There’s something about many Canadian bands that renders them incapable of taking themselves seriously. Case in point, Fernie, British Columbia’s Shred Kelly. The self-proclaimed “stoke folk” band recently released a video for “Sing to the Night,” the title track off of their latest album, and it’s full of ‘80s snowsuits, choreographed dancing, and hula hoops. Thing is, it’s not a gimmicky song – Shred Kelly could most easily be compared to Mumford and Sons, the Band Perry, or the Lumineers. Turns out they’re paying homage to their ski town’s traditional Hot Dog Day, an event where everyone dresses in ‘80s ski suits and “hot dogs” their way down the hill doing tricks. It seems like Shred Kelly is doing things on their terms, whether it fits the folk image or not. Another example: they added a synthesizer to folk music. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
There aren’t many examples of songs that use both a banjo and a synthesizer out there, but this album has plenty. Though the synth gets a solo on “Sing to the Night,” it’s still used sparingly enough that the album still sounds like folk – there is plenty of banjo and mandolin to balance it out. The synth even drowns out the banjo on “Eyes Are Open,” but the furiously fast banjo pickin’ really keeps the song grounded in folk. On these synth-heavy songs, it sounds as if they asked Hot Fuss-era Killers to collaborate with a banjo band. It just comes across as high-energy folk. Heck, it might just be the high-energy banjo that’s holding it all together. Since it’s high-energy folk, songs like “Paperweights” get away with using handclaps without coming off as cheesy – it’s got a hootenanny feel. Other songs use no synth and are a little slower but still have that energy, like “Going Sideways.” Though it’s not a fast song, the use of the mandolin, various percussion instruments, and harmonized voices keep the song interesting and dynamic. It’s not a foot-stomper, but it doesn’t bring the album’s energy down and it flows well. Speaking of harmonized vocals, the lead vocals are shared by Sage McBride, with her gorgeous clear voice for the softer songs, and Tim Newton, with the semi-screamed vocals for the faster songs.
The lyrics cover everything from thoughts of settling down to letting someone in emotionally to encouragement to history. “Person of Heart” is probably one of the more introspective songs where the singer offers to let a loved one in to his emotional side – but uses lyrics like “and I love you more than this storm loves the rain.” It’s got the lyrics of a Weezer song from Make Believe or the Red Album. If my Canadian history knowledge serves me right, the dramatic “Start Again” is likely about suffragette Nellie McClung and her fight for women to be viewed as “persons.” As you may have guessed from the title, “Stereo” is the obligatory song about how life isn’t going so great but you can get lost in your favorite music and forget your troubles (does every band have one of these songs?) There’s nothing earth-shattering or world view-changing here, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fun, energetic folk album. It’s made for stomping your feet, not for dissecting and analyzing.
Shred Kelly is fun, in case you didn’t guess it from their corny skiing video. Though I initially thought that the video didn’t match the song at all, I now realize that it may be the best analogy for their music. The mixture of folk and the ‘80s-influenced synth is like the gorgeous ski hills of British Columbia with those ridiculous 30-year-old ski suits. It also shows that the band really doesn’t care if things are supposed to go together, they’re having a good time putting them together. They have synth drowning out a banjo on a couple of songs, which shouldn’t work, but it does. Shred Kelly can do dramatic, as evidenced on the excellent “Going Sideways” and “Start Again,” and they can do it well. Their greatest strength, though, is that fun, high-energy stoke folk. If you’re still trying to figure out what this sounds like, picture the concert that a bunch of 30-something ski bums in British Columbia would go to after a day on the slopes. Yep, that’s it.