It seems nearly every review I’ve read of local band Shark Speed compares them to the Seattle-based indie group Minus the Bear. And for the most part, it’s a comparison I get. I hear the strong similarities, for example, between Shark Speed vocalist Thayne Fagg and Jake Snider of Minus the Bear. Both bands also dabble in halting song structures and occasionally climb the precipice of cacophony.
That said, however, it’s not necessarily a comparison I like — primarily because I dig Shark Speed, but don’t love Minus the Bear. And while I’ve always had some trouble explaining why I like the one and not the other, Shark Speed’s latest EP “Education” — which will be released this Saturday at Velour — goes a long way in making the case that the band is a unique group that ought to be evaluated outside the shadows of its influences.
“Education” includes only four songs and is relatively short, even for an EP. It starts out strong with what’s probably my personal favorite of the collection, “King of the World.” The song is distinctly Shark Speed-esque, but startled me in the growth it displays over the band’s full-length album Sea Sick Music from last year. Fagg’s vocals are still grainy, for example, but suddenly they have more dance-hall bluster than they used to. Though he didn’t sound bad before, now he comes off as a seasoned pro at the helm of a versatile group. Similarly, the song’s instrumentation feels more palatable than both many Minus the Bear songs, and earlier Shark Speed. It doesn’t strictly unfold in a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure, but the instrumentation lends the song some much appreciated cohesion.
“King of the World” is followed by “Killing Kind” and “Ill-Fate Incarnate.” Though these songs didn’t envelop me the way the opener did, they continue to show off the band’s evolution and maintain the record’s momentum. I especially appreciated the electronic flourishes added by drummer Jared Christensen and, on “Ill-Fate Incarnate,” the quasi four-on-the-floor disco flavor that occasionally wafted up through the cracks.
The EP’s final track, “Like A Dead Dog,” offers a strong finish and surprisingly reminded me of the happy, proto-indie music that was popular in the late ’90s. (A good thing, in my opinion.) It synthesizes the different elements found in the previous songs — things like melancholic but ultimately cheerful lyrics and slightly asymmetrical song structure — but manages to convey a genuine exuberance rare for its genre. It finishes off with several measures of blisteringly distorted guitar that, combined with a simple trumpet riff, manage to not sound too “hard” or incongruous.
Overall, “Education” works as a pretty cohesive cluster of songs and reminds me faintly of how Kings of Leon have developed over the years. Though they’ll probably continue to be compared to Minus the Bear (as UVU did on Monday), I rather enjoyed the fact that Shark Speed doesn’t come off as weepingly pathetic or panderingly indie in the way other groups sometimes do. Instead, the band seems to have plumbed a deeper and more emotionally raw space and consequently progressed without abandoning their roots.
This isn’t to say that “Education” is perfect, or that everyone will immediately fall in love with it. The style has niche appeal (even if that niche can be pretty inclusive) and, though Shark Speed plays it well, I don’t think it’s unfair to say it polarizes some listeners. Still, “Education” is a strong and pleasurable release from one of the area’s hardest working bands. In the end, then, whether or not you’ve found your heart racing for them in the past, you might suddenly feel the need for Shark Speed.
For more information on “Education,” visit Shark Speed’s website here. The band will play Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Jim Dalrymple is a regular correspondent for Rhombus.
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