Release Date: May 26, 2015
Record label: Suicide Squeeze
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
At first it sounds like a wrong note, low and loud and gently discordant near the start of "Butter & Eggs", the opening track on Shana Cleveland’s solo debut. She picks out a quiet acoustic theme shaped roughly like a question mark, then dots it with a bass note that thrums loosely, a rattle that cuts the air and dispels the notion that Oh Man, Cover the Ground will be the kind of tasteful folk record that plays quietly in the background. There’s an entire guitar solo in that one moment, revealing Cleveland to be a deft player and a witty composer.
Although she is better known as the frontwoman for Seattle-based surf noir group La Luz, Shana Cleveland's solo folk project pre-dates that band by several years. Just before moving to Seattle, the Michigan native spent a year living in Los Angeles, where she developed a meandering acoustic fingerstyle technique inspired by American Primitive guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho. Over the next couple of years, she worked out a series of loose, rambling songs, playing selective shows with a rotating cast of players collectively referred to as the Sandcastles.
Fans of surf-rock quartet La Luz may be caught off guard by this quasi-solo offering from founding member Shana Cleveland. The long-gestating Oh Man, Cover The Ground (reportedly in the works since 2011) will definitely not be confused with a La Luz record. If that band's It's Alive was 20-foot swells and choppy seas, then Oh Man, Cover The Ground is like a hazy sunset comedown — more hang loose than hang ten, if you're into extended surfing analogies.Oh Man… is decidedly less immediate and accessible than La Luz's more poppy output, but both bands share a retro vibe, with Cleveland & The Sandcastles trading in La Luz's Ventures references for a stab at late '60s/early '70s-ish folk.
To pull off a side project, a musician must first have a band with a specific sound to branch off from, and that branching off must not sound exactly like the original band. Think The Postal Service from Death Cab for Cutie or Lotus Plaza from Deerhunter. La Luz guitarist Shana Cleveland can now join those ranks, with her long-gestating side project Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles finally breaking free of the “mostly for house shows” title they’d prescribed themselves over the past six years.
Shana Cleveland & the Sandcastles’ “Oh Man, Cover the Ground” runs on an old aesthetic, generally speaking. It’s a meandering, post-folk record with fingerpicked acoustic guitar at the center, and it relates back to the powerful, unsettling, what-comes-after-tradition impulse that musicians around the world were working out from the mid-’60s to the early ’70s: John Fahey, the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and on and on. But there’s something else here: some newer, self-possessed, low-flame, easy-rolling kind of curiosity, not particularly fixed in one aesthetic or another.