In the indie-rock canon, the Pacific Northwest gets its rep mostly from its Seattle and Olympia greats. Makes sense--Washington state's Pacific neighbors, Portland and British Columbia, Canada, haven't had important record labels such as Sub Pop and K to push their best bands. But the best Pac-NW album of the year is just a ferry ride away from Seattle, and perhaps the short distance (and free Canadian health care) was all it took for Victoria, B.C.'s Shapes and Sizes to craft such a captivating love letter to the region. The quartet's self-titled debut is easy to geographically spot, from the Built to Spill guitar-rock hooks in "Weekends at a Time" to the Sleater-Kinney grrl-gruff on "Goldenhead," but much harder to pin down, as songs frequently transform and shapeshift--not spastically but tastefully--in the best pop-rock combo of ambition and catchiness released so far this year (basically, if the insanity and bravado of Deerhoof was a lot less annoying).
Opener "Island's Gone Bad" is indie-rock's Lord of the Flies, as a soft Modest Mouse-style open about a stranded relationship explodes into a manic-depressive, trumpet-loaded romp: "I like eating fruit out of trees when I'm with you," Caila Thompson-Hannant wails (her voice a perfect cross between S-K's too-loud Corin Tucker and Cowboy Junkies' too-quiet Margot Timmins) while the rest of the band chants panic beneath her beauty: "Children going mad, eating moms, eating dads." And the bleak horn section and minor-key flicks of guitar on "Wilderness" recall the lush melancholy of the Notwist before the song transforms into a quirky, piano-pop take on the head-bobbery of the Starlight Mints. After listening to these 10 dizzying songs, you might need free Canadian health care too--Shapes and Sizes could make you pass out.