Call it an obsession of sorts, but Keith Canisius seems to have a predilection for all things associated with the sea, whether they be living or otherwise. Last year's compilation of recordings amassed between 2006 and 2009 - itself entitled The Oceanic Voyage - included ditties by the name of 'Boat Ride' and 'Ocean Colors'. Second long player Waves meanwhile (you can see where this is going...) included the likes of 'Diving Day', 'Ocean Ocean', 'We Used To Live On An Island' and 'Remember The Lake' among its number. Go back even further to Canisius' first long player Ferris Wheel Makeout and you'll find an ambient number called 'The Sea Me Feel Me' opens proceedings. Little wonder then that his fourth long player and first for Texan independent label Saint Marie Records takes the form of a concept album centered around one of the most dangerous, sea-dwelling creatures known to man.
Inspired by the film 'Sharkwater', a Canadian documentary made in 2006 whereby the Washington-based Sea Shark Conservation Society confront shark hunters in Central and Southern America. Beautiful Sharks is Canisius' personal ode to the great white shark and its numerous counterparts. Having put out a five-track EP The Great White Shark at the end of 2011, it was only natural that its successor would be a fully-fledged album further documenting the shark's harrowing fight against extinction.
Consisting of 13 pieces in total, Beautiful Sharks is a dreamy, occasionally uplifting collection that defies classification from the tedious perspective of musical genres. While not a million miles away from his past recordings or indeed those of former suitors Rumskib, there's enough variation here to ensure Canisius avoids falling into any trap designed purely for the purpose of pigeonholing his wares. Sometimes veering off into electronic pastures Antony Gonzalez and Ulrich Schnauss call home, every now and then offering a pop sheen not that dissimilar to Howard Jones or Thomas Dolby before ending up back at the reverb-heavy guitar bursts which characterized his earliest works, Canisius isn't so much a solo artist, but more a one-man orchestra capable of bedazzling even the most seasoned of listeners.
Opener 'Interesting Corners' harks back to the wondrous chamber pop of old school Scandinavian bands like The Wannadies. Introducing itself by way of a celebratory fanfare before Canisius takes centre stage vocally, it sets the scene for what follows in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile 'LSD', one of three songs included from aforementioned The Great White Shark takes euphoric electronica to levels of Before The Dawn Heals Us dizziness. 'Juno' follows a similar trajectory, as does chilled out lament 'Save The Sharks'.
It's when Canisius releases the shackles and aims for the pop jugular that Beautiful Sharks really stands out from the crowd. 'Eddy Merckx' mixes radio-friendly hooks with a psychedelic twist while 'The Great White Shark' could be The Cure as fronted by Carly Simon, Canisius' vocal flirting between ambiguous falsetto and menacing growl at the flick of a switch. 'Beach On My Mind', the third cut from last year's EP melts a distorted keyboard melody into swooning statements of laconic intent ("Nothing is wrong" swears its creator at one point).
Granted, some of its 13 tracks may seem a little overcooked in places, but overall, Beautiful Sharks takes a fastidiously controversial subject and turns it into an aurally pleasurable exercise without dwelling too much on sentimentality.
7Dom Gourlay's Score