1 2 3 4 5 Reviewed for FasterLouder
Shayne Carter is one of those musicians who has an unbroken run of albums, not a dud or misstep among them. From his formative days in Dunedin punk bands Bored Games and Double Happys, through the golden years of Straitjacket Fits and more recently as Dimmer. Now onto his fourth album under that name he has produced an exceptional collection of songs that somehow acknowledge his past yet are still defiantly fall into the category of bold and imaginative music.
Early criticism of Dimmer was that Carter was retreating from the legacy of his former band and exploring computer composition, loops and a more soul/less indie approach.To others he was merely continuing to dress his angular and melodically rich songs in different clothes as the songwriting remained intelligent, sensitive and at times sneering.
Degrees Of Existence is built on the strongest and most consistent lineup of the band and with regular live shows they have become taut and economical with their approach and delivery. Listening to the album it is clear that worked wonders in the studio, such is the flow and ‘in the zone’ feel of the music.
First singles Cold Water and Degrees of Existence are both prime Carter compositions with Kelly Stevens’ bass line churning out a menacing groove through the title track and Carter’s snaking atmospheric guitar lines weaving a mesmerising path through Cold Water.
Like the harsh lunar landscape on the album cover, much of Degrees Of Existence does have a slightly detached mood. That comes as a result of the hypnotic and dreamy drive of the songs. Other than the beautiful and Wilco-esque Too Far To Care; Dimmer never settle into standard strum territory. Instead they pulse with krautrock repetition on Can’t Cut Through or they clear a path of choreographed clatter on Wrong Bus with its queasy horns that bring to mind 90s New Zealand swamp punks S.P.U.D and Solid Gold Hell (whose Gary Sullivan now plays with Dimmer)
Dark Night Of Yourself is a gorgeous centre-piece to the album, all shimmer and haze in the way it drifts along. Carter’s voice is in prime Straitjackets mode with an added touch of maturity. In the past the song would have been faster and sharper. Here it is elegant and perfectly paced.
Now in his 30th year of playing rock music, Carter is still clearly passionate about chasing his muse. Degrees of Existence is his strongest album under the Dimmer moniker and one senses it is the closest he has got to the essence of his songwriting. Maybe Carter named the band Dimmer because he was stepping away from the bright lights of the commercial music industry, or maybe it was a signal he was stepping into the shadows, closer to the place where his best songs exist.