Shahs are pretty much the top of the local music heap for me. They play without a milligram of irony and are defined by a distinctive voice—one that's been steeping for the past 12 years, and which has put them squarely onto the list of bands I try to see live whenever I can. This is also a band that doesn't outstay its welcome. On their latest album, Vineland, they keep things short and sweet, delivering more two-minute and 30-second songs than a Scandinavian hardcore band.
Shahs is essentially synonymous with Tom Helgerson and whichever musicians he's chosen to enlist in any particular iteration of the band. Early albums were pretty much solo affairs, with Helgerson doing vocal-based rhythmic loops, singing and playing keyboards. Vineland features killer players like Nick Ryan (Skin Flowers), John Sporman (Tom Catmull's Radio Static), violinist Jenny Fawcett, Jamie Rogers (Magpies, Tom Catmull's Last Resort), Nathan Hoyme (Poor School) and Lukas Phelan (J. Sherri and Fantasy Suite). The standout is "Cairn," which has a rollicking Richard and Linda Thompson/Fairport Convention vibe. The rest of the album is equally strong, but less interested in pop hooks.
According to its Bandcamp page, Vineland is "a song cycle dedicated to the end of all things." I hope that Shahs isn't getting close to ending anytime soon. Note: Visit gofundme.com/shahs for the band's crowdfunding effort to make a vinyl pressing of this great record.