Summer at Shatter Creek
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Summer at Shatter Creek

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The best kept secret in music

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"SASC Review--Pitchfork"

Summer at Shatter Creek
Summer at Shatter Creek
[Absolutely Kosher; 2003]
Rating: 7.8
Well, my goodness, what a transcendent little album. First, the thing transcends its clunky name. Then it transcends its "for girls"-ness. Whuh-oh: By that I mean, well... you know what I mean. The way Yoshimi was "for girls." And Jeff Buckley. Still good and all, just "for girls." That's no diss of lassitude-- in fact, the gender-reference is unfortunate; I was taught (by a girl! whew) that the phrase denotes a semi-precious, self-conscious quality, what proclaimed tuff-girls mean when they announce that they are dressed "girly."

Compare Leo DiCaprio's eyes when he was a serious young actor with the twinkle-googly eyes of Titanic and the rest, in which he is "for girls." Think of the way Conor Oberst poses for pictures, or performs, or does anything except Desaparecidos. And don't act like your scene lacks a contingent of people barely into music, who instead relish, as is their right in this freest of countries, a band's "hotness" or "cuteness." At some points on this debut, Summer at Shatter Creek is a Jeff Mangum "for girls," especially when songs bust into pageantry/fanfare with the piano-led lonesome cuddliness of march music deprived of its procession.

And you know what "F.G." film director Summer at Shatter Creek sounds made tailor made for? Wes Anderson. Almost any song on Summer at Shatter Creek could slouch ethereally (however one does that) beside Elliott Smith and Emitt Rhodes on the soundtrack to the upcoming prequel Episode 1: Look Who's Tenenbauming. And dig the album cover's ornate frame of little-kid-type art: a perfect match for Anderson's fetishistic artifice-avalanches under which mature children and immature adults confound each other. Very "F.G."

By the way, Summer at Shatter Creek is one guy: a Craig Michael Gurwich out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. And you know what else he transcends? That one-guy-band thing. But watch out, Gurwich, because you come very, very close to owing royalties to Dump, the solo project of Yo La Tengo's James McNew, whom you kind of sing like, but sometimes better, and produce like (when Dump is produced) and who also adorns his albums with homegrown "F.G." toddler-kitsch a notch beneath Hello Kitty. Another neverlander to whom Gurwich is similar, in terms of tempo, guitar tone, layered elf-vox, and fractured Beatlesiana is: Tobin Sprout.

But Gurwich can't be stopped: He's on a rampage of transcendence! Because he also transcends that one-guy-band-that-sounds-like-a-huge-band thing. He's one of the best blends of lo-fi loner and Phil Spector aural huzzahdom I've ever heard. He's a bedroom Bacharach like Badly Drawn Boy, creating songs that trigger decades of pop reference points-- he's Edward Erahands. "The Essence of Time" asks what if Pet Sounds was a more psychedelic collaboration between Skip Spence and a Jan & Dean trapped in the phantom zone, burning incense blended with Elephant 6 ashes. "The Drive" is a drumless Zombies' "Time of the Season" if it were sung by cute zombies. In fact, much of the album suggests a otherworldly and eerie, but cute, Goodwill in which an otherworldly and eerie, but cute, oldies station is being played.

Of course, some of the album's just prime indie rock, albeit on the mellow tip. The coed dreampop of "I Don't Even Miss You" conjures "for girls" classics by Slumberland bands Rocketship and Nord Express. And speaking of slumberland, the disc tellingly thumbs it nose at Wilco and Hayden and other such indulgers by boasting the obligatory lullaby ("Go to Sleep") as its fourth song. The juh-hamm of "Home for the Holidays" is a collision of squeaky-cleanery and Thom Yorke's morbid wail-- imagine a Disney sitcom called Radiohead Meets World.

Still more transcendence! The album's best song ("My Neighbor's Having a Seizure") transcends both the ailment-song and concerned-neighbor-song subgenres, trotting on the victory lap alongside Suzanne Vega's "Luka", Dogbowl's "Growing Up in a Wheelchair", Joy Division's "She's Lost Control", and sometimes Metallica's "One". This track best capitalizes on the album's ethic of transmogrification; most of the tunes burp or blossom into expansive second acts, but when "My Neighbor's Having a Seizure" does it-- yeeeow. Gurwich goes from sounding like a detached artiste to belting out an ode to symbiotic suffering that reveals, via foil, the vulnerability of its speaker.

