Shock Sorrow – The Heart Bleeds – EP Review
For as delicate as many of these tunes may appear, Shock Sorrow’s created quite a powerful record.
I’ll fully admit, it’s really tough to not get caught up in the storyline behind the scenes and keep an eye on objectivity when you listen to a set of songs like this, written from such a truly personal experience. This Ireland-based duo’s debut EP is stocked full of five songs that deal directly with the heartbreak & tragic passing of lead-singer Keith Caffrey’s fiancée & soul-mate Aoife…and the heavy emotional weight you’d imagine such a loss haunts the spirit of this entire lineup of tunes. As beautiful as they are based in melancholy & a shroud of mystery – The Heart Bleeds is a testament to tributary tunes and how to turn tragedy into art intended for some kind of catharsis and healing that could lead to a path forward. I say ‘could’ because that might very well be the most important piece of this whole puzzle…that struggle to find the will to carry on, is threaded into the core of this whole EP…and honestly, it’s as heartbreaking as it is entertaining in the right way…everything you’ll hear is incredibly sincere and undeniably genuine.
I have discussed this scenario, more or less, with my own wife at least a dozen times throughout the course of our seventeen years together…and how I’m nowhere close to sure if I ‘could’ find a way out of the dark were she to pass on. I have nothing but respect for those that can do it – and while I wouldn’t say that Keith has made his way entirely to the other side yet, as per the details that you’ll find in these songs and the imagery of his lyricism…the fact that he’s found the strength required to make this record is proof that the process is at the very least underway. Healing has begun. Writing The Heart Bleeds in that sense, isn’t just a good idea – it’s an outright necessity; it’s in making this very record that Keith gives himself every possibility, chance, and opportunity to make another. Without getting these songs out once & for all, there’s every chance he’d end up on a completely different path doing who knows what. You know the story, you feel the pain in these songs…and you know this record was important to have made; essentially, without making it, what is left of his future to follow, might never come at all.
Make no mistake y’all…it takes superhuman strength to be able to make a record like The Heart Bleeds.
The organic & earthy way this EP begins is exceptional, straight-up. “Lament” actually reminds me a lot of the spiritual & soulful vibes I could feel flowing through Alice In Chains’ first EP called Sap back in the day…very similar mix of delicate acoustic vibes & boldly haunting material in the writing, and noticeable comparisons that could certainly be made in the harmonies that I’d imagine are the direct result of the influence of that band on the sound of Shock Sorrow. “I would travel through space and time just to hold you in my arms again” – that right there…I mean…that’s everything y’all – that’s the depth of the hole that gets left behind in a situation like Keith has been through and the lengths you’d go to in order to fill it up again if you somehow only could…and it’s devastating. If I’m not mistaken…I can hear Steff Caffrey in the backing vocals at a few key points in this song…or at least one very much for sure…in any event, turn her up y’all – while what I’m hearing sounds really buried into the mix, there’s fantastic potential there for her voice to add additional depth into the music of Shock Sorrow. That being said, when it comes to the particular purpose & scope of what’s being attempted & intended within these songs, the reality is that these are comin’ straight outta Keith’s withered & weary heart…and in that sense, it simply makes sense that what we hear in the majority of “Lament” and upon this record, is driven largely by his vocals. “Lament” is very much proof of that upfront, and the fact that it works – there are multiple elements that are added into this first tune aside from the vocals and guitars, from the keyboards to the production aspects…but for the most part, it’s Keith carrying this song with his voice and the connection he attaches to every syllable you hear. The dude makes this first impression incredibly real with how he sings it…to me, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he means every word.
“Forever” brightens up the atmosphere just enough to pull it out of the tailspin of despair it could have descended into were Steff and Keith not too careful – and I think a lot of hearts & minds out there will connect to this cut as a result of that choice. Whereas “Lament” would remind you of something much closer to the Grunge side of the mid-90s, a track like “Forever” branches off the Alt/Pop inclinations of those that were surrounding the scenes. Ultimately, a track like “Forever” isn’t all that far removed from something you might even find in Collective Soul…it’s just a lot less unnecessarily flamboyant is all; Shock Sorrow instead keeps the focus on the honest emotions, thoughts, and feelings we connect with. Love the layers in Keith’s vocals here…the low-end and the high-end work brilliantly together and provide a spectacular warmth to this tune as it plays on…and that moment, pre-chorus, just hearing him let the vocals rip out into the distance is a moment in itself to behold. The sincerity and sweetness of “Forever” comes through perfectly…there’s no question that ultimately it’s just as heartbreaking in the words you’ll find as any of these other tunes could be considered to be, and rightly so – but there’s also no denying that the more atmospheric & organic mix of humble & grounded sound here has a unique accessibility to it that you won’t find in any other song within this set. “Forever” is powerfully moving when it comes right down to it…the guitar & keys are spot-on here, and all they need to really shift the direction of the sound between welcoming & friendly vibes like this, or the desolate melodies they’re capable of – same people, same ingredients, and remarkable differences in their versatile results from track to track. “Forever” is almost guaranteed to fly by a few people in terms of just how heavy the subject matter truly is in comparison to the sweetness in the sound that remains its most dominant trait – but hopefully, after a spin or two, everyone out there notices just how intense feelings like these really are too. What I think I dig more about this track than anything else about it, is that it shows us just how profoundly eternal and everlasting that love Keith shared with Aoife truly was…how the strength of that love has never faded one iota…and how that love now carries on proudly into tributary art as it has here.
