Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There's a tainted creek flowing through the music of Steve Shiffman & The Land of No, as if some iron or copper deposits imbedded in the banks have seeped out of their hiding places and into the waters, though you'd never really know it if you were one of those people who didn't pay attention to words as they were being sung. There are shadows and moments of grifting that happen through Shiffman's songs that send cold shivers through spines, even as the windows have been cracked open and the curtains have been slid to the side, letting in all of the available light - making everything seem peachy and bathed. Know what, though, you can hear it, even if you're unable to focus on what's being sung. It's there and it's striking. What's also there are the necessary contradictions, the flies in the ointment that counteract any assumptions that we're dealing with some kind of dreary indie rock and roll. We also hear, on this New York band's self-titled debut album, moments that remind us of an all-inclusive, warm weathered vacation joint, where every alcoholic beverage is free and just a few steps away, as well as there being nothing at all that needs to be done other than bronzing and engorging on cheesecake and dish after dish served under a dose of a different curry. It's a smattering of everything - heavy matters, pop hooks, people just trying to get a taste of the sweet cream on the top of the sundae and an old-time way with songwriting that hangs on its own intelligence and feels like those smoky rooms that we all used to drink our live music fixes out of.
Shiffman hangs us up on the good and bad sides of the blade, giving us enough melody and pure garage rock crunchiness to get us rambunctiously banging our heads into dance fits and still dishing us pessimistic, the meek shall not inherit the earth vibes. We catch the benefits of an Indian Summer and we are ill-treated to the inevitable crash at the end of the extended season of short sleeves. Shiffman isn't against looking out at the scenery and getting swept up in the perceived beauty of it, but he's also one of those fellows who is unsure of where he fits into the grand scheme and this brings out songs like "Everyone's Getting Married" and the exceptional songs, "Death In The Newsgroup" and "Unfortunately For Her." He sings of someone being an "unfortunate victim of a manmade heat wave" and hints at another having "waterbed blues" and later in "Unfortunately For Her," adds, "While the smart aleck kids all think they invented the page I'm writing on/Will I give her a thought while as I keep on begging for these things to refuse/Unfortunately for her, she looks just like you." The articulately phrased real horrors of everyday life and interaction that Shiffman peddles are striking in their seemingly carefree nature, shaped as they are in his thrill-like, "Sun, Sun, Sun"-ish Elected way and they sound like they may be wearing their own wayfarers. They won't be needing yours. They're cool and they're wound up. They're in all ways, all of us, most of the time - tainted and considering that to be par for the course.