Review Summary: “This microphone turns sound into electricity”
Shellac has a dry and stoic sense of humour which burrows right into the heart of their asymmetric, sometimes baron, soundscapes – a cynical humour, sure, but humour nevertheless. It’s a characteristic that runs in tandem with Albini’s DIY ideology, and a clear-cut expression for segregating any ties to the mainstream filth that corrupts good, earnest songwriting. It’s why we have the pleasure of listening to a song like “Don’t We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are” – a 12-and-a-half-minute endurance test that largely consists of two bass notes. It’s this type of track that succinctly displays two things: a stellar handling on stripped back songwriting that becomes extremely cathartic when instrumental variety or silence-breaking enters the fray. But moreover, it’s a declaration to its targeted demographic. This is the same mantra Kurt Cobain took on board when Nirvana wrote their magnum opus, In Utero
, with the very same Albini. “Don’t We Deserve a Look at You…” is written for the devoted and the patient, but it’s also a great way of shaking off any deadwood to provide an unadulterated fanbase. And the thing is, a lot of the time this kind of process appears cringingly pretentious when a band tries to write this way. However, Albini and his cohorts have always kept the balance grounded and in context, averting such problems altogether.
Excellent Italian Greyhound
stands as one of my favourite Shellac albums. It’s arguably their most ambitious sounding record to date, not just for the sheer variety of sounds the LP provides, but for the well-balanced care being put into amalgamating the overindulgent elements of Terraform
with the abrasive, no-nonsense riffs of At Action Park
. “The End of Radio” is the best opening song to any of their albums: a titillating ride of tilted drum fills, droning bass notes, dissonant guitar chords, and a scathing satirical attack on modern America’s radio stations; a juxtaposition of mockery and lamenting anguish over the course of the song’s entire scenario. “I’d like to thank our sponsor. We don’t have a sponsor. Not if you were the last man on earth, and she was prepared to prove it. This one goes out to a special girl. There is no special girl. It’s the end of radio”
Albini lambastes with a nuance of disdainful hilarity and a boatload of sincerity to boot. It’s raw, it’s uneasy, and it’s an excellent centre piece for the album. The transition from “The End of Radio” into “Steady as She Goes” is another excellent artistic choice, which throws Shellac’s signature metallic-juggernaut guitar tones into the forefront of driving grooves with a bounce. And “Be Prepared”’s unhinged and raw introduction adds a layer of spontaneity and feels like an off-the-cuff jam that presents more depth and danger than their usual flair of hardcore punk. In fact, for most newcomers, up until “Genuine Lulabelle”, Excellent Italian Greyhound
should deliver in all the right ways. It’s fairly conventional for a Shellac record and lacks the usual self-indulgences some of their previous works are known for.
For the uninitiated however, “Genuine Lulabelle” and a couple of moments in the proceeding tracks thereafter can, understandably, be seen as arbitrary or a little pointless. “Genuine Lulabelle” has a vague avant-garde style to it – completely devoid of anything the first half of the LP initially offered. The thing to remember about this piece though, is it’s a narrative-based song centred around individual perceptions and memories – fragmented and sectioned into long-winded, silent intermissions before moving onto the next interpreter. It’s certainly not for everyone, and it definitely detracts from everything that’s been built up to that point, but it’s an interesting segment that moves the listener into phase two of the album: utilising their creativity to balance the artsy side of their personality with the conventional side. “Kittypants” and “Paco” are upbeat instrumentals filled to the brim with vibrant colours of melody; “Boycott” is a hard-hitting rock tune with, what appears to be, an intentionally monotone vocal performance behind it all; and the closing number, “Spoke”, ironically delivers inaudible vocal freak-outs in the midsection of the track before putting the album to bed. There’s a lot more freedom being expressed during the second half of Excellent Italian Greyhound
, that, if nothing else, makes this Shellac’s grandest project yet. But as I said earlier, these guys don’t take everything all that seriously, and there is a light-hearted slab of optimism nestled under its cynical exterior. If you’re looking for a straight hitter, listen to At Action Park
. If you’re after something with a little more substance, look no further than the grey whippet.
PACKAGING: The vinyl comes as a gatefold, housed in a slipcover with alternative artwork. It also comes included with a free copy of the album on CD.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Excellent-Italian-Greyhound-VINYL-Shellac/dp/B000PA9PTW/ref=tmm_vnl_swatch_0"_encoding=UTF8&qid=1564238216 &sr=8-1