Something So Personal
by Chad Jewett
The cover of Makeshift Shelters’ Something So Personal features a silhouetted pair, surrounded on all sides by a vivid Technicolor burst, looking something like the time-lapse snapshot of an exploding set of crayons. That sense of many-splendored energy is wholly apt for a record as bursting and radiant as Something So Personal, Makeshift Shelters’ debut and one of the absolute best records of the year so far. Massive in its ultrabright romanticism, strikingly confident in its sense of melody, direction, songcraft, and proportion, it’s the sort of album that seems to keep expanding and running cleanly on its own sense of wonder, thoughtfulness, and dynamism.
Something So Personal begins with “Opposite Directions”, a two-minute sprint that serves to set the album’s general pace and scope: a muscular, hyper-tuneful intersection of The Get Up Kids (guitars arrive in strummy bunches and surrounded on all sides by synths that pop like Christmas bulb strands), Rainer Maria (songs swing in outsized motion from quick dashes to magisterial swoons), and early Taking Back Sunday (the record strikes a harder-than-it-looks balanced between potential and kinetic energy that was the one real innovation of records like Tell All Your Friends). The song flashes by with a mix of nimble speed and real heft, only making time for a pair of verses and (briskly catchy) choruses, and setting a taste for high pop economy that the rest of Something So Personal follows throughout. But there’s less precedent for the sharp, catching melodies that Ella Boissonnault stretches over those knotted emo/punk/indie-pop palettes – the vivacious call-and-response chorus she works out for “Opposite Directions”, the deeply affecting falsetto hook of “Overflowing”, the witty playfulness and bite of “This Song Is Definitely Not About A Boy”.
Boissonnault is a confident, gifted dramatist, finding room for the matching lilt, the touching falsetto, the just-right gracenote so often that Something So Personal’s grip on the subtle alchemy of guitar pop begins to feel air-tight. Which is a good thing, since amongst the many revelations to be found on the album is the unapologetic élan the band shows in bringing tunefulness and a songwriter’s sense of direction to emo. “This Song Is Definitely Not About A Boy” doesn’t just share a (welcome) point about indie-boy elitism with Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. It also smuggles in some of that song’s humor and conversational feminism (though one might be given pause by a line like “You look so ugly when you cry” on an album that is otherwise so deeply human and humane), while adding a precise and much-needed critique of punk scene sexism.
It should also be noted that the album, produced by The World Is A Beautiful Place guitarist Chris Teti, sounds gorgeous. The bass harnesses the just-right mix of flinty grind and tangible rumble that calls to mind Dude Ranch, and the band has the good taste and instinct to keep the guitars either roaring in a thick, low-mid blanket or spangling in gossamer upper reaches, keeping the proper middle open for Boissonault’s expressive, often ecstatic keyboard. Paul Karcic’s kick drum keeps an air-moving thump throughout, pocking the bottom reaches of a record which at times can be almost opaque in its packed-in blend of chirping synths and swirling guitar layers.
Elsewhere, Boissonnault brings subtlety and warmth to “New Coast”, a scaled-down ballad that might have suffered amongst the more dense, accelerating heights of Something So Personal if not for the soulful twang that the singer lends, the blue notes that make lyrics like “I don’t really know anymore what keeps me here and trying / Cuz everyone’s been lying when they said they cared” catch. Later, Boissonnault continues to push at her elastic voice, working the closing refrain of “They pierce and they ramble” like ambient light to be shaped and stretched until she leaps into a last enormous swell: “They won’t let me go”. It’s an even more poignant version of the strength and flexibility that similarly marks the sweeping romance of album-closer “Darkest Nights”, where a closing refrain of “I still want to wake up where you are” is similarly wrung out for every last bit of pathos as the quartet hammers away in taut theatricality, all tight strums and dancing keyboards. The performances are indelible and, if enough people hear Something So Personal, star-making.
If Boissonault makes gripping art out of the measured “New Coast”, there isn’t really much of an opportunity on “I’ll Be The One That Comes Around”, a largely acoustic passage that feels flat and out of place on an album otherwise characterized by layers constantly in shimmering motion. It’s one of the many ways that the album recalls the world-conquering emo-pop grandness of albums like Deja Entendu and Where You Want To Be (there’s also a bit of “Slowdance On The Inside” stamped into the DNA of “Darkest Nights”), except that the acoustic passages of those albums told us something new about Brand New and Taking Back Sunday, whereas “I’ll Be The One” really only clarifies that Makeshift Shelters excel when they’re either working in the fleet confidence of two minute rushes like “Opposite Directions” and the bravely intimate “Hips” or stretching out for the poetic orchestral bombast of “Darkest Nights” and “Overflowing”. Think of it as the one off-note on an otherwise brilliant work – an album that should mean very much to a lot of people and that works through its deceivingly complex range of emotions, narratives, sonic shapes, and melodic ideas with equal parts grace and hunger.