Album Review: Pet Shimmers – Trash Earthers

[PS Records; 2020]

It’s the advent of the apocalypse, and Bristol collective Pet Shimmers keep on truckin’. With their slept-on debut album Face Down in Meta released at the beginning of this year, Pet Shimmers have already dropped another full-length, and it’s even better. Between their new album Trash Earthers and the prior, the six-piece outfit has sneakily released two of the most exciting listening experiences of a rather interesting year—through their own label. Even more impressively, the two projects are not entirely alike. 

Though they operate beneath a single hazy milieu, Pet Shimmers have created a pair of uniquely vivid worlds. Face Down in Meta is slightly chaotic, daunting, and frankly, fucking weird—and that’s a good thing! On the contrary, Trash Earthers is marginally more habitable and comfortable to sink into. It’s a world that, despite its morose title, offers a more navigable avenue for a broader audience. However, this is all said in comparison to an understatedly bizarre debut.

Still, nothing about Pet Shimmers’ latest is to be expected. You hear the term “outsider music” thrown around a lot within the sphere of music journalism, mainly when referring to much of the idiosyncratic independent acts from the 90s. Though many bands have tried to revive the outsider music aesthetic, all but few have fallen short, and yet Pet Shimmers’ style is provenly off-kilter for this descriptor. 

Though an imperfect comparison, Pet Shimmers call upon the same spirit of lo-fi disillusionment as the legendary Neutral Milk Hotel, but conveyed through psychedelic synths and an eight-bit milieu instead of room-filling horn sections and singing saws. And though the environment they’ve developed across these two records feels faintly unhinged, it’s an uncanny feeling reflective of a reality that isn’t entirely inconceivable. There actually is hope and humor to be found, despite current worldly matters. Where? Not entirely sure, but Pet Shimmers’ latest allows you to believe it exists. The band’s frontman Oliver Wilde reflects: “During this time, all we’ve been fed is what’s happening in the news, and it quite literally looks like the world is burning…but we have to believe there’s some hope.”  

Opening with the sunshiney “Uhtceare”, Trash Earthers quickly nudges listeners into a sea of fuzzy feedback. It’s startling and ominous at first, and yet the water feels fine as bright, percolating keys chime in with a warm embrace. As sweet and delicate as the melodious lead track is, the band throws us straight through a discordant loop with the more abrasive and grating following track “Snake Eats A Lady”. With static-y synths clashing with pulsating bass and urgent drums, the track is made more grating with wildly surreal lyrics like “I want numb, what is the rush? / Snake ate a- / Go give them hell for heaven’s pearls / Where sand is tortured glass / Where eyes are tempered bone.” Strange but vivid and poetic, “Snake Eats A Lady” is by no means soft on the senses, but its textured nosiness is equally immersive as “Uhtceare”.

With the fuzzy chaos now ingrained in listeners’ minds, “All Time Glow” reverts to the opening track’s sweet, airy psychedelia. But this time, their dreamy display is made possible through warped and filtered acoustic guitars, trap hi-hats, and blissfully harmonizing vocals, reminding listeners Pet Shimmers are more than its wordsmithing frontman—they’re a band of six talented minds. “Live-In Atrocity” is another jarring moment touched with an industrial flair as rolling drums pour out into a lo-fi dreariness, akin to a more downtrodden cut from Alex G. The song then morphs into a lament of some sort, as acoustic guitars strum along in a ritualistic cadence. At the same time, lyrics paint a picture of warning and betrayal: “Gave us your word said it was safe… Numbered are your days of plenty.”

If you’ve followed the pattern thus far, a moment as dark as “Live-In Atrocity” is not without reprieve. With the ornate, horn-filled beauty of “Imber” to follow, it is clear Pet Shimmers are determined to take listeners through a rollercoaster ride of sweet and sour sounds, all contained in a feeling that is uncertain and quite dystopian. It’s a confusing mix, but it makes sense if you consider the words of the band’s brainy frontman in the record’s press release, that Trash Earthers “aims to mirror the confusion of this unfamiliar period of history.” 

This ebb-and-flow between cluttered confusion and serenity persists throughout this record’s entirety, and because of its turbulent nature, Trash Earthers never hits a lull. Sure, the project may feel homogenous the first couple of listens through, but their ability to create unearthly textures and atmosphere inevitably work to their favor. With patience and attentive ears, listeners will notice more emotion seep from the album’s heady lyrics, while eccentric sonic embellishments will slowly reveal themselves. If you can get to this point where the intricacies of Trash Earthers are apparent, there is no escaping Pet Shimmers’ dystopic world. Oddly, never leaving is a comforting notion— it’s the musical equivalent of doomscrolling through Twitter: you become inevitably depressed browsing through your feed; yet, you remain glued to your screen by mere bits of hope and humor—so you keep scrolling.  

It’s hard to be optimistic about anything these days. Aside from what direly concerns all other aspects of life, the music industry has taken certain turns and twists that pin indie artists in a disadvantaged position—not that it hasn’t before, but now more so than ever. However, now with two impressive records to their name, both released on their own steam – all within this shithole year – Pet Shimmers represent hope, as they’ve remained creatively unfettered, their minds brimming with weird ideas.