There’s always been something a little “off” about Shark Saddle. The group of mostly sophomore musicians have been making music for a year and a half now but we’re no closer to understanding what exactly goes on inside their heads when they make music than we are when they started out. Believe us, we’ve tried. With the departure of Annahstasia, the boys of Shark Saddle have only gotten weirder. Not even frontman Greg Warns knows exactly what a Mississippi Yorlinger is, and their new EP features a lot of new sounds for the band including some shredding guitar solos. But that’s not to say Shark Saddle has forgone its funk/soul roots. The crowd favorite “Sister’s Song,” long a staple of their live sets, is the fourth track on the EP. Featuring some of the best mixing and arrangement the band has ever done, the blaring horns and gliding organ provide an excellent layer of energy to drive the track through its multiple breakdowns and buildups.
But as the album art suggests, the band isn’t afraid to experiment and get psychedelic. “King Leo” features the vocals of drummer Dan Callahan telling an epic story of the titular character, “Leo the lion king.” The track feels like a cartoon theme song written by Jack Black’s character in School Of Rock, and features backing doo-wop vocals from Tufts acapella group Essence to accompany Callahan’s roaring chorus.
Shark Saddle’s biggest strength has always been their size. Most tracks feature piano, guitar, bass, drums, vocals, synths, saxophones, horns, and more. But their arrangements rarely feature everyone going all at once, and when they do, the result is massive bursts of energy like the horn entrance in “When People Want You.” Instead, the songs transition at breakneck pace between verses, buildups, breakdowns, solos, and hard hitting choruses. Everyone in Shark Saddle has their moment to shine and the results are often dramatic shifts in energy that keep the songs exciting if not a little disorienting: a meandering electric piano solo in “Leo” builds up to full finale chorus in about 30 seconds.
Shark Saddle’s surface-level silliness has never been a good indicator of their music. The inflatable sharks at their live shows, absurdly photoshopped album art, and insane Facebook description are all for show. They’re like your friend who’s constantly making jokes until the clock strikes 3 AM and then gets super open and personal. Behind the aesthetic oddities are some incredibly talented musicians who have a lot they want to show you. The EP is so stuffed with a range of styles, instruments, arrangements, and themes that it’ll take a few listens before you fully understand how much work must have gone into making the album. Shark Saddle may have worked all year on an album whose title they don’t know the meaning of with cover art that I can only describe as embarrassing, but the music underneath is fun as hell. Go see them live.