The short version: I admire Amanda Shires’ experiment into electronic and rock music, but the album doesn’t quite completely stick the landing despite a few great moments.
The long version: Can artists ditch their signature sound and still make it work?
Amanda Shires promised something different on her new album, To The Sunset, leaving most of her fiddle work behind for electronic and rock instrumentation. This was a drastic departure for both her and producer, Dave Cobb, but if the lead single, “Leave It Alone” was any indication, the results would mostly stick the landing.
Unfortunately, the experiment doesn’t quite pull itself off, and while To The Sunset is a good project, it’s not quite as strong of an album as some of its individual songs are.
True to its promise, To The Sunset is quite a different album for Shires. The poetry is still there, but the stronger focus on presentation is noticeable, with tracks like “Parking Lot Pirouette” and “Leave It Alone” establishing dreamier, hazier atmospheres to fit their themes. “Eve’s Daughter,” while messy, does bring a garage rock edge to the forefront, and “Wasn’t I Paying Attention” brings in a grimy, smoldering groove to supplement its uneasiness.
But as mentioned before, this is hard to talk about as an album, and that’s mostly evident in its scope. To The Sunset tries to address multiple topics, and sometimes it works out well. As a whole though, considering there are only 10 tracks here, it does mean that it never really finds any consistent footing. Both “Parking Lot Pirouette” and “Leave It Alone” deal with the mysteries of love, but while the latter has a nice melodic foundation, the former track mostly tries to work by referencing abstract imagery and doesn’t quite connect.
It doesn’t help either that the perspective shifts every few songs. “Charms” is a highlight on the project, finding Shires reflecting on the charm her mother gave her (which kick-started her musical journey) and wondering what she’s leaving behind for her own daughter. This track displays a sense of intimacy that’s lacking from a lot of the otherwise distant tracks.
Shires also isn’t really an expressive enough vocalist to really triumph over some of the overbearing production, and that’s mostly evident on “Eve’s Daughter.” “Break Out The Champagne” falls into a similar boat by opting for humor, but like with “Parking Lot Pirouette,” there’s really no stakes to the writing or Shires’ performance. The same can be said for the slight motivational track, “Take On The Dark.”
The album houses its best tracks toward the end. “Mirror, Mirror” adds a nice groove to compliment the hazier production. Unlike before where the mythological references felt forced in, here, there’s more at stake, with jealousy shown toward a marriage and wanting what one can’t have in a way that feels more grounded and stretched out. “Wasn’t I Paying Attention” is an especially good, detailed track that sketches out the day of a man’s suicide from a friend’s point of view and finds them asking what they could have done. It’s especially disturbing given that there’s little things the narrator missed when she loaned her friend her truck where he did the deed.
I wish I had more to talk about with this album. Thematically, that metaphorical “sunset” of death and destruction is prevalent, but the writing often feels too disconnected. The electronic production does lead to some darker, more sinister melodies or grooves every now and then, but it also comes at the cost of burying Shires in the mix. Overall, To The Sunset is a mixed bag of an experiment that works well in places, but not as a whole.
- Favorite tracks: “Wasn’t I Paying Attention,” “Leave It Alone,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “Charms”
- Least favorite track: “Break Out The Champagne”