Desert Sharks- The Tower

by | Mar 31, 2023 | Reviews

Desert Sharks– The Tower (tarot card design by Lindsay D. Williams)


It’s always great when a band that kicks ass live is able to kick just as much ass on a record, and Desert Sharks are locked in on their new EP, The Tower. Now including Cait Smith on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, the sound that lead singer and bassist Stephanie Gunther, lead guitarist Sunny Veniero, and drummer Rebecca Fruchter achieved previously is only sharper and tighter. That sound has been described as “gloom punk”—a moniker apparently bestowed upon them by Bandcamp, as noted by Gunther in an interview with Full Time Aesthetic—and it’s an apt name. Desert Sharks meld their grungey punk to dark tones, which when paired with Gunther’s compelling voice becomes rather catchy. Following their 2019 album Baby’s Gold Death Stadium the band made a foray into cover songs, releasing two singles in 2021 paying tribute to Til’ Tuesday with “Voices Carry” and T-Rex with “20th Century Boy.” The Tower is their first original material since then.


The Tower pushes off right from the gate with the single “Medusa:” no waiting for the good stuff, just 4 hits of the cymbal and boom—bass, guitar and vocals kick right in, “He wanted to show me the bottom of the ocean.” The lyrics were inspired by the myth of Medusa to create what Gunther calls “anthem of feminine rage and reclamation of power.” “I’ll turn you into stone,” she declares. 



“Sleepy Pie” is a bit more frenetic. “If you wanna love me, how can you live without me?” the lyrics ask in this sweet yet sinister track. “You make me a flesh and blood fantasy.” The video finds the quartet in a sleepover gone wrong (I know we all remember at least one incident in our teens with a seance or a ouija board, right?) and cleverly uses the tarot card imagery. (The lilies from the video for “Medusa” also appear, and it’s cool to see the band using a cohesive aesthetic.)



The record moves around in tone, exploring sometimes a doomier sound (“Emotional Breakdown”) and sometimes a poppier one (“Ego Death”) but the band never stops rocking. Even the slowest feeling track, the 6/8 time “Shadows,” induces headbanging. Fruchter’s drumming really drives everything forward, and Veniero and Smith’s one-two guitar punch nails it down over Gunther’s bass, while her voice is beautifully complemented by Smith’s backing vocals.


Title track “The Tower” is a truly epic closer, full of rolling toms and grinding bass and guitar, complete with a wailing solo. “I know things will never be the same / still I’m holding on to what remains,” Gunther sings, and it all ends on a chant of “the end… the beginning.” It all fits perfectly with the theme of the Tower card, on which Gunther elaborated: “I dabble with tarot. I’m not going to act like I’m an expert. I had a tower year [in 2022]. The tower card is one of the most intense cards because it represents major upheaval, chaos, and destruction. But on the other hand, it offers space for newness, enlightenment, and change.”


Desert Sharks performing

Desert Sharks in 2022 (photo by Kate Hoos)


The production by Jeff Berner hits the sweet spot, crisp and clear without being slick. Gunther notes that the recording process was a bit different this time around; with the band practicing less in person after the upheaval of the past few years, they learned new technology: “…all our previous times going in to the studio, we didn’t have demos really. Like, we had phone demos from the practice space. Being pushed to work with GarageBand more, we switched our writing style to where it’s like, let’s actually record it out how we want the final product to sound.” The band enjoyed their studio time with Berner, with Gunther saying: “The way it feels when you record with Jeff Berner is that you have this other member in your band who is just as excited and just as dedicated to getting the sound that you want.“


Desert Sharks performing

Desert Sharks in 2022 (photo by Kate Hoos)


Desert Sharks are sometimes compared to the greats like L7 and Veruca Salt, and it’s warranted: The Tower is Desert Sharks at the top of their game, able to hold their own with those beloved bands. As this is an EP (six tracks long), I’m reminded of Blow It Out Your Ass, It’s Veruca Salt, possibly that band’s best work. Sometimes shorter is better as a showcase.


The Tower doesn’t feel short, though. The EP is one solid track after another, and the songs are so fully realized that by the time those six tracks are over, the listener has had a complete experience. It’s the best work that Desert Sharks have put out to date, and it’s poised to be a breakthrough for them.


Aside from some local shows Desert Sharks are hoping to tour in the summer and fall, but their release party for The Tower is at The Sultan Room along with Choked Up and Kissed by an Animal on April 1st. Pick up a copy of the EP there, which is out now on Substitute Scene, or visit them at Bandcamp.



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