Sharkmuffin is a frequent area visitor that hails from the mighty, mighty burg of Brooklyn. I have to be honest, when I first heard the name, I thought that it was another Williamsburg band picking up stakes and driving their Penny Farthing into a town packed to the bursting point with ironic trustfundians all boasting (over craft beers) about how they’re the first geniuses to conquer Bond Street. But, having said that, this is one of those situations where repeated word of mouth (thanks, Chris Yaniak and Doug Zambon) truly focused my attentions on an extremely believable act.
Comprised of core members Tarra Thiessen (vocals/guitar) and Natalie Kirch (vocals/bass), Sharkmuffin has already scored some impressive kudos in their short but constant presence. Praised by seemingly everyone, Sharkmuffin accolades read like a veritable second coming of punk itself. And as odd as that might seem (the duo has only released a couple of EPs and a self-titled 7”), it’s a solid acknowledgement aimed at a group that possesses a rare set of elements needed to get that far. But there’s something else driving the rise of this group that isn’t out in plain view. Their combination of blitzkrieg bop, rust-tinged rock and acid-soaked surf monster punk is a combination that has connected with enough people outside the Tri-State Area to see them out on the road for most of the year.
And if their buzz worthiness wasn’t enough, the current tour and disc features rock pioneer Patty Schemel from Hole. Schemel is back on top and more than capable as she adds solid foundation to the group’s compositional missiles. Her meteoric rise with the emergence of grunge is well documented, as is her time with the infamous Courtney Love. She lends a genuine and mysterious ingredient to Sharkmuffin’s evolutionary mix.
Speaking of drummers, Little Dickman honcho Chris Yaniak told me that Sharkmuffin feature all of them, past and present on the cover of the soon-to-be-released Chartreuse. I’m not sure why they’ve had 12 drummers, but it seems that perhaps they’ve had similar issues to Spinal Tap when it comes to the unpredictable clan of the skin bashers. Perhaps they’re just sticklers for the exact meter, but the percussive artwork inclusion shows that when it comes to their past, they still retain that loving feeling.
As to the why of the new record title, Thiessen tells us, “Chartreuse is mine and Natalie’s favorite color, but it’s also a liqueur whose recipe is only known by two monks, and each monk only knows half the recipe and has to keep it a secret. All the tracks are really bright, in your face, and obvious like the color, but all lyrically deal with relationship dynamics involving things that for better or worse were hidden from each other.”
The first song on Chartreuse is also the disc’s namesake. Unleashing the sound of a thousand hornets, Thiessen and Kirch tear through dangerous curves of unabridged and psychedelic dervish raunch. Guitars explode and break up under thick barrages of fuzz-drenched Ventures feedback as Kirch and Schemel rumble and nail this wild card to the proverbial floor. Thiessen’s reverb-dipped vocals hiccup and squeal into sonic plate reverberations of mayhem. When it comes to an impression, “Chartreuse” brings back all the memorable ’90s magic supplied by Throwing Muses and The Breeders.
“Mondays” pumps out of the speakers with Zeppelin panache. Schemel kicks sand in the face of most drummers as she lays her pocket-tight intro underneath grinding guitar and bass action. Thiessen throws some stormy, pentatonic funk riffage that would make Johnny Frusciante sit up and take notice. Her vocal melodies are Mad Max attractive and feature a chorus that you’ll be singing for days. Raw, animalistic and steeped in British Invasion, “Mondays” plays like a proverbial holiday.
Floating around the disc, “Secrets” roars into the viewfinder next. If anyone thinks these girls aren’t proficient players, this is a track that will challenge that doubt. Fluctuating, progressive tempos, chord changes and lead guitar breaks fly throughout this song’s hemisphere like a pterodactyl. Unhinged and otherworldly, “Secrets” spills the beans from first note to last. Thiessen utilizes unorthodox phrasing and melody choices to get her point across. The juxtaposition of guitar pattern and vocal journey reacts like an entwining anaconda, squeezing muscular musical motion up and into the piece where it gets finished off by Kirch and Schemel.
“First Date” is the hoped for single. Lassoing a combination of Kim Deal insanity and Courtney Love tenacity, “First Date” plows into the disc with all the ferocity Of Jane’s Addiction when they mattered. Bombastic guitars fume over thick and gritty drum and bass work. Thiessen soars into the outer limits of snarling, candy-coated vocal charm. This tune is a whopping 1:03 of rebellious cacophony. Ironic as an apple with a razor blade inside, “First Date” is a sweet and vicious coming of age.
Another highlight is “Tampons Are For Sluts.” Following the heroine-laced meter of “Last Splash,” Sharkmuffin rolls into their zombie groove with set up expertise, shoring up their spatial chorus as they chug and bounce along. Thiessen is not a commercial parody of the music business, and she stands hairs on end as she wails into the chorus with the best rollercoaster vocal pitch I’ve heard in years. Powerful and frenetic, “TAFS” surges, satisfies and plugs that aching hole in your…heart.
“I Called You From The Moon” is another full-throttled ode to the days of 1990s glory and is the last song on the disc. Guitars fire off sheets of white-hot distortion and tidal wave washes of reverbed vocal urgency as Kirch and Schemel blow through the backbone of this two minutes and change of exploratory Space Ace travel. Guitar hits finish things off, slamming bar chord admonishments and sparkling lead trills into the very last notes. One of my favorites on the disc, it ends way too soon for me.
Sharkmuffin is a band that will get bigger in quick measure. They have the right look, the tough-as-nails attitude, and the industry attention to place them on a national plateau. With what’s being passed off in music today as brilliance, I think it’s a great coup.
I know that they’re that good because I can already see the copycats coming. Just like in that Happy Gilmore movie where Shooter McGavin sneaks off to a hidden glade to practice Happy’s signature golf swing. Each city they leave will spawn a few that want to be them. That’s the ever-present hope for each person that picks up a guitar, and it’s the highest form of flattery for anyone in a public forum. But after hearing this simple, three-piece band blow the doors off of 10 songs without fancy production or multimillion-dollar budgets, if you want to cop this, you better get to work right now, because you’re going to need all the help you can get.
You’ll get one last chance to scope out Sharkmuffin this Saturday, Aug. 8, at the Asbury Yacht Club on the boardwalk of Asbury Park. After that, they’re out on the road till God knows when.
For more information on Sharkmuffin, Chartreuse and the Aug. 8 show, head over to sharkmuffin.com.