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Desert Sharks scale new heights (and deconstruct a few feminine archetypes) on The Tower EP

Desert Sharks scale new heights (and deconstruct a few feminine archetypes) on The Tower EP

photo by Michelle LoBianco aka @brooklynelitist

Desert Sharks
’ new EP The Tower (Substitute Scene Records) opens with a song called “Medusa” which is perhaps best described as a piston-driven Shangri-Las meets L7 in beast mode rager with earworm melodies and bubblegum harmonies (those harmonies!) poured like icing over a dense poundcake of gritty/grungy riffage as the song’s titular gorgon wonders aloud “why can’t you look me in the eye?”…

…and while the answer may seem obvious it’s soon made clear her query is quite serious—judging by its repetition and by the heart-rending intensity of the vocals on the whole—not to mention there’s plenty of reasons that various gods and monsters (who can tell the difference, ammirite?) could or should have a hard time looking Medusa in the eye, if they had any scruples that is, nevermind the risk of being rendered into statuary...

… witness for instance how Poseidon’s cruel deception (“he forced me and fought me and left me to bleed”) and Athena’s wrathful envy (“she put the blame on me”) turned the once comely lass into a cobra-tressed sorceress in the first place and if it weren’t for her similarly afflicted gal pals Stheno and Euryale (“my sisters, my serpents, my sole company”) she’d be all alone save for Perseus (one of Zeus’s many bastard sons) who stalks her with a dagger and a head-sized duffle bag for reasons too convoluted to get into here…

…and even when the bastard demigod finally manages to behead our misbegotten gorgon it doesn’t hurt her trademark looks-that-kill one bit (“kill me and still I refuse to concede / in death I'm just as powerful, they can't contain me”) as Perseus is well aware, whipping her severed head out of his knapsack when confronted by a Kraken or some other deadly foe who’ll soon find themselves turned to stone by Medusa’s deadly-if-not-quite-dead-herself gaze, a testament to used-and-abused women everywhere who somehow retain their ability to slay

…with the moral of the story being that it’s hard out here for a gorgon (or for goddesses in general) whose powers are forever imperiled not only by their natural supernatural rivals but also by mortal men who fear being diminished by the very existence of Divine Feminine Energy (DFE)…

…an energy they seek to condemn and control, or better yet to manipulate it and exploit for personal gain (Exhibit A: Perseus) and should any of their DFE-possessing targets lose their heads over rampant double standards it’ll likely only end up reinforcing long-standing stereotypes of the “irrational female” so you see there’s no winning with the patriarchy…

…as further explored on the EP’s next track “Sleepy Pie” where the Sharks shift focus from the female gaze to the male gaze, set against a slinky but still sludgy sonic backdrop, with the song’s narrator taking on the role of a dream girl (“fulfilling your desire…set[ting] your soul on fire”) culminating in a rousing sing-along refrain (“you make me / a flesh and blood fantasy”) that serves as yet another iteration of gender-based double standards where the ideal “dream girl” women is both corporal and mythical if not outright illusory…

…but hey we’re just spitballing here so don’t let this male reviewer’s perspective bring you down cuz even if The Tower’s lyrical themes tend to the weightier side of things—we don’t have the space to dig into “Emotional Breakdown” or “Ego Death” or “Shadows” but just check out those titles—the actual sounds on the EP are fleet-footed and fun (assuming you’re into first-wave punk and doom metal and power pop and garage rock) and most of all empowering thanks to the undeniable lifeforce of their playing…

…and don’t even get us started on Desert Sharks’ live shows like the one this past Saturday at the Sultan Room where the foursome’s (sometimes fivesome’s) usual joie de vive was transformed into joie de spring at an EP release party that doubled as a ritual summoning of spring (shout out to Persephone who’s no less badass than Medusa) with the flower-festooned stage bearing witness to much jumping about and gyrating and thrusting and tumbling to the ground not unlike the riotous Russian ballerinas at the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring some 110 years ago

…and maybe it’s a stretch but I swear drummer Rebecca Fruchter has gotta be the long lost lovechild of the Muppet’s Janice and Animal (of course!) as evidenced by the walloping foundation she lays down for the Sharks’ electric mayhem centered around Sunny Veniero’s blistering guitar attack (just imagine if Johnny Ramone played solos, solos that shredded no less, and wasn’t enamored of Ronald Reagan) with extra layers of nuance and propulsion brought to the mix by Cait Smith, the group’s latest addition, in her rhythm guitar work and backing vocals…

…and then finally there’s Stephanie Gunther who holds down the low end with phat fuzzed-out bass lines topped off by a voice powerful enough to rise above the din (her newly prominent upper register doesn’t hurt either) and when it comes to the epic closing title track it makes total sense it’s named for “The Tower” Tarot card symbolizing “upheaval, chaos, revelation, [and] awakening” which is totally apropos given how much Stephanie, Sunny, Cait, and Rebecca come off like a gang of avenging May Queens risen from the ashes ready to usher in the latest cycle of their collective journey… (Jason Lee)

Published: April 06, 2023 |

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