Like an echo tunnel churning towards the charred edge of the future, the end of the world could be coming. We’re all “waiting for the ice to melt,” submitting to the chaos. What’s the use? In a garden of lush experimental rock, Shady Bug invites us to imagine the end of the world as the end of our old selves: a swarm of snakes exiting a red-tinted bar in the Midwest. Shady Bug has shed its lizard skin.
In What’s the Use?, the St. Louis indie-rockers have stepped into their most confident era of artful noise and melodic vocal honesty, asserting their trademark harmony of harsh and sweet. Original members and guitarists Hannah Rainey and Ripple have been creating this juxtaposition together since 2017. That same year, Shady Bug speedily released their first collection of poppy fuzzy songs, tbh idk (Pack Rat Records) with former bassist Todd Anderson and drummer Aaron O’Neill. Their 2019 LP, Lemon Lime (EIS), sprung forth a more elaborate twisting of instrumentation with sudden pits of feeling. Shady Bug’s current lineup has included bassist Chris Chartrand since 2018, and this is his first time recording with the band. St. Louis drummer Jack Mideke (Smidley, Jr. Clooney) recorded drums on What’s the Use? The four musicians recorded the EP with engineer Alex Molini (Pile, Stove, Philary) at the Pile HQ in Nashville in 2022. Molini not only worked with the band as a producer, but also as a collaborator, writing keyboard parts to add texture to the shady bug energy and sound. Proportionately inspired by My Bloody Valentine, Weyes Blood, Cindy Lee, and Deerhoof, Shady Bug’s sound is accessible for many types of listeners. Their interpretation of the rock genre is always loud, surprising, and leading into transformation.
Other projects of the bandmates blend with Shady Bug’s method. Chartrand has an ambient project called Visitors, and Ripple is a relationship coach and bodyworker. Rainey has been playing and exploring guitar since she was ten-years-old: she’s been in the long-running folk band called Dubb Nubb and studied the classical guitar for over a decade.
Rainey found a new route in recording and arranging songs in 2019, exploring a DIY solo project called Hennen on their iPhone’s Garageband app. This marked the first time Rainey composed multi-instrumental pieces on her own without Shady Bug songwriting partners O’Neill and Ripple. “Zero Expectations,” “Frog Baby,” and “Lizard,” were written as demos on Rainey’s iPhone, then arranged full-band as mazes of brimming sound. After O’Neill’s departure from Shady Bug during the first summer of the pandemic, Rainey began writing bass parts and drum parts to bring to the band’s practices. Coming into her own as a musical leader, the complex compositions on What’s the Use? contain more of Rainey’s voice than any other Shady Bug album.
With each arrangement grounded by Rainey’s tough yet crystalline vocals, What’s the Use? guides listeners through the clash of exterior and interior worlds — anxiety about climate change, the end of a relationship, and the beginning of self-motivated clarity. The EP opens with “Zero Expectations,” flicking with Ripple’s wavy guitar and Rainey’s detailed lyrics, acknowledging the strangeness of 60 degree weather in a Missouri winter, capitalist advertisements, and sidewalk trash. Rainey calmly converses before a plunge into loudness, “Yeah, we’ll have more disasters, but just drink more water, wear more sunscreen.” Irony could be the coping mechanism for a society that makes no sense, yet Shady Bug defies this in What’s the Use? over and over again. With unguarded sincerity, Rainey admits their experience of being in an overbearing relationship in “Frog Baby”, where she felt belittled like a small frog in a big pond – “waiting patiently in the shadow for far too long.” Rainey’s personal and frisky lyrics accentuate mundane habits against intense life shifts: “picking at the candles wax”, wearing long-sleeve shirts, and describing a lover’s legs “like two popsicle sticks.”
What’s the Use? feels sticky to the listener’s ear, the inside of the popsicle wrapper still lingering. Chartrand’s bass theme in “Favor,” written by Rainey, uses Shady Bug’s heavy/catchy design, pulsing towards the continued confession in Rainey’s magnetic voice: “Always doing somebody a favor, favor, favor after favor.” Through writing these songs, and through realizations from going to therapy, Rainey generously offers observations of the self. Cycles of people-pleasing and an attraction to the ups and downs of a controlling romance match up with the band’s instrumental trances. A quieter voice asks: “Can I get you anything?” Then, morphs into snarling: “Do you need something?” In rhythmic rushes, Ripple’s anti-melody guitar slashes against Rainey’s riffs. The instruments often fall into dark places of sound, then come up again to burn into the light.
Shards of St. Louis crawl out of the album. The city where Shady Bug lives interacts with their music on every level – St. Louisans may recognize “chain smokers and gossipers out in front” and “staring at the wall by the pinball” as the STL dive bar CBGB, where Shady Bug played their first show. A recording made by Ripple of people talking outside at a show is sampled in their interlude track “Waking Up Hot,” which was written on the spot in the studio collaboratively with Molini and his intuitive keyboard. More samples include a Missouri river gurgling. Shady Bug’s activating collages reference nostalgia for a music scene that has changed a lot since the pandemic, and a city that changes regardless as people consistently leave, then always come back. What’s the Use? is equally an ode to walking home on the worst night of your life, and scratching at the hope of growth: “It’s that year, when you start…”
In the middle of “Lizard,” after a slowed down recollection of tossing and turning, shrugged off by Rainey’s oooh’s, Mideke’s drums and Chartand’s bass line become a thick web where pieces of guitar electrocute and melt upon. The outro of Rainey’s and Ripple’s guitars zone out, ending What’s the Use? with emotions that explode and bloom, distort and disassociate, then come together, in meaning and non-meaning.
Bio: Delia Rainey
Photo: Hayden Molinarolo