Read the band’s own account of the writing and recording process for their latest album and, if you’re a musician stuck in a creative rut, you’ll find the one answer you need to all your half-baked questions; you aren’t trying hard enough. Starting in September 2010, the blog gives a very honest and detailed account of how songs were formulated and how the band found the time and money to record them all on an island: "I did some driving jobs on Saturday which went a long way towards paying for our boat over to Jersey for the recordings". When you take into account that Shield Your Eyes have also played over sixty shows with about half of those in Europe between then and now, you start to get fidgety even looking at a sofa. All bands should chronicle their lives like this whilst writing their music. Firstly because appreciation of the final product is heightened tenfold, but also because reading about a band’s aspirations, ideas and mistakes makes them human, making what they have achieved so much more incredible but at the same time inspiringly attainable. Volume 4 is my favourite kind of record: a sincere masterpiece by a humble underground band. The album has such a down to earth feel to it that you almost expect a personalised message at the end of the record inviting you for a pint.
Coaxed in by six stick taps, opener ‘Larkspur’ has a repeatedly bending riff played on a treble-laden guitar that sounds like the neck is going to snap at any minute. Couple this with shuffling drums and breaking vocals that have apparently been picked up by accident through microphones meant for other instruments and you’re sailing. ‘Drill Your Heavy Heart’ is a skewed bluesy ballad that ebbs and flows along, again with the vocals screeching almost to snapping point, and has industrial warehouses full of room for invention which will undoubtedly be abused when played live. It’s this track and the fourth, ‘Tryna Lean A Ladder Up Against The Wind’, that completely defy conventional guitar playing in a way that is nothing short of astonishing when you consider that Stef Ketteringham has to sing at the same time. With the amount of intense string bends he fits in, the man must have diamond tipped fingers stopping the strings cutting through him like cheese wire.
There are less psychotic moments on the album, most notably ‘Glad’ which has similarities with Gomez in its laid back and soulful acoustic drawl. In a much more intimate moment, Ketteringham sings wistfully, "high and happy when I should feel sad, melancholy when I should feel glad, ain’t one fish in all the seas, you could make care what day of the week it is". Using acoustic guitars was new ground for Shield Your Eyes on this album - and along with ‘Glad’ - seventh song ‘Crowd’ shows that they can tread softer ground and easily stamp their unique mark on it.
It’s album closer ‘Schutze Deiner Augen’ (the band’s name in German) that probably comes closest to their self-labelling of "a kind of rattled out progressive blues", being comprised solely of a steely sounding guitar and vocals. Screaming, "I want to work as many hours as you can pay, I came here for twelve hour days", Ketteringham again touches on the graft that clearly goes into the making of all their records, also raising a voice for plenty of their musical peers who work to the point of exhaustion to get their music out on independent labels.
Overall, Volume 4 captures the concentrated raw quality of Shield Your Eyes when they play live, hinting at their love of improvisation but still conjuring up riffs that will stick in your head like a pitchfork. Along with Hired Muscle’s The Last Minute, this record is one of the best to have come out of underground music recently and similarly proves that guitar/bass/drums trios can still reinvent the wheel.