The name Shade doesn't give much away. Shade can be a comfortable oasis to escape the heat. Or it can be a shadowy place for darker thoughts or feelings.
The Shade from Pittsburgh leans to the latter.
Just listen to expressive singer Matt Stuart going off the deep end of the heavy drone on "Bird in Hand" or sounding like he's being sucked under by machinery on "Chains."
The songs are a powerful one-two punch at the top of "Latonka," the band's first album in four years. The album's release this week also coincides with Shade's first live performance in more than 2 1/2 years.
During that time, four out of five of the members got married and Mr. Stuart became the band's first dad. From the sound of "Latonka," Shade hasn't lost any of the subterranean edge it first displayed when it turned up in 1997 while the members were all still in high school in the east suburbs of Penn Hills, Plum and Monroeville.
The band was quickly pegged then as being more suited to the banks of the Thames than the Allegheny, taking its cues from similar one-word shoegazer bands like Lush and Ride.
"When we all started playing together back in the late '90s we were all into a lot of the British stuff that was going on then, and that definitely had a influence on us and probably does still," says drummer Dave Halloran. "We listened to a lot of American stuff too. I think bands like Pavement, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and many others were having just as much influence back then really too."
Shade debuted in 2002 with "Forever Now, Nowhere Tomorrow" and sensed early on that it had a future beyond Pittsburgh. In the mid-'00s it targeted New York City as a frequent tour stop and caught the attention of the press there.
Spin Magazine wrote that the song "Little Cougar," from the 2007 release "Arms Raised on Rooftops," was on repeat in its offices. It also wrote that "Shade scrape away at their Pittsburgh hometown's rusty veneer, welding synth-heavy hooks with abrasive guitar shards straight out of the shoegazer handbook."
"We played in New York the most I guess because we figured if we are going to get some national attention it will more likely happen there than just playing in Pittsburgh," Mr. Halloran says. "We did give that a lot of thought back in 2004 or so but ended up deciding to stay where we loved and see what happens."
Shade played a number of industry showcases in New York and came close to signing with various mid-sized labels, but the labels were struggling and nothing panned out. So Shade has stayed on its own indie course, which might be a good move considering the strength of "Latonka."
"We approached this one wanting to do it mainly ourselves this time," Mr. Halloran says. "We recorded the whole thing ourselves at our homes and practice space. Doing it this way we were able to take our time and build the songs as recordings and work them out while recording as opposed to just going into a studio with them finished and quickly laying them down in the limited time we had there."
Although the five-piece band still constructs a formidable wall of sound, the drummer concedes that there's "a lo-fi, darker kind of sound to the whole thing," lending it a mysterious quality. He thinks the band's maturity level is also on display.
"Before we would all try and play a part on every song at all times whereas now I think we are more able to say, 'You know it might sound better if I didn't play here' or something like that. Maybe we are just more honest with each other, have a little less ego, I don't know. It's easier now for us all to really think about what the whole song sounds like and make sure what we put out sounds good, at least in our opinion, as opposed to just trying to make sure we are heard and stand out in a song."
With "Latonka" and the return from hiatus, Shade has now been around for 13 years without a personnel change -- a pretty rare accomplishment for any band.
"We are and still are all the best of friends," the drummer says. "At this point we are pretty much like brothers. We were not really going into being in a band with the idea that we must sign to a major label and play arenas to be successful. We started and still play because it's fun and we like to do it."
Scott Mervis: email@example.com ; 412-263-2576.