Review Summary: Math-Rock, Alternative Rock, Progressive, Whatever label you want sick on them, this album is a masterpiece of ingenious music and well thought-out cathartic lyrics. An album that breaks all expectations of what to expect from a 90's rock band.
Allen Epley, the sole songwriter for Shiner, and eventually The Life and Times, is a one man army. His lyrics are deeply introspective, shining a light (no pun intended) on the sometimes dark, sometimes quirky, aspects of people and humanity as a whole. They can easily be taken in the vein of a bitter nasty man, showering the world with his own demons, however, they come across much more tongue in cheek, allowing a quiet sense of humor to prevail as to not bog down the listener. Much as the revered Kurt Cobain let out his inner demons and views on society as a whole, Epley follows suit, only in a much more intelligent manner and with a willingness to even pick fun at himself.
Look at the lyrics to songs such as Spook the Herd:
‘The cows have all come home
They're sinking through the foam
The truth has not been told
'Cause it's been sold’
Here he is attributing societies willingness to buy into ‘whatever’ the mass media/government dictates while we take them at their word unquestioned.
However then you have lyrics from the track Play Dead:
‘Operated by a fictional computer,
and navigating down the stream of possibilities,
I could never…maybe.
Isolated for my crimes and misdemeanors,
graduating to the piece of *** that I became.
Here he takes aim at himself, contemplating the path he has taken and the end result of him ‘graduating to the piece of *** [he} became.
His guitar riffs are composed of alternative tunings, peculiar picking patterns, and many times just all out chaos, intertwined with all the other instruments moving in their own other-worldly patterns. As I am not a music critic in the sense that I am not keen on ‘labels’, such as Math Rock, which is one I have seen thrown out there quite often when describing this band, in layman’s terms for the average music fan, I would describe this album as progressive alternative. For those of you that are fans of classic rock, the abstract compositions of bands like Yes, Genesis, and Rush all come to mind with meshing an atonal guitar riff with pop sensibilities.
His voice has a wonderful range and as with any band, the vocals usually make or break the listener’s interest in the band. However, he can belt out with lyrics, with the same tongue in cheek humor he incorporates into his lyrics, vocally. They are the selling point of his vocals. No matter the content, there is never a lack of passion and none so more than the title track ‘The Egg’ with a massive build up, from him almost quietly speaking the verse into an all out high range falsetto on the chorus that can raise the hair on your arms.
Dynamics are key to this band, with a wonderful mix of off-time drumming, a very prominent bass guitar, underlying Epley’s peculiar riffing and vocal patterns. This album is by no means one that you just pop in and latch onto in the first listen. There is so much going on musically that it takes multiple listens to truly appreciate what Shiner accomplished on this album. The ability to combine the aforementioned song structures and strange qualities of the music, but at the same time, make it listenable and memorable is a feat that quite noteworthy that most band in this style fail at.
Rare is a there a dull moment on this album or a song that does not have something to offer the listener. The songs are cohesive in the fact that they all bear the same strange qualities, however, never seem to repeat ideas. Each song contains a life unto itself and even when they tone it down to a minimal it is captivating like the song ‘Top of the World’, the lyrical ideas keep you intrigued with lyrics such as:
‘I blew apart the Volvo
and sacrificed your sister,
and I spread it all over the place.
Watched their faces’
This album never fails to bring attention to what they want to accomplish with each song, leaving you with an album almost void of filler material. Anyone who likes their rock music a little off kilter, who enjoys the bizarre, and wants to hear something they have never heard before, Shiner has a unique quality that separates them from the pack. It is unfortunate that they reached their peak, with each album leading up to culminate into what was to become The Egg. However, there is no better way for a band to end their legacy with an album of this caliber.