A little over two decades—twenty-two years and some weighty change: this’s been the formative interval of committed cultivation which now defines the band Shadeland. With their latest full-length, self-titled album (released in December, 2018, with vinyl available on April 13, 2019), the group has produced not only a sonic distillation, punctuating aspects which have distinguished them thus far, the LP Shadeland (Radio Cake Records) is a sonic saturation that—in a more macro perspective—reflects a mature concretization as creative craftsmen.
Allen Kell (lead vocals and guitar) and Brad Hudgins (drums), creative comrades since the band’s inception, have overseen the progression of this nebulous endeavor that is Shadeland, with brothers Matt and Brad Johnson (guitar and bass, respectively) contributing the remaining angles of this four-corner frame (I’d be remiss not to mention Andrew Hibdon, who occasionally supplies skills on bass).
Kell and Hudgins have been candid in discussions and interviews about the challenges which have presented themselves since the late 90s; but embracing theses real-life, often mundane obstacles has proven their resiliency (as both musicians and men who are occupied with jobs and the true “fans” that are their families), and they’ve managed to maintain their momentum despite the vox-populi pitfalls which set most other bands to fail.
With their latest album, Shadeland, the band has coordinated the potential of pursuing a new artery of artistry, and making the decision to self-title the album has the resonative effect of a sobering rapprochement of their identity. If you’re aware of their reputation, any encounter (whether live or otherwise) will prove to be fulfilling. If you’re new to the band, their determined persona will cling to you. Shadeland is a ten-song admixture of melancholy tempered by bouts of warm—sometimes painfully so—illumination. Even the album cover articulates this underlying duality.
Left to Right: Matt Johnson; Allen Kell; Brad Johnson; and Brad Hudgins (Photo Courtesy Jon Ball)
In a piece of creative prose when managing characterization, it’s lazy, as a writer, to appropriate blatant descriptive comparison to, say, a well-known actor. But, with the intent of drawing in a curious audience, I know few other ways than to make loose comparisons and struggle to do otherwise. Kell’s vocal textures—a petulant Jeff Buckley exercising occasional tinges akin to Muse’s Matt Bellamy.
The tracks on Shadeland are seamlessly connected—even in the spaces which suture the tentative silences between the weave of songs.
As with their previous albums (Escape Plan; Red Giant; and This Ghost), the opening melodies—“Not The Only One” and the first-released single, “I Did Not”—operate as incremental snares, both setting an inclusive hook and telegraphing the embraceable vibe beyond. The third track’s signpost is the lyrically loaded, “A Stranger Passing By” (which receives a brief, lyrical callback in the latter track, “Away In The River,” reinforcing the album’s bookend duality); but the pattern grows more complicated with the infectious fourth track, “Cicadas.”
“Look Around You” closes out Side A, with a humble “hiding-on-stage” polarization—a humble, subtle Janus-mask exultation.
“Walking Into the End” is a punchy number, slyly coated distortive primer, and showcases the respiratory relationship in Hudgins’s phenomenal rhythm section—the bullseye union of burrowing bass and denting drums. The song tonally operates like a curtain being swept aside in its denouement of the final three tracks.
Mentioned a moment ago, the ninth track, “A Stranger Remains,” employs a touch of intentional repetition in its wink to the “A Stranger Passing By” — there’s a circularity in it, as though both songs are gazing at each other in a warped mirror.
Shadeland is slated to release the vinyl version of their self-titled album on April 13, 2019, at Indy’s Square Cat Vinyl.
An Indy local, I’ve come to know Allen Kell, as an artist, from a distance. His discipline has transformed him. Sure: he’s a meticulous musician, a craftsman; but he’s also the rock star—and Shadeland is the rock band—that our city deserves.
(Photo Courtesy Jon Ball)
Whether Shadeland achieves national or international acclaim is not the point (I’d wager any of the band members would accommodate the possibility, but have never created music with such an intention). In their journey, Kell and Hudgins have navigated an unpredictable map bearing alterations in both their personal lives and in the industry at large.
The album, Shadeland, is not a new map for the members, but it’s an opportunity for them to flatten out the folds and smooth the creases—it’s an atlas that bears fresh conduits and encourages the listener to join them through the next trajectory of this impressive journey.