The way Free Electric State bends their guitar strings might bring to mind all sorts of beloved shoegaze bands from the heyday of Creation Records, but the one name that seems most appropriate to check here is Swervedriver. Free Electric State doesn't share that group's penchant for hard-boiled, noir-flavored narratives, but they're of a like mind when it comes to employing their pedals with an intent to rock out, not bliss out. Indeed, if someone uses the term "shoe-grunge" to describe this group's charms, I hope they do so with the best of intentions.
Caress, the group's full-length debut, begins with a bit of deception as guitarist David Koslowski takes a turn at the microphone for "Matching Scars." He's not bad by any means, and it would take a lot worse to make this tune's pummeling onslaught and guitar heroics hard to enjoy. However, it's when bassist Shirlé Hale takes over on lead vocals for the next track (and the majority of the album) that Caress truly works. The melodic sweetness inherent in Hale's voice disguises a sultry sneer that gives the album's tunes a more distinctive personality. She lends the state-of-the-'90s alt-rock balladry of "Darkest Hour" a little needed edge, gives an anthemic grandeur to the Pixies-like swagger of "The Black Sea" and infuses "Six Is One" with an infectious nerve.
As you might gather from the references here, Free Electric State offers kicks that are laced with a bit of nostalgia, but that doesn't mean they sound long in the tooth. If anything, Caress sounds like the work of a group that's looking backward to move forward.