Amanda Shires’ latest solo record, To the Sunset, is rife with charmingly detailed and surprising turns of phrase, but ultimately falls short of its potential effectiveness. The ten tracks comprising this latest album sprint past you rather quickly, which unfortunately doesn’t give you much of a chance to let any lyric or musical turn stick to you. The ultimate rushed feeling of the record ends up overshadowing any of the intriguing ideas and stories introduced within the songs.
The album starts strong with “Parking Lot Pirouette,” a song which, in the best tradition of country-infused songs, combines straightforward lyrics with authentic and strong emotional performances. This song thinks about the small details of a person, or a relationship, which linger once they’re out of your life. The relative slowness of the song compared to the rest of the album allows that melancholic feeling to steep and take hold very effectively.
The next two tracks start to show off Shires’ clever word choices that convey a lot with a little, but their effectiveness ultimately gets muddled by the relatively simplistic delivery of the songs. “Swimmer” features the evocative line, “the way you walked into the room/ if I was a flower I would’ve opened up and bloomed.” Shires songs are not verbose, but instead, she uses charming lines like these as delightful treats that pop up through the album like little rewards for listening carefully.
Throughout the album, Shires often pairs similarly-themed songs next to each other. “The Swimmer,” a song about daydreaming about someone, is then followed by “Leave It Alone,” a song regarding crushes you just can’t shake. Here Shires playfully sings “I envy your clothes/ how’d they get to be so close?” but the drum-heavy and sometimes nearly electro-pop nature of the song—the only one that sounds like it on the album—distracts a little from its charm, ultimately creating a track that sounds too much like a tween’s journal musings.
“Charms” and “Eve’s Daughter” are two songs which are loosely connected by an idea of family, and progeny and legacy. Where “Charms” is a little more introspective, sung from the perspective of a mother attempting to correct her own mother’s mistakes, “Eve’s Daughter” is a rollicking rock song, raucous and enjoyable, with lots of detail packed into a short time. Shires creates a textured story of a young woman who works at a gas station and gets swept away by a soldier on leave, only to end up quickly pregnant, married, and poor. The singer’s tenacity and determination to find her “happy ever after/ forever and ever and ever again” even when faced with multiple challenges and obstacles are reflected in the relentless, joyful guitar-and-yelp heavy musical component of this track.
“Break Out the Champagne” and “Take On the Dark” are the 2018-requisite songs about facing down external and internal doom and danger with a brave face and a can-do attitude. They’re fun and effective in communicating their message, but ultimately do not feel like a fresh take in the resiliency sub-genre. “White Feather” is the most forgettable track of the album, but it’s followed by “Mirror, Mirror” which is an interesting and relatable tale of, essentially, comparing one’s self to social media representations of other women, who are constantly sun-kissed and blissed-out on a beach somewhere. This song also contains maybe my favorite line of the album with “Fridays are like Mondays to me, except for what’s on the TV.” The drudgery and drop of cynicism that drips through that line say a lot about the singer and her mentality versus that of the women she compares herself to.
The last track of the album is a surprisingly dark note to end on, especially after such a swift and easy-going journey in the previous nine tracks. “Wasn’t I Paying Attention?” is told from the perspective of someone who recalls their friend John on the morning he asked to borrow their truck and then took it into town and committed a violent public suicide. The singer claims, rather breezily still, that “it was a regular mornin’/ no red flags or warnings/ no, nothing suspicious” despite describing several things that sound like red flags—at least retroactively—to outsiders. There’s John’s knife, always on his belt; his full can of gas in the car with him; and his talks of “evil in his blood,” all qualities which get chalked up to “that’s how he was.” The song is sung in such a relatively cheery way that belies the scary implications of the song, that we could all be so easily blinded to apparent danger within people close to us. It ultimately leaves a slight aftertaste of doom and anxiety to an album that was otherwise quite breezy.
Despite the surprising depths of the final track and the subtle beauty of the first, most of the tracks on Into the Sunset end up feeling rushed, and as if the topics and themes of each song have only just been skimmed. The songs rarely feel as if they go deeper than the initial premise set up in the first verse, and are over before you even totally know what story you’re listening to. There are a few bright spots of lyrical playfulness, as well as joyous and immediate musical moments, but it ultimately feels a bit undercooked, even if it is technically edible.