‘To The Sunset’ – Amanda Shires

Sometimes it was treadin’ water/ I guess it is sometimes for all Eve’s daughters/ Looking for happy ever after/ Forever and ever and ever, again

To The Sunset, produced by Dave Cobb and released August 3, speaks to chasing something more. It’s perhaps fitting then that in the album artwork Shires resembles the artist Frida Kahlo, but in distortion. An artist whose life’s work revolved around capturing the female experience of wanting more in life, not content to stay within the boundaries that have been erected for women and girls.

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Shires continues on this journey in To The Sunset. Wrestling with issues if feminine desire, depression and fear, mother/daughter relationships, and the inevitable patterns and behaviours we fall into and want to escape. In the recording studio, Shires said she wanted “my violin needs to sound like it’s in an aquarium, but more bright”, which led to her using distortion peddles to manipulate her fiddle, ultimately taking the traditional and the safe, and supplanting it into the modern and the unknown. Conjuring images of hurtling towards the edge, or towards an uncertain future filled with possibilities.  

‘Parking Lot Pirouette’ opens the album. Heavy with desire and longing, it perfectly captures the fleetingness of romantic encounters, not only in the lyrics, “I know I’d give every dollar in my purse/ For another one of your detours”. But also in the atmosphere Shires and her band created in the studio; radio static and interference draws the track in and brings it to a close, giving the song a suspended space quality, as if a signal plucked from mid-air and turns up playing on your car radio.

The richness of the instrumentation, the distorted fiddle and guitar alongside faraway vocals creates a sonic landscape broad as the night sky filled with the sadness one feels when looking up the constellations, so vast, so unreachable.

“Everywhere I looked I saw the haloed moon/ Through the window and I was underneath you/ Thought I’d been holding on too tight/ In the fallen lane of life.”

Shires reimagining of ‘Swimmer’ from her album Carrying Lightening could perhaps be seen as the epilogue to ‘Parking Lot Pirouette’. The desire and longing still firmly rooted but the object of that desire no longer in the present, only accessible in dreams and memories.

“You’re swimming in the daydream/ And I’m just watching from the bank/ You’re covered in sun and I forget my camera/ Wishin’ it was real.”

The song has a slicker pop sound than its predecessor with “miles of keyboard that sounds so huge.”

To me, ‘Eve’s Daughter’ is the centre point of gravity for this album. It is the song that gives To The Sunset its name as well as cementing the record in the theme of wanting more. But it also is the song that literally screams feminine power and energy, and the autonomy to chase after your needs and desires as a woman. This power is no more palpable than in the banshee’s wail Shires emits in the opening four bars. The distorted guitars and fiddle just add fuel to this fire of wanting more from life and not being afraid to slam the door and walk away from something when it no longer serves you.

“To the sunset/ Shiftin’ gears/ ‘Til there’s something better shining diamond clear.”

This energy is carried into the Hammond-B3 fuelled ‘White Feather’, which contains the most poignant language of the entire album. The song is about many things all at once; climate change, capitalism, and sexism, the scarecrow imagery representing “cat calling that’s become okay again.”

“In a field in Ohio I change into a scarecrow’s clothes/ To learn some of the secret songs he knows.”

But the song is also about fear and how that fear can become our prisons, scaring us into a corner, threatening to destroy our individualism, and creating an environment of rigidity and intolerance.

“It could be learned behaviour/ To fold and call it failure/ Cos your terrified of showing your hand/ I think you feel safer mumbling your prayers to a God you don’t understand/ You don’t understand.”

‘White Feather’ ends with Shires sitting back in the field as herself, not as part of the crowd, and raven “waving a white feather, calling for a truce.”

The personal/political juxtaposition makes its way into the powerful and beautifully constructed ‘Wasn’t I Paying Attention?’. Shires takes the traditional murder ballad and reimagines it. The lyrics recount the unfolding of events of one day in a small town that only the narrator knows the outcome of.

The opening bars set the mood of the song. The vocals are layered and distorted giving the song an edge of everything not being as it seems. The opening line suggests as much, “I just had the strangest day of my life/ Worse than the last week with my first wife”

As the song gathers pace and the need for action becomes ever more pressing, the narrator keeps protesting that there were “no red flags or warnings”,but as each verse comes and goes, and the inevitability builds, you realise there were plenty.

“I didn’t see the full gas can he’d set in the seat/ I just nodded and tossed him the keys.”

With the song’s foregone conclusion and the To The Sunset fading to black, there remains an encouragement to pay attention to life around you, to want more and not settle for less, and take the good and the bad with you into the sunset.

You can watch Amanda Shires’ Paste Magazine Studio Sessions here.

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