Los Angeles-born and Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Brian Shapiro and his band aren’t interested in entertainment alone. Their latest album It’s Amazing! follows their 2021 debut All That We See in several ways and its desire to leave a lasting impact on listeners rates high among them. Multiple sources fuel that hunger for such a transformative experience and Shapiro’s tumultuous upbringing is the likely foundation for much of this. This is inherently redemptive art far more interested in striking an universal note rather than navel-gazing. Shapiro’s understanding of music is another source. A songwriter and musician citing influences as varied as author Joan Didion, songwriter PJ Harvey, and jazz giant Ornette Coleman isn’t interested in providing audiences with fun but soon disposable confections.
It has another side as well. A willful and illuminating obstinacy produces “Ambitgeddon”. The seemingly nonsense title refers to a point when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and now your world is falling around you. It’s lyrically spartan, but what lyrics. “History is/Like a wave/Suspended/In the skyyyyy…” burns with a skewed poetic fire that doesn’t come so much from the words themselves but how Shapiro communicates them.
His wild-eyed phrasing and unusual vocal melodies have a distinct theatrical quality. It’s never overwrought, akin to some Broadway musical, but much more avant-garde without its stereotypical pretentiousness. Adding Michael Brenner’s saxophone is unexpected touch but bolsters the song’s musicality. Vibraphone and piano are surprise guests during the second track “So Much”. These outside-the-box moves, however, never smack of gimmickry and invariably strengthen the song.
There’s a near show tune feel permeating the track and Shapiro’s entertaining whimsy lays a playful façade over an otherwise reflective song. “Am Now” dispenses with the overtly theatrical slant of the opening cuts. It isn’t thoroughly mainstream but, to be sure, much more so than its predecessors. Shapiro builds the song around an acoustic basis that could hardly be more different, but it works exceptionally well. The lyrics are a little unwieldy but, nevertheless, as intelligent as ever.
Shapiro punctuates the woozy blues of “Go To” with St. Clair Simmons’ lonesome trombone. It’s another stylistic turn in an album crammed with such twists but, as ever, Shapiro and his bandmates keep it well within the band’s wheelhouse. He makes an unexpected statement about information oversaturation and all it implies with the track “New Newz”, but this review won’t spoil the song’s surprise. The ragged thrash of the song’s guitar and drums has plenty of energy.
He writes “Take-N-Make” in the same clipped style as earlier lyrics and the condensed lines help sharpen the song’s arrangement. Many listeners will appreciate the illusion they create of something being off kilter throughout the track; it brings an element of danger. It is a mask, however, and very entertaining. It also helps Shapiro convey his lyrical message. It’s Amazing, like the band’s debut, isn’t for everyone. You shouldn’t trust anything that tries. It is unapologetically itself and doesn’t mind taking several eye-popping detours along the way. Hang with it, however, and the ten-song collection pays enormous dividends.