Before moving to Baltimore last year, David Haynes spent a good deal of his time in his bedroom in Chattanooga making songs that would come to be released under the Jim Shorts banner. Fuzzed-out riffs and roughed-up melodies bend and twist themselves into a number of shapes and textures, giving his songs a flexible and fluctuating appearance. Stacking his songs with lo-fi indie rock and guitar pop revelations that bring to mind the early days of Matador and Merge Records, he trades on our memories of the '90s without leeching off of our nostalgia. He adapts these familiar sounds to his own needs and does so without sacrificing the band's burnished rock momentum and unique melodic extrapolations.
But with his recent relocation, he's found a few new musicians to fill out the band and has delivered a new record that feels light years ahead of his earlier work. Recorded in April of last year at Spanner Sound while he was still living in Tennessee, "Halo Repair" marks a change of approach for Haynes. Produced and engineered by Jarrod Gee, the album is built around himself on vocals, guitar and keys; Gee on Bass; and Ryan Roddy on drums. The bedroom project sound is gone, replaced by a widescreen indie rock rush that comes at you without warning. As a three-piece, they make music that could easily pass for a much larger band; the music feels broader and more open-ended, less reserved in its movements and more matured in its execution.
"It's a record about finding the people and things that make you feel connected to the universe," Haynes explains. And throughout the record, he tackles this idea in a number of different ways, but regardless of its surrounding sound, this sentiment is expertly crafted and doesn't pander to shallow emotional responses. Tracks like "24,000" and "Tree of Life, MD" are meticulous pieces of fuzzy pop perfection, with the guitars swirling and stomping in the same breath and the band fully committing to their influences: namely Mascis, Martsch and Pollard. But with any great band, the art is in how they redefine the sounds that have become such a part of shared musical lexicon over the past few decades. And Jim Shorts manage this herculean task with little effort.
They're able to blend the roughness of classic indie rock with the buoyancy of underground pop in a way that suggests a laundry list of inspirations but which doesn't bind them to any specific aesthetic. They're free to mix and match as they see fit, which they do to great effect across the record. From the anthemic release of "Open Arms of a Canyon" to the heartland-rock-meets-GBV vibes of "Phenomena," they careen from one moment to the next in a wash of crunchy guitar rhythms and pop-centric melodies. You can trace a line all the way back to The Box Tops if you want and then all the way back up to Superchunk -- their history runs that far back. But rather than just mimic the motions of these earlier bands, Jim Shorts task themselves with reinventing these ramshackle pop-rock sounds in a modern setting.
The album closes with "Big Deaths," a relatively brief song that brings to mind the work of Pavement and Sebadoh in all their brusque pop noise. And it's a fitting way to end a record that feels like it's dealing with a bare minimum of filler and proceeds to get in and out in about 30 minutes. A product of both the band's desire to reimagine their influences while paying dutiful homage, "Halo Repair" courses with a pragmatic pop personality. They're aren't afraid to go big (see the aforementioned "Phenomena" and "Open Arms of a Canyon") but usually find ways to get their point across through less ostentatious ways.
This results in a collection of songs that knows exactly what it is and shows no signs of hesitation in its movement. Full of jangling bits of pop and rock mass, and offering up some hummable melodies, the album reveals that there is still something to be said for a band that can handle these communal sounds in a reverent and relatable way -- and do it without simply making us want to go listen to "Radio City" by Big Star instead. I mean, do that too, of course, but don't forget to keep "Halo Repair" where you can reach it at a moment's notice. So whether you're looking for jangle-pop or indie rock (or some opaque variant of the two), you'll be hard-pressed to find a better record than this for those times when you need a late night session of melodic fuzz and pop commotion.