Insipid lyrics (example: "When someone makes you feel like you are just shit/ They are not a friend") and too-long buildups keep the album from galloping into the promised pastures of Eight Point Five Plus, but Summer at Shatter Creek's elegant horses can practically smell that realm's hallowed poop. I predict a long shelflife for this record, but mang, there's so much other stuff on that shelf to choose from...

-William Bowers, February 27th, 2003
- Pitchfork Media


"SASC Review--DOA"

Craig Gurwich, the man behind Summer at Shatter Creek, is one of those rare musicians who can do it all, turning out primarily self-recorded albums that full bands should be desperate for. Yet his musical ability, his placid yet pleasing voice, and his ear for production can turn even this—a bare-bones and stripped-down EP—into something remarkable in its beauty and depth.

You might be surprised to hear that the only instruments on Sink or Swim are Gurwich’s piano and his voice. Yet through the genius production qualities, the sound is incredibly deep, and Gurwich’s voice is more than strong enough to carry the songs, often layered with haunting and powerful ghost-like backing vocals. It simultaneously feels simple and extremely complex, light and airy yet by no means sparse.

The EP’s opener, “Something to Calm Me,” is calming, like its name, but also more classical in feel. The piano is rich and vibrant, the vocals blending beautifully. The more dreamy “Optimistic” flows sweetly, the backing vocals playing an especially prominent role. The melancholy “Rebecca” is a soft and sweet love song, while “Worlds Away” livens things up a bit more, bringing a bit more bombast into the piano and lush vocals—both lead and the atmospheric backing vocals. The latter is undoubtedly my favorite song here, and probably the one that would most benefit from a more fleshed-out performance with added instrumentation. The piano on “Your Ever Changing Moods” is even more impressive, working out a lilting yet energetic piano line that mixes nicely with the rather dark feel of the song itself.

The formula doesn’t vary much on Sink or Swim, but neither do these songs sound the same or get old too quick. Gurwich is obviously talented, crafting wonderful piano-led pop songs in a laid-back, melancholy manner. There’re rumors that more fleshed out versions of these songs will appear on a later Summer at Shatter Creek album, but they’re perfect as they are.

By Jeff Marsh - Delusions of Adequacy (www.adequacy.com)


"SASC Review--Magnet"

It’s hard to make friends when you grow up weird and epileptic in Kalamazoo, Mich. So after playing way too many rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, falling out of a second-story window and cooking at a summer camp in Oregon, Craig Gurwich is lucky to be alive. Of course, he still doesn’t have any friends, which is why he’s playing all the instruments here, singing his own harmonies and recording the whole damn thing by himself. Maybe that’s why it’s so quiet. Or maybe that’s why it’s so perfect. Either way, it’s a small miracle, a pop album for people who’ve been hit in the head too many times, too woozy to remember what they had for dinner last night but still sharp enough to recite the lyrics to “I Am A Rock.” You want heartache? You got i t. Anger? Sure. Ditto for stress, loneliness, worry and more worry. Summer At Shatter Creek has everything you’d find if you raided your parents’ Simon & Garfunkel record collection, from that sweetly strummed acoustic guitar to those high, aching harmonies and the shaking tambourine. All of it played with a gentle touch, a warm heart and a vision of life in desperate need of a vacation. So what, you were expecting Disneyland? [Absolutely Kosher]

By Kenny Burkowitz - Magnet


"SASC Review--In Music We Trust"

Here is a record that is dream inducing, melody-laden, golden, and crisp indie-pop with plenty of smarts, and chops to boot. Summer At Shatter Creek's self-titled full-length paints an array of colors in the sky, pulls each one down, a few at a time, and builds warming, blanket-snuggling songs that nestle between you and your stereo and make you feel good about yourself. The plaintive portions of the album help push the optimism to the top. Sounding like the transition from winter to spring, Summer at Shatter Creek hold their indie flag high and do pop justice in the process, a tight-rope walking scenario that often ends badly, but not for Summer at Shatter Creek. I'll give this a B.

