Release Date: May 21, 2013
Record label: Hardly Art
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk
Shannon and the Clams' third album, 2013's Dreams in the Rathouse, signals a tiny step forward for the trio. Recorded over the course of a year in cool places like a cabin in the woods and Nobunny's practice space, the album sounds tougher and stronger than previous efforts, Shannon Shaw's vocals have a more powerful presence, and the songs are better overall. Not that there was much wrong with the jumpy, scruffy late-'50s/early-'60s rock & roll-worshiping records they had made in the last couple years.
Oakland trio Shannon and the Clams have a broad musical vocabulary that belies their simple, trad setup. Their sound contains lo-fi's distorted treble, the gruff tumble of rockabilly, the soaring heights of R&B balladry, and the weirdness of mid-60s psychedelia. Their albums have the feel of a freeform AM station whose DJs and programmers get their jollies from being gleefully unpredictable, the kind that wouldn’t think twice about following up a tender oldie like “Oh Louie” with a punkabilly romp called “Cat Party”.
Shannon Shaw's swooping, guttural wail and formidable stage presence have set her Oakland-based band, Shannon and the Clams, apart in the city's prolific garage rock scene, but it's the trio's songwriting dynamic that makes their records so appealing. Shaw and co-writer/singer/guitarist Cody Blanchard share a love of reverby, old-time-radio pop oddities and trashy punk that plays out as a taut and punchy blend of Lou Christie's crooning and Wanda Jackson's uninhibited rawness. Where Shaw and Blanchard diverge is in their lyrical approach: the former pens allusive, nostalgic ditties, while the latter conjures psychedelic fictional narratives.
Lots of acts have copped the girl group and ’60s vibes over the last decade or so to varying degrees of success, whether drenching classic pop structures in lush harmonies or simply recording their tunes in a garage for that lo-fi sound. Few, though, have the raw material that Shannon and the Clams can bring to that task, first and foremost being Shannon Shaw’s captivating and genre-accurate vocal delivery. Rather than dipping a toe into retro stylistics, the San Fransiscans dive into the deep end on Dreams in the Rat House.