When everyone else stopped, the Shivas moved. The group’s Dark Thoughts came out in late 2019, and while the record crystallized the best of their garage rock energy, it didn’t fully make it through a touring cycle as the COVID lockdowns hit. The group could have set up in an actual garage, cranked another punk record and carried on. Instead, they increased their involvement in social justice issues, particularly work with the homeless in Portland. Whether that added work seeped into their music might remain speculative, but the strange times somehow prompted them to expand their sound a little. With sixth album Feels So Good//Feels So Bad, the Shivas haven’t quite recaptured the force of their previous work, but they do take a step into new places, opening up some possibilities that fans might not have predicted.
The steps into new sounds aren’t unprecedented or totally disconnected. Getting a little more psych, a little more bubblegum or a little more surf into garage rock makes for a sensible continuity. The songs here don’t always rip like the Shivas are capable of, but they’re often catchy and always enjoyable. “Undone,” sung by Kristin Leonard, sets the tenor, recognizing the dangers of unbridled darkness, using an organ to try to open a way forward. It might be why the band claims the titular experience of “Feel So Bad” even if they sound so good. Loss and struggle permeate the record, but it’s less about quarantine despair and more about early-life reassessment.
The group struggles a little more when it lets the energy flag; “You Wanna Be My Man” suffers not from the drop in tempo, but from the decline in intensity. It matches the lyrical ennui but could use another layer of sound or more dynamic play. The psychedelic sounds work better throughout the album, though. Little flourishes like the production on the memorable “My Baby Don’t” keep the band in a space somewhere between old nuggets and the early ’00s garage scene. Within this particular space, the Shivas excel, redirecting their energy while keeping their sense of hooks and melodies.
For closing number “Please Don’t Go,” Leonard adopts the styling of a classic pop singer, with the band digging into a ’50s rock ‘n’ roll style. The Shivas have hinted at the sound throughout the album. Feels So Good//Feels So Bad hasn’t been about delineating a new sonic headquarters, but it calling upon a broad range of history to start exploring new spaces. “Even a ‘maybe’ is better than a ‘no’,” she sings, and while she addresses a partner, she could be speaking to the Shivas as a whole. The group has spent the time since its last album saying “yes” quite often. They haven’t quite worked out the kinks, but they’ve taken a compelling new step, with multiple paths available to them as they go forward.