Shofar - s/t (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

Led by lead singer and songwriter Larry Hagner, this Minneapolis based quintet mixes classic guitar rock elements with indie daring to produce a top notch sophomore release. The band definitely has a message they want to get over with listeners, but they never labor their beliefs in such a way that it dampens listener’s enthusiasm for the material’s entertainment value. The balance between musical and personal strengths make the six songs on their self-titled EP stand outs in an increasingly cookie cutter musical world. It marks a long delayed return to the recording ranks for Larry Hagner’s creative vision that drove two earlier releases from the band in the early 2000’s. There’s a freshness surrounding the songs that sounds like a rejuvenated outfit, but it’s the same level of inspired creativity defining their earlier releases and updated with a modern sheen.

“Running” begins the self-titled EP with surprising fierceness. The arrangement mixes bulldozer strong guitar riffs with leaner, lightly melodic verses for great effect and Hagner’s vocals mix well with the musical landscape. The guitar sound is warm, yet aggressive and gives some added gravitas to Hagner’s emotive vocal tone. There’s an almost electrified, Byrds-like folky vibe during the verses of “Powerman” interspersed with some boisterous rock flourishes and authoritative drumming. There’s a wider vocal attack on this song than we heard with the EP’s opener and it makes for a lighter, more melodic listen. Shofar maintains a similar groove on the third song “Shades of Grey” and positions themselves as much more reliant than before on vocal harmonies. The decision gives a bright, bouncing quality to the track while still never pulling it far from its guitar rock foundation. The EP’s second and third songs are, easily, its most commercial moments and bubble over with the sort of musical creativity we’d expect from this band.

“Hands Down” demonstrates the songwriting’s penchant for drawing characters without ever overworking the lyrics and diluting their impact. The chorus for this song is particularly effective thanks to a spot on vocal that scales just the right emotional response for the material while bringing backing vocals more into play as the song progresses. The apocalyptic conceit driving the songwriting for “Countdown” receives an artfully understated musical accompaniment that only truly erupts for a brief, blistering guitar solo. There’s more melodic touches coloring this tune – most vividly reflected in the addition of glittering piano runs to the composition. Shofar ends their self-titled EP on a surprisingly poetic note with a thoughtful, carefully constructed closer entitled “The Coming”. Rarely have you heard a songwriter, vocalist, and band explore spirituality in the way Hagner and Shofar do with this last curtain.  The muted bulk of the tune gives way to some crashing guitar and thunderous drum work in the second half, but these passages are brief and never overwrought. Shofar has returned in a big way and it’s apparent that the interval between 2005’s Turn and this release has done nothing to dull their inventiveness.