Last year’s Lunglight introduced Portland’s Shaky Hands to the world outside their hometown, complete with the Kill Rock Stars’ seal of approval. Most noticeable was the aptly named quartet’s loose, jittery take on guitar pop and front man Nicholas Delffs’ trembling vocals, at times resembling a reverb-free Walkmen. With the addition of the Joggers’ Jake Wilson on drums, the Shaky Hands are still squeezing out hooks on Let It Die, though Delffs’ singing has grown ragged and the songs more rugged. There’s now a meat-and-potatoes bar-band vibe, and the opening title track nods as much to Exile On Main Street as to the Hold Steady.
That said, these 11 songs are stripped back more than Lunglight’s 13, which is really saying something. There’s also a newfound focus on pounding keys, while “Slip Away” adopts some bluesy maneuvering and “Never Fine” flirts a bit with country. Instead of summoning the post-punk or indie rock of the past few decades, the band is reaching back further. The India-inspired repeating of “Krishna” on the six-minute closer “Leave It All” conjures George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and otherwise has a casual-yet-heartfelt Basement Tapes feel. The uncertainty of Delffs’ delivery also recalls Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken, though he oozes confidence on the strutting, hand-clapping “Allison and the Ancient Eyes.”
The biggest change here is the unhurried pace, but it’s not unwelcome. “Don’t Fail Me Now” is slow, sweet and spare; ditto the acoustic ballad “Gonna Hold You Tonight.” The Shaky Hands’ no-frills approach and familiar touchstones will come off bland to some, but there’s an endearing workmanship here that guides us toward further listening.
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