By Alex Steininger - In Music We Trust


"SASC Review--Mundane Sounds"

When I receive a record for review, I try my best not to read other reviews, because I feel it's my duty as a reviewer to offer you my unadulterated opinion. I even tend to avoid reading the press packets, unless it’s a band that really strikes my fancy or interesting or I just happen to be bored at the moment. As editor, I want to give you my impression of a record. But, being human, sometimes I slip up, and I did so for this record. It was accidental, I swear; I really wasn’t paying attention to what I was reading, but I hadn't really paid attention to the fact that I’d received it, either. So I read a review, and then I read another. Repeat as necessary. I wasn’t intending to stray...it just...happened. Forgive me, please.

I soon discovered that everybody’s saying the same thing about this record, and, damn it, I have no other choice than to serve to add to the critical Greek chorus. This little limited-edition disc is, as stated in the liner notes, “stripped down versions from the full length due fall 2004.” And, of course, I have to say what everybody else has said: DON'T TOUCH THESE SONGS! These five songs are all piano-based, and they’re all...really, really sad. Not sad in a “oh, woe is me” kind of way—sad in a classy, respectable melancholy kind of way. Shatter Creek mastermind Craig Gurwich’s voice falls somewhere between Mark Kozelek and Thom Yorke, and this is a good thing, because he writes really moving little songs. Though everything on Sink or Swim is equally touching, I’m most moved by “Rebecca,” due in part to some really great vocals that are enhanced by echoes. I might add that this record sounds like what Kid A or Amnesiac could have been as well as what Coldplay will soon be.

This is a really moving little record, and it’s one worth the trouble to find. Like the other reviewers, I’m puzzled at how Craig could possibly improve on these songs. If he can do it, hey, more power to him, but as it stands these five little songs are five beautiful little jewels that are perfect because of their simplicity. Why change something when it ain’t broke?

By Joseph Kyle - Mundane Sounds


"SASC Review--Opus Zine"

Every so often, a CD comes along that makes it all worthwhile, that makes it worth sifting through stacks upon stacks of mediocre punk and emo bands, bland electronica, and artists who think you might be interested simply because you happen to share similar religious beliefs. So when a CD like Summer at Shatter Creek’s Sink or Swim arrives in the midst of this, it feels like a tiny little blessing.

As is usually the case with many of the CD’s I receive, I first listened to this at work. And within the first 15 seconds of the aptly-titled “Something to Calm Me”, my office and co-workers just seemed to disappear. The EP’s approach is quite simple—it’s just one man named Craig Gurwich, his unearthly voice, a piano, and an empty room. “Something to Calm Me” uses this very sparse and stripped down arrangement to staggering and haunting effect, layering Gurwich’s delicate voice over rolling, evocative piano melodies.

The remainder of the EP furthers and strengthens the fragile mood created by the opening track. “Worlds Away” matches the beauty of “Something to Calm Me” stride for stride, and maybe even exceeds it. Gurwich’s vocals are even more spectral this time around, lending the song a funereal air that’s both solemn and wistful. And as each piano note rings out, bathed in echo and reverb (not the studio kind, but the kind that only seems to exist in old, weatherbeaten houses that may or may not have a few sad ghosts floating down their hallways), they seem to shimmer with a sort of sad nostalgia that proves quite affecting.

The most ready comparison might be to Linford Detweiler’s solo albums. But there’s something even sadder and more affecting at work here. Most likely, it’s Gurwich’s use of his vocals that adds the additional punch. Also, there’s a much “lower-fi” quality to Gurwich’s recording, a certain rawness and lack of polish that serves only to add to the CD’s intimacy, that draws in the listener and surrounds them.

