Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals Looking for “Shelter”

On May 4, Soft Landing Records is giving us a force to be reckoned with in the new eponymous split EP from Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals and Darlin Darlin, two of indie music’s most exciting bands breaking out of the New York scene at the moment. I’m excited to say that this is one of the finest collaborations I’ve heard from country-influenced bands in years, with this record being completely devoid of any of the predictable elements and production pitfalls that have plagued Nashville’s output recently. About 885 miles away from the Tennessee capitol is the city that never sleeps or pays much attention to country music, New York. But in that city, Darlin Darlin and Stephen Karl seemed to find each other and a sound that, while easily distinguishable from one another, is embedded in the same artistic lineage.


Both bands contribute two songs to this split. Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals’ are the lustful “Cindy” and the contemplative “Shelter,” which are fit to be singles in their own right. “Shelter” is the more bittersweet of the two, projecting its singer’s memories onto the big screen for us to analyze alongside him. The delicate picking of the guitars resembles a cluster of flickering candles in the pitch black night, with each note threatening to be extinguished in the harsh winds. Karl demands to burn down the house that these memories of lost love live in and to find a new start in the ashes that remain, an important message that anyone with a broken heart could take shelter in. “Cindy” is a bit more fun, not unlike a crazy night of strangers and bad decisions in a city that thrives on mischief. The philosophy and flamenco that Karl mentions are not unlike the strangers we meet on adventures in the night, especially when we’re young, dumb and full of life. “Cindy” takes us to that place where lust can strike us like a match and last until we burn ourselves.


Joanie Leon Guerrero and Darlin Darlin also deliver two stellar tracks in “Easy” and “Katy.” “Easy” is a classic folk song wrapped in southern charm. The song sets a new tone on the split’s second half, with a somber hook that stresses the need for emotional connection. “Your silence is more than I can stand,” she sings, with a seriousness in her voice that burns through the headphones. This desperate reality that the love is gone and all the light has burned out is heart-wrenching, and the only thing seeming to keep us propped up is the comforting glow of Leon Guerrero’s vocal. “Katy” reads like a letter that someone writes to themselves in a journal, a constant reminder that you’ve got to take a second to think things over before you take a wrong turn off the rails.


Darlin Darlin and Stephen Karl will definitely be sharing some of the same fans after this split EP drops next week, and you can definitely count this writer among the new ones.


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     -review by Drew Blackwell

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