Holy Shit - Stranded at Two Harbors (2006)
While Holy Shit’s lineup is fluid (with Matt Fishbeck’s presence apparently the only common denominator through various incarnations), the Stranded at Two Harbors album features both Fishbeck and Ariel Pink. Written, performed, recorded, and mixed by Matt Fishbeck and Ariel Pink, the collaborative album works as an entire statement, and also boasts fine and inviting songs that work as isolated pieces of music.
Start with: “My Whole Life Story”, "Written All Over Your Face", and "I Don't Need Enemies"
Why it’s worth revisiting: This album's collaboration of Matt Fishbeck and Ariel Pink is a remarkably effective one that coaxes fine contributions as a team, yet allows them to retain a strong sense of their own musical and artistic identities. Stranded at Two Harbors is remarkable in its ability to subtly straddle experimental and pop esthetics with equal authority.
Opening instrumental track “Maus is Missing” evokes a cinematic, atmospheric feeling with its near-majestic theme (and certainly appropriate for a work that references John Maus). “Written All Over Your Face” is one of the more immediately inviting tracks on the album, with its unorthodox instrumentation, ephemeral vocals, lilting bass line, and lightly supportive percussion.
The distortion and hiss-laden “Tokyo Gamblers” bears sonic characteristics familiar to fans of Ariel Pink’s earlier work. The track offers more than simple lo-fi esthetics, however, and rewards the listener upon repeated visits. Similarly, “Hot on Your Trail” is more than the sum of its seemingly lo-fi parts, and effectively strikes a dreamlike tone that stands the test of repeated listenings. For anyone looking for exceptional and traditionally-crafted songwriting, “My Whole Life Story” is the clear standout on the album. While sonically consistent with the rest of the album, this track is truly a remarkable brilliant pop composition and performance that warrants special acclaim. As tends to be the case with rare, great pop songs, it leaves the listener wanting more, but fortunately is up to the task of staying fresh and pleasing even after repeated plays.
The energy of “New Colors” is effective and well-placed in the tracklisting, and the instrumental “Stranded” is a particularly captivating, brief-but-worthwhile highlight. “The Notice” hypnotizes with its dreamlike repetition, and is followed by another album highlight, “I Don’t Need Enemies”. The latter track is recognizable to anyone familiar with Ariel Pink’s Loverboy, and is one of the more memorable contributions on both albums.
“The Castle” pleases with its ethereal vocals and guitars, prefacing the extended and fragmented surrealism of “Let’s Get Straight”. Rather than punctuate a dreamlike album like Stranded at Two Harbors with a straight-ahead pop entry along the lines of “My Whole Life Story” or “I Don’t Need Enemies”, Fishbeck and Pink opt instead to let the album to dissipate appropriately with “When You Came Around to Me”. The choice is a sound one, leaving the listener with the memory of an exploratory and ephemeral album, albeit with energetic and accessible high points.
Happy listening, weirdos!