Shelf Life: “YARN” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music:

Originality: (3.0 / 5)
Vocals/Flow: (4.0 / 5)
Lyrics: (4.0 / 5)
Production: (3.0 / 5)
Average: (3.5 / 5)

Indie rock has had its rises and falls in the mainstream, but it’s never really gone away since the day of its conception as far as DIY bedroom artists are concerned. In fact, the umbrella of sounds and styles that shade itself under the “indie” umbrella seems to be expanding every year. Philadelphia singer/songwriter Scotty Leitch is absolutely aware of this notion. When he’s not drumming for his friend Alex G, he’s recording a bout of his own material under the Shelf Life moniker. In 2017 alone, he’s released five records under the project, culminating with this month’s Nu Testament. The best and most dense of these five albums, however, may be the one he released last month. YARN could basically be in the running for one of the most homespun sounding indie records out there this year, as the songs bring to mind a more modern and digitalized version of early home productions by Paul McCartney.  There’s also some obvious hat tips to some of indie rock’s elder statesmen.

Beginning with the buzzing and beeping of the mostly instrumental opener “Shopping”, Leitch introduces the listener to one part of his musical universe. The playful synthetics don’t last too long before being knocked away by the forceful drumming and pulsing guitar of the title track. Now, Leitch begins to work primarily as a lyricist, and his songs are chock full of all the classic sentiments of lonely indie rockers: The growing pains that come with learning to traverse adulthood, whether you go at it alone or with your friends. This is reflected on “Sounds Of Calvary” with the lyrics “Listen to the sounds of Calvary/Is he hanging out alone/No there’s brothers at both his arms/Even in a storm you found your way.”

After name dropping Noisy Magazine and Mac DeMarco on the upbeat “Tarot Cards”, one of the best and most “indie” sounding tracks of the record is presented. “Don’t” sounds like a Modest Mouse B-side that ended up becoming a fan favorite, or something that could’ve been born in the late 90’s heyday of bands like Red, Red Meat and Califone. The song reads as a manual of life written by the singer: “Don’t climb a mountain with those shoes/Don’t let the rich man in the nice suit fuck with you/Don’t cut thru the air with a dull knife/And don’t fuck with love if it ain’t love at first sight.” It’s the kind of advice many of us wish we had received when we were younger.

By the time “Grey” rolls around, Leitch has moved further towards the more recent indie rock developments. The dimly lit and damp track recalls Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project. Towards the end of the record comes one of its quirkiest and most melancholy moments: “MK4LIFE” is a slow and sultry tribute to the Mortal Kombat video game franchise, and with its repeated refrain of “Let’s play Mortal Kombat”, the track is bound to give any millennial listener some somber bouts of suburban nostalgia.

The short and sweet closer “Birthday Girl” tired the record up nicely with Leitch’s best baritone seeping in at the forefront of the mix.

On his Bandcamp page, Scotty Leitch describes himself as “a Libra and full of nerves”, but YARN argues that he’s anything but unconfident in his strengths. At fifteen tracks, the album provides a solid argument for Shelf Life being at the top of the pile of the Philadelphia indie underground. With Nu Testament still hot off the press, it wouldn’t be surprising if we heard from Leitch once more before the year is out.