Thursday, August 04, 2005

Shellac

Shellac- At Action Park

Terry and I saw each other over Christmas break of our respective freshman years (mine at UNH, Terry’s in Ann Arbor) and were both stoked on all these new records, bands. We compared notes to find that we’d both discovered Big Black.

I filled out the band’s discography in the months that followed, marveling at the abrasiveness of the sounds being played. Steve Albini’s screeching guitar sounded like some indie superhero at a construction site prying the hull off of an airplane inch by inch. One of the first instances I can remember of a vocalist singing as someone else, in a different persona. Mind-boggling stuff.

There was a minimal but effective buzz about Shellac- Albini’s project with Bob Weston (of the Volcano Suns, Terry told me) and Todd Trainer. No ads, very little press- just these seven inch singles with immaculate, customized die cut covers.

Those two singles featured songs that were instantly canonized- “Billiard Player Song,” “Doris,” “Wingwalker.” Weston’s bass like some black ops helicopter swooping in from nowhere, training its high-powered spotlight on yr. dumb guilty ass as Trainer hit the ever-loving shit out of the drums and Albini’s guitar abraded anything within reach.

“At Action Park” didn’t disappoint, not for a second. The precision of the singles’ heavy equations with new tricks- counting, slides, thuds, scrapes. Every bit as anthemic as whatever your favorite song from the two singles were, times two sides times five songs.

MIX TAPE: A Minute

Shellac- Terraform

The same brutal, calculated precision that made ‘At Action Park’ such a good listen, with some tricks mixed in. They’re the same tricks, just presented differently.

Counting is at the heart of Shellac- the band’s all about drilling a riff into your head, then switching gears at some unexpected point:

“Let’s do that part twelve times.”

“It’d be more fucked up if we did it thirteen.”

“You’re right. We’ll do it thirteen times.”

So, when the album starts off with the twelve-minute “Didn’t We Deserve A Look At You The Way You Really Are”, a song quite sedate by Shellac standards, it feels like the band has done something new. They have, kinda, by toning it down and stretching it out, but there’s math at the heart of it, binding it all together even if the volume knob is turned down a little bit.

The rest of the album yields tunes that are worthy of immediate and repeated attention: “This Is A Picture”, “Disgrace” (a song that features twenty-six seconds of silence- counting!), “Canada” and “Copper”, a song that swipes liberally from “For Your Love”. Heavy and jagged in sound, spot-on in presentation, and catchy as hell despite the ping/chug/skronk trappings. That’s right, skronk. You know you love it.

Shellac- 1000 Hurts

The album artwork looks like a Grateful Dead bootleg, and the title itself is a joke (1000 hurts = one megahurt. Get it?). The first song, “Prayer to God”, picks up the megahurt joke and runs with it- Albini incants his request to a higher power that his cheating ex-lover and her new beau be killed (in the case of the latter, in as painful of a manner as possible).

Still very much a Shellac record, although different than the others in some ways. There’s more aural space to be found, deviation from the constantly driving bludgeon of the band’s earlier material. Different sounds, too, wrenched from the guitars and amps, hums and squeals which are certainly different from the usual formula but work well in the parameters of the band’s sound. Of course, all of the usual Shellac signifiers are firmly in place- a few curveballs thrown in to spice things up, keep ‘em from getting too stagnant. I confess that it took longer for ‘1000 Hurts’ to grow on me than the others, but grow it has.

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