Guano is the Explosive Opening Salvo from Spooky Canadian Punks, Shitbats

Guano is the Explosive Opening Salvo from Spooky Canadian Punks, Shitbats

Shitbats’ debut is an explosive package of irresistible spooky surf punk, filled with attitude and energy.

A good sign that a debut album is going to be great is that every member of the band on the cover is wearing an eyepatch. Granted, this is from a sample size of one. That one album is Guano by Shitbats. This band from Ontario, Canada has been playing together as a side project since 2014. Shitbats are made up of guitarist Dan Serre, bassist Mitch Decaire, drummer Strummer Jasson, and vocalist Cat Clyde. Clyde has a few solo albums of her own, with a collection of acoustic songs released back in June. According to their band bio, their arrival was foretold by an ancient Sumerian scroll, and they are destined to vanquish a trickster god. 

Shitbats embraced a spooky aesthetic for their album artwork: eyebatches, one-eyed skulls, and black paint over Cat Clyde’s eyes, and that carries over to the band’s sound. They play fast and loud, sometimes with a surf rock sound, sometimes just cutting loose with frantic punk energy. But throughout Guano they capture a menacing feeling, filling their songs with a fun kind of foreboding. It’s an album that feels like the band is just having fun and playing the kind of bizarre music they want to. Over eight brief songs, Shitbats leave one hell of an impression.

The rumbling bass and bare drums get the ball rolling on “Fishing in the Waters of Skull Island.” Feedback and overdriven, crunchy guitar growls in next, and the instrumental is all doom and snarling. It’s surf rock, but all the surfers are skeletons, and the sharks underneath them are probably skeletons too. Because we’re on Skull Island, that means King Kong’s the judge, and I think he’s probably pretty hard to impress. The guitar alternates between low growls and quick high strums, but it all blasts by quickly. The track is brief, but it immediately sets a mood that’s fun, full of unbridled energy, and just a little spooky.

“Reefer Madness” opens with hammering chords and drums. That’s when Clyde’s voice makes its first appearance, and it’s all attitude and dread. The track is full of the overblown hysteria of the 1930s propaganda movie that gives the song its name. Clyde’s spoken word section especially sticks out: 

Hunting a thrill

They inhaled a drag of concentrated sin

Now consumed by misery

They’re pounding on the doors

They’re pounding on the doors

The track feels like a zombie movie in song form, and the lines in the chorus “Women cry for it / Men die for it” are deliciously insane. Clyde’s voice is at times menacing and low, and at other times high and shrieking. It’s a fun and ridiculous ride, especially the middle slow section that references a Firesign Theatre comedy album from the 70s with the lines “Martian space party” and “Papoon for president.”

The next track, “Ego Amigo,” takes things a little slower and easier. The guitar’s effects-heavy intermittent strums give way to crunchy power chords as Clyde’s voice goes from easy-going, almost spoken lines to the howling chorus of “Your ego is not your amigo.” Though constantly  shifting, back and forth, Clyde’s voice never loses its venom, as she denounces swollen heads and egotistical people living in a dream world. The song shifts again to rumbling bass, alone and quiet, joined by faint drums and  guitar riffs. Then it all falls apart as the drums, bass, and guitar scatter out. But it’s a false ending, as Clyde’s voice rings out for one final chorus. 

“Ad Makes Sad” begins with frantic drumming and is quickly joined by scraping guitar and rumbling bass. The song wastes no time becoming all speed and punk energy, especially when the lyrics start. Clyde sings with theatricality as she snarls with a stark anti-consumerist message. The song rushes along, but suddenly takes things down a notch with some breezy bass plucking. But that’s just a brief interlude before fast power chords come back and Clyde wails:  

Why should I be forced to see

What have you done to me

Why should I be forced to hear

It fills me full of fear

Consumption isn’t all that Clyde is decrying, but the system that keeps people afraid and without options other than further consumption.

On the next track, “Seaweed Sway,”  Clyde’s voice is at its most unhinged. Sometimes a high squeal and sometimes a comically low rumble, Clyde drops references to A Clockwork Orange as the instrumentation returns to a dark, surf rock sound. The lyrics tell a twisted story of a dangerous and carefree life, and Clyde’s batty performance highlights the menace. The song briefly slows down for a breather with feedback-heavy guitar whining, but it grooves along to the end.

High feedback from the guitar opens “Succubus,” and the drums come in shortly after. Compared to the other tracks,  this song almost seems slow. A cowbell clanks in the background as the lyrics tell of a man named Bill who has no soul whose goal is to suck out the soul of a girl named Sally. Clyde’s vocals are more restrained, but she sings like she’s telling a spooky story around a campfire, with a great series of lines: 

I see him put on a show

Playing the role any human would know

He circles like a crow

His claws are in

He won’t like go

They sink in deep

She doesn’t know

A brief interlude of just feedback makes you think the song will end, but the instruments return for one last perilous riff.

The penultimate track, “Let Me Go,” gets things moving quickly. It’s Shitbats’ version of a break up song, full of boundless energy and venomous lyrics. The guitar is all distortion and hammering power chords over a driving, relentless bass and crashing drums. Clyde shows off the many shades of her voice, including a husky, desperate whisper,  but her breathless repetitions of “Oh, won’t you please let me go” give the song an irresistible drive and an implacable punk energy. The song rushes by and it’s over before you know it, but it just keeps beckoning you back.

The album ends with another instrumental track, “Goodbye Rock Rat.” Decaire’s bass is the throughline, giving the track a sense of movement, but it feels like an exhausted victory lap. The rushing and crashing of the last seven songs have left the band and you spent, but they have just enough left in the tank to manage a brief instrumental track that gives you one last taste of the band’s unique vibe. Jasson’s crashing drums give way to fading cymbal taps, and Serre’s guitar has just a few cyclical, echoing riffs left to give. In such an energetic yet brief album, it all comes and goes so quickly and with so much fire. But this track gives you time to recover. It’s like waking up with only foggy memories of how you got where you are. But all you can do is get up and wander off and wonder if it was all a dream.

Their debut is brief, but it packs so much energy, attitude, and character in eight songs that all you want to do is keep replaying it. Shitbats sometimes sound like surf rock from hell, and sometimes just cut loose for some good old fashion garage punk. No matter what sound they’re going for, Shitbats do it with style on their fun and spooky debut.

 

Top Photo by Drew Shoe

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