Review Summary: Abrasive, arty, nasty, noisy, innovative and unique, Shellac are proof that there is still massive scope for experimentation and carving out new sounds with a standard guitar, bass, drums lineup in the indie-rock format.
If there's one thing that you can say about Steve Albini, it's that he's made a career out of being nasty. His work with his highly influential project Big Black
, particularly their seminal album Songs About ***ing
(the name says it all) was characterized by its abrasive sounds and dark, disturbing lyrical content. His second band, controversially named Rapeman
was a noisy, abrasive project that featured members of Scratch Acid
. As a producer, he was responsible for classic albums from, among others, the Pixies
, In addition, he has produced records for everyone from Joanna Newsom
, always with his signature analog rawness.
Given his history, anyone familiar with Steve Albini should know what to expect from Shellac
. Take a quick glance over At Action Park
's song titles and you'll quickly notice that it has Albini written all over it; titles like "My Black Ass" and "Boche's Dick" are just as uninviting as anything Albini has released in the past. On the other hand, there is definitely something much more mature about At Action Park
than any of Albini's previous work. Although Shellac are about abrasive, noisy punk, and although Albini's dry production makes them seem extremely rough around the edges, there's also a sense that everything in their music is extremely precise, especially in the case of their strange rhythms and irregular time signatures. To put it more simply, Albini has taken the noisy mess of his previous work and streamlined it into a more mechanical, simple lineup. In addition, there's a dark sense of humour on display, whether it be in their lyrics, artwork or titles (most notably the early releases with such great titles as The Bird is the Most Popular Finger
and The Rude Gesture: a Pictorial History
Sonically, At Action Park
is extremely interesting, especially when it comes to Albini's guitar. Scratchy, metallic and sounding like nothing else, the riffs that Albini plays are the absolute epitome of abrasiveness. In terms of songs, At Action Park
doesn't offer a lot of variation. This is, however, a blessing in a disguise, as Shellac's sound is extremely unique and having 35 minutes of the same thing, in this case, is not even slightly monotonous. Album opener "My Black Ass" features a nasty guitar riff played masterfully by Albini and backed by an extremely dense rhythm section courtesy of Todd Trainer and Bob Weston. The instrumental "Pull the Cup" is even more impressive, featuring a stop/start rhythm section and a brutal, horrible (in the best possible way), scratchy guitar tone. Elsewhere, "The Idea of North" provides some calm (by Albini standards, of course) to break up the noise and the album's closer showcases the band's sense of humour. Albini's production is signature; completely dry, vocals low in the mix and plenty of space between the instruments. And while there are plenty of great songs on offer and the band are extremely tight, innovative and interesting, it's the production that allows the album to sound so good while still being so abrasive.
Abrasive, arty, nasty, noisy, innovative and unique, Shellac are proof that there is still massive scope for experimentation and carving out new sounds with a standard guitar, bass, drums lineup in the indie-rock format. At Action Park
is simultaneously interesting, difficult, catchy and just plain fun. In terms of musicianship, At Action Park
has a lot to offer and sonically, you're unlikely to hear anything else quite like it.
Abrasive and noisy
My Black Ass
Pull the Cup
The Idea of North
Final Rating: 4/5