreams, Rose-Garcia seems to be managing just fine. “Can’t Wake Up” marks a monumental progression for Shakey Graves, and a promising new direction.
“Can’t Wake Up” is available May 4 on Apple Music.