Release Date: Sep 16, 2014
Record label: Touch & Go
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Hardcore, Indie Rock, Noise-Rock
It's not surprising that the first Shellac album in seven years is extraordinarily entertaining and mind-blowing, but its concision and more accessible production choices are a bit of a head-turner for fans. On records since their 1994 debut At Action Park, Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer have indulged themselves with the occasional sprawling song ("Didn't We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are," "The End of Radio") or near-theatrical comic pieces ("The New Number Order," "Genuine Lulabelle") and each has had its own reward. The band's sense of empathy, great storytelling, interpersonal politics and black humour are not necessarily uncommon in post-punk noise-rock bands, but Shellac's path is likely the most distinctive and emulated one.
Some scientific and sociological assessments look at life through a microscope, picking out a tiny element to pin it down, millimeter by millimeter. On Dude Incredible, Shellac use a telescope, looking out over society as if it were composed of a bunch of ants. The album, their first since 2007’s Excellent Italian Greyhound,takes on issues of society’s constant expansion, the anomalies that rise up within, and the efforts to rein it in.
One day in early July, I received an email promoting a new LP called Dude Incredible from the seminal noise rock trio, Shellac. Eager to find some preview of what was in store, (A single, perhaps? Maybe a trailer), I was instead disappointed to find the following note: “Other than the informational sheet you hold in your hand (or virtual hand), this record will have no formal promotion. There will be no advertisements, no press or radio promotion, no e-promotion, no promotional or review copies, no promotional gimmick items, and otherwise no free lunch.” So, I bought a copy.
Shellac are puritans. Not just on a personal level, what with Albini’s notorious railings against digitization and an all-but defunct music industry, but also on a musical level. Since At Action Park in 1994, the band’s adherence to Spartan instrumentation, minimalist structures, and a brutally dry approach to their own sound has meant that, without being overtly preachy about it (at least on record), their austere noise rock embodies its own anti-ostentation, anti-materialism, and anti-decadence morality.
Shellac shaved off a few layers of fat for Dude Incredible. The change suits them, although it’s less a change and more a re-discovery of something they once did so well. Gone are the eight-minute-plus opening tracks, gone are the leaden riffs that dragged Excellent Italian Greyhound to its knees. Instead, this record is nine songs of mercilessly lean rock spat out in a half hour and change.
Shellac tend to take their own sweet time making albums -- not because they're pretentious about their art, but because they're busy with their day jobs -- and as a consequence, when they do drop a new LP it seems like a real event among the sort of indie rock/math rock dudes who treasure the band's dark wit and masterful command of dynamics and instrumental interplay. So after waiting seven years, some folks might feel a tiny bit let down by Shellac's fifth full album, Dude Incredible, which runs a mere 33 minutes and doesn't have an epic-scale defining number in the manner of "The End of Radio" (from Excellent Italian Greyhound) or "Didn't We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are" (from Terraform). Dude Incredible does open with the impressive title cut, a taut but ambling rocker that follows a handful of thick-headed males out for bad adventures (sort of like a Big Black song, but with a greater distance from the subject matter) and skillfully turns on a dime several times, and "Riding Bikes" is a similarly effective and lyrically troubling song about teenage vandals.
The tightest, greatest three-piece in the history of rock and roll are back: Shellac of North America, with “Shellac record #14” titled Dude Incredible. What more do you need to know? Barely a thing has changed since Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer formed Shellac in 1992. They’ve only released six (or five, depending on your view of The Futurist) studio albums in that period, they all sound relatively the same, and untouched by passing trends and fads, and they are still a fucking awesome band.
The word 'unique' should always be used with caution. Thoughtful gifts usually aren't in fact unique, like a personalised mouse-pad from Snappy Snaps. Tool use and culture most definitely aren't unique to humans. But the actor Geoffrey Hughes, who portrayed slovenly bumfluff Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances and in real life was also the Honorary Squire of Dartington's Morris Men, fits the bill.