It creaks open like an old wooden door in a Elizabethan house, does Dan Michaelson’s voice. The centrepiece of any album Michaelson features on, be it with the Coastguards or the slightly more established Absentee, it’s a voice that is broken, familiar and almost homely. From the opening lines of Shakes Michaelson’s husky whisper draws the listener in with its promise of secrets and songs. At times it’s possible even to feel a little guilty for taking such pleasure out of a voice dipped so softly in sadness. But this doesn’t seem to be what Shakes is about.
The first album Michaelson released with the Coastguards was 2009’s Saltwater – one of the most overlooked gems from the late noughties. Saltwater sounded like the twin sister of a failed relationship – mournful and desperate to hold onto something long left behind. It perhaps was not the true theme of the album, but the way Michaelson’s voice draped itself over the longing build of guitars and pianos certainly leant itself to such a reading.
But Shakes is somehow different – though the voice remains weary, cracked and heartfelt, and the music slurs along beautifully, there is now a hint of hope. Opening track ‘All The Trying’ is a prime example; though it sounds as unsettled as anything on Saltwater, the lyrics, the music and the voice come together to give some sense of a better future. Certainly the album highlight, ‘Something Awful/Dancing’ is nothing to cry over. Coming across as a love song written by Eeyore, the track swoons about pessimistically in love. It’s an irresistable combination – dark alt-country guitars, a reluctant romantic choir of Coastguards, Michaelson’s sincerity flooding the track until there is no room left for any sense of cynicism.
There isn’t anything too different in Shakes to separate it especially from the band’s debut record – with the exception of the slightest change in mood it bears remarkable similarities to Saltwater. This is far from a bad thing, though. We are treated to another album of slow-burning, creaking and crackling soulful folk, warm as a fireplace, and just as familiar. Take two things from Shakes. First, that it is the first step in what will hopefully become a long and wonderful development of the Coastguards. Second, that sad songs will rarely make you as happy as they do here.