Review: Ear to the Wire

Todd McCombs is a tall, lankly fellow who typically stands a head taller than those around him. He, along with his brother Scott, make up the eclectic rock band, The Shimshaws, who recently released their sophomore album, Ear to the Wire. Just as Todd stands taller than most of his peers, Ear to the Wire stands tall in an otherwise relentless stream of mediocre music that seems to want to do nothing more than imitate the latest trends on American Idol.

Before I go any further, I should probably mention that I’ve know Todd for more than 10 years, and have always been a fan of his music. By day, we both work in the same department at the same company, our offices right next to each other. Outside of work, Todd and his brother Scott’s musical talent and artistry are injected into all of their projects, be it their excellent debut album, Subcutaneous, or the music for a finalist in the 48-hour film festival project. The Shimshaws have a mastery of the pop/rock genre that comes across in each of the dozen tracks on their latest album.

Such mastery is no surprise once you know something about Todd’s musical background. From broad influences from the Beatles and R.E.M. to more recent bands like The Shins, there is a fun, high-energy feel to The Shimshaws music. And while songs from Ear to the Wire and Subcutaneous have had more limited radio play, it has always been my opinion that their work is good enough to earn them a Billboard hit if only The Shimshaws were willing to tour. It is not an unfamiliar scene to Todd, who has performed at D.C.’s famous 930 Club, and at New York’s way station for punk, CBGB‘s. Touring and a little more promotion could turn this excellent local band into something even bigger.

Ear to the Wire contains a stimulating mix of the genre. There is “Ocean CIty”, perhaps the signature song of the album (and the only one for which Todd and Scott produced a music video, which they have made available on YouTube). “Ocean City” is a local song (the title refers to Ocean City, Maryland, a popular summer vacation spot in the metro D.C. area), but at the same time appeals to the broadest possible audience. It’s a song about youth and fun and the beginning of summer. This is all captured in the outstanding and intelligent song-writing, and also in The Shimshaws’ signature guitar bridge just about 2 minutes into the song. With proper marketing and management, it would not surprise me to see “Ocean City” adopted by Ocean City, Maryland for use in promotional tourism commercials.

Perhaps my favorite song of the album is a more mellow, yet more sophisticated song called “Once Again”. The music in this track clearly evokes The Beatles’ influence on the band, while the subject matter, imagery and lyrics are the most mature of the album, reminding me of the intelligent sophistication of songwriters such as Elvis Costello.

If you just like to rock, then “Another Life” is the song for you. Just as their song “I’m On My Way” was the fun-loving, pop/rock song off of their debut album, “Another Life” fits that bill on Ear to the Wire, yet with added maturity. While the Shimshaws are already good at placing aptly timed bridges in their music, this song demonstrates not only the keenness of their musical acumen, but also what good performers they are. It has what I consider to be the best guitar work on the entire album. I can listen to this song over and over again without tiring of it.

Other songs on the album demonstrate the range of Todd and Scott’s talents: the impressive vocals on “Ordinary Days”; the soft, acoustic sounds of “Acadia”; the montage-like feel of “Closer”. All of these songs combine to give Ear to the Wire the feel of a solid pop/rock album produced by a band who knows what they are doing, and can do it very well. The production quality is profession from the music and lyrics to the cover art and liner notes of the album. When I listen to Ear to the Wire, I can’t help but think that this would be the perfect set of songs to perform live, and it is to my great dismay that The Shimshaws simply no longer have the time for live performances. (Though I am doing my best to encourage Todd to get back on the road.)

Ear to the Wire is an outstanding album, put out by a talented set of siblings. I would strongly urge you to go out and get a copy. And if you like it, pick up their debut album, Subcutaneous. Both albums are available on iTunes and CD Baby. Or see The Shimshaws’ website for more information:


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