REVIEW: Shellac, Excellent Italian Greyhound, Touch and Go

Posted June 4th, 2007 by eric · No Comments

Shellac of North America is a minimalist rock trio that knows what its strengths are and it plays to them with few, if any, missteps. This band is unconcerned with fame or record sales or any of the bullshit that typically accompanies the fanfare of a new release, as its self-imposed seven-year hiatus unceremoniously attests. Instead, the members of Shellac are perfectly content to put out records on their own time-table. Market saturation is just obnoxious and greedy, right?

Excellent Italian Greyhound is Shellac’s second-best record. There are only four now, but this one rivals its 1994 debut, At Action Park, in both ferocity and defiant arrangements. Not much has changed in Shellac’s world over the last 15 years. Todd Trainer still beats the living shit out of his drums, using space and silence as much as he doesn’t use his cymbals. Bob Weston has a thick, meaty bass tone that serves as both melody and foundation, while Steve Albini’s shards of guitar cut all the sludge in half.

Seven years between records is an eternity in the music business- to put it in perspective that’s practically The Beatles’ entire commercial life-span. But obviously Shellac isn’t out to compete with The Beatles, much less anybody else. To most people, it’s an insult to call a band a hobby, but I doubt these guys would argue much. They all have far more lucrative jobs outside of playing music, so making records is a casual indulgence. That is not to say they don’t take their music seriously. This record is meticulously put together, right down to the fetishistic microphone placement to achieve that warm and thick analog sound.

On the surface, Shellac has retained its smart and terse noise rock wholly intact, but Excellent Italian Greyhound does reveal a refinement of craft, at the very least in its confident execution of unorthodox ideas. Shellac eschews traditional song structures in favor of extreme dynamics. That’s where its stubborn minimalism comes into play. When Shellac wants to rock, the sheer force of its aggression is overwhelming, especially when you have it turned up loud enough.

Albini’s lyrics drip with sarcasm and relentless satire in a paranoid and schizophrenic voice. He may not be a “singer” in the traditional sense, but he relays his thoughts as effectively and with as much charisma as any proper vocalist. “The End of Radio” is an obstinate exercise in testing the listener’s patience, as its three-chord bass build-up repeats ad nauseum, but just when you think it’s another “Didn’t We Deserve A Look at The Way You Really Are”, Albini’s splintering guitar pierces the mundanity in a shrill display of fireworks.

“Steady As She Goes” is as straightforward and driving of a rocker as you’re likely to get from this band. “Be Prepared” is equally hostile yet slightly trickier musically. When Albini yells “I was born wearing pants”, Bob Weston answers him with “Be prepared!” It’s both funny and startling in its aural bluster. In fact, that moment speaks to the album as a whole. It’s smart, funny, uncompromising, unapologetic, and comes off like a bit of an asshole. Just what you want in your rock and roll.

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