In the liner notes, Gurwich notes that these are actually stripped down versions of songs from his upcoming full-length (due out this fall). And for the life of me, I can’t imagine what could (or should) be added to these songs. They’re very nearly perfect as they are, in their rough, stripped down form. Part of me is almost reluctant to check out the rest of Gurwich’s catalog, as this EP seems to exist in its own timeless emotional space—and I don’t want to ruin that. But on the other hand, I’m curious to see how Gurwich’s music unfolds, and what other elements he might weave into an already haunting sound.

By Jason Morehead - Opus Zine (www.opuszine.com)


"SASC Review--Pulse Weekly"

This five-song collection of finely honed piano tunes and gentle vocals makes for an interesting listen. Summer at Shatter Creek, AKA Craig Gurwich, has produced a record that is brilliantly soft and sweet while still managing to deliver sharp messages through its lyrical content. Yeah, these songs are definitely worth a listen to. (Key tracks: Optimistic, Rebecca, Worlds Away, Something to Move Me.)

The piano lines are artfully dangled in between verses and choruses; the real beauty of Creek’s music is listening to the notes that aren’t there. His tonal choices are brilliant, but listening to the music that he didn’t actually include (i.e., the stuff you hear in your head) makes the music seem that much greater. Pick this up and try it out.

4 out of 5 star rating

By Nick Rose - Pulse Weekly (www.pulseweekly.com)


"SASC Review--Unfinished"

I was playing this album in my laptop today, and the program that I was using classified it as “General Unclassifiable.” After listening to it, I replaced that strange listing with “Generally Awesome” because that’s exactly what the music on this disc is. Craig Gurwich, the multi-talented musician who makes up Summer at Shatter Creek, has quite a knack for tugging at the heart strings, and that skill is on full display with his latest release, Sink or Swim. It is an excellent reminder of how powerful just a piano and a voice can be in the right setting.

Gurwich released his self-titled debut last year, and is already planning a full length for later this year. What is interesting about Sink or Swim is that the five songs are stripped down versions of tracks that will appear on the full length. Considering how impressive they are in this bare condition, I cannot wait to hear what they evolve into. I don’t know a lot about the intricacies of the piano, but I do appreciate it, and I like the arrangements that appear here. But what is most startling is Gurwich’s voice. It has that haunting Thom Yorke quality to it.

Sink or Swim isn’t an album you listen to during the day. It is best suited for the late hours, preferably with the lights off. The lyrics tell the story of a broken relationship, and while that is an often explored topic, it will always be effective in the right song-writer’s hands. Gurwich knows what he’s doing, and if he doesn’t, then he’s doing a pretty good job of faking it. If he can keep hammering out songs such as the mesmerizing “Worlds Away,” then he will have no problem making a name for himself.

By Hugh Miller - Unfinished (www.liepaper.com)


"SASC Review--The Onion AV Club"

Using pianos and swooping overdubbed voices to spread palpable waves of sadness, Summer at Shatter Creek knows its way around atomosphere. The product of one guy named Craig Gurwich, the Sink of Swim EP (Redder, summeratshattercreek.com) does portent better than it does lyrical insight--Gurwich's vocals are as beautiful as his piano work, and they enunciate his lyrics about as clearly--but the overall effect is dreamily bracing throughout. A full-length follow-up is due this fall, and it's slated to flesh out some of these songs in full-band form, a tantalizing prospect if ever there was one.

By Stephen Thompson - The Onion


Discography

Sink or Swim EP--Redder Records 2004
Metaphysics for Beginners Compilation--Redder Records 2004
Semi-Live EP--Absolutely Kosher 2003
S/T CD--Absolutely Kosher 2002

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Bio

At age five Craig fell out of his bedroom window, but he turned out alright. Years later, he worked at a summer snowboarding camp in Oregon, where he would spend his time widdling away days at the creek that provided his recording name.

No matter how he chooses to go about it, perfected pop prowess prevails, and superlatively beautiful music wafts from the stereo. His richly produced self-titled album displays his consistent ability for elemental atmosphere, while his Semi-Live EP and the new Sink or Swim EP allow the emotional effectiveness of piano, words, and song to permeate.

Despite his simple style, most reviewers don't feel the need to compare his music to anyone else. This is a great testament to SASC, as he can mold simple sound into something completely unique and original.