The piano of “Die For You” is an element that’s bound to send shivers down your spine immediately – and if you somehow avoided it there, believe me when I tell ya, you’ll get’em from the way that Keith sings this song shortly afterwards. So…hmmm…how do I put this…because several things can be true here. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if this ended up being the track that was the most polarizing on the EP in terms of whether or not people liked it or loved it or always felt like they were in the mood for it every time it came around in the lineup – it’s a seriously heavy and emotional experience, and I get it…sometimes people are looking for party tunes & if that’s the case, keep movin.’ On the other hand though, I think Shock Sorrow ends up right in the thick of an extremely mesmerizing moment in time, and they’ve played every ounce of this song correctly by having it as minimalistic as it is. Really, what you hear is Keith singing out his pain to the heavens above, expressing all that he feels and all that he’s been through – all that it has made him – out loud, for all to hear. To have clouded up this moment with a whole bunch of flashy BS or extra stuff the song really doesn’t need, would have been an audible crime…Shock Sorrow made this song bare-bones as a reflection of how empty Keith has felt as a result of losing Aoife. As heartbreaking as it is, you have to admire the craft with which it’s created…this is an extraordinarily real moment that’s epically subtle, yet generates a resounding impact – you feel the words, the pain, and the emotion that runs through “Die For You,” and you know it’s real. It’s the kind of track that, when you sit down, listen, and absorb every word as its sung & every note as it’s played…will likely reduce you to rubble hear Keith’s voice pierce your heart – as heavy as the shroud of energy placed upon “Die For You” truly is, it’d be hard to argue that it’s not the EP’s true centerpiece.
“Odin” is where things begin to change. The darkness hasn’t receded, and likely still won’t for some time long beyond the making of this EP…but you can hear the cracks of light that are now starting to be revealed, and the strength Keith will need to summon in order to battle this next chapter of his story. While it can be tough to examine a record like this one and determine any song as the single when considering the weight of the subject matter…the reality is, there’s still gotta be a gateway in for the people out there and one or more of these cuts has gotta assume that role. As you’ve seen up top, “Lament” has been chosen at the moment – and I wouldn’t dispute that choice…I think it’s a solid choice that offers listeners something they kinda know but kinda don’t too…and it’s a solid representation of what this EP is like to experience in many ways. That being said, “Odin” has a magic that the rest don’t within its main hooks, the advantages of a more involved sound, and multiple energies converging through the core of its melody – to me…I found an attachment to this song unlike I did with any other. I give Keith tons of credit for the boldness of his performance and what he accomplished with “Die For You” just a song earlier – but I think I’d be crazy not to cite what he pulls off within the chorus of “Odin” as the most major highlight you’ll find from the man on the entire EP – it’s just straight-up spellbinding. As he sings “and hopes and dreams can’t be for me” – it’s gotta be one of the most crushing moments you’ll hear in music, like…ever – but there’s also an uplifting thread to “Odin” that seems to lead us to believe that this journey and voyage Keith has been on, may indeed, still lead somewhere significant. That by confronting everything he’s had to in making Shock Sorrow’s The Heart Bleeds EP, that he’ll right the course of his ship and sail to a potential future of acceptance, healing, and possibility that will allow for the potential of his own existence…and a life that can perhaps mean just enough to keep on living it. Everything you’ll hear in “Odin” is spectacularly serene and incredibly strong…the transition into the bridge is definitely going to make an impression on listeners as the most amped-up moment you’ve heard from Shock Sorrow on this record to this point, but it’s the most mellow moments of this song that hit you in the heart like the hardest punch you could ever receive. Beyond all expectations you could have of a debut record – “Odin” reveals a defining moment for Shock Sorrow’s music on all fronts.
A three-eyed “Raven” symbolizes Keith’s bond with the past, his struggles in the future, and the gripping uncertainty of his future to come in the finale to Shock Sorrow’s debut EP. The freakin’ depth in the production of this last cut is nothing short of straight up perfection…the music is so vivid, haunting, and bold that it could slide right onto a record like Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile and fit right in to the lineup. Credit to Stephanie for her stellar work on the mix, and the co-production with Keith – and wouldn’t ya know it, the official mastering comes from right next door to us, way over here in Canada, provided by Siegfried Meier of Beach Road Mastering, based right here out of Ontario where sleepingbagstudios is. So like…there you have it…that whole Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon thing is probably much realer than we give it credit for being – this EP traveled around the planet long before it was available for you to hear! Excellent structure, sound, and song-building as “Raven” slow-burns itself into a scorching intensity – on this particular cut, Shock Sorrow actually reminds me a lot of what you’d hear on Brother Cane’s Mirror Ball album…or the raw power you’d find running through the ice-cold veins of the first Econoline Crush record…both of which are certainly aces as far as company can be kept in a comparison in my books. Shock Sorrow takes their time to tap into full gear on “Raven” and let the song build up brilliantly with its eerie beginning and more jagged, gritty sound at the start, and overall, they’re still much more edgy here than most of what you’d find in Brother Cane…more melodic than you’d find in most of Econoline Crush…but as it trips past that first minute, the heavy melodic weight and subtle intensity sure felt like it packed a similar punch and high degree of anticipation as to what might come next in the music of either comparison. Steff and Keith play extremely well together…which of course, you’d likely expect to find from two friends with roots all the way back to their early childhood would create – they’ve put the work into this entire EP, and it’s been revealed through every pore on your speakers from what you hear in the music to what comes from the mic – and while this record couldn’t have been remotely easy to make on any level…not technically, not emotionally, not spiritually…they should be immensely proud of what they achieved in making it, what it symbolizes, how it sincerely tributes Aoife, and how it helps illuminates the pathway forward from here.
Find out more about Shock Sorrow at the official pages below!
Big Cartel: https://shocksorrow.bigcartel.com
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