A Journal Of The Dark Arts
There is nothing like listening to a band that has been playing together for over 20 years. And where most bands feel the need to get more convoluted, Shellac have pared their sound down to the bone, performing an alchemical condensation of bass, drums, and guitar into scrap metal fine art.
If I were to choose one word to describe Shellac, it would be disciplined – focused. They have taken the rhythmic possibilities of minimalism and post-punk to perfection, firing like the pistons of a Sherman tank. Shellac’s rhythm section – Bob Weston and Todd Trainer – are the stuff of legends. At this point, the trio are operating like some telepathic Cerebus, with instruments finishing each other’s thoughts. They seem zen-like, in their focus, mathematical, precise. This is tensile steel minimalism, like polished hammers.
Across the span of his career, it seems like Albini has taken the post-punk/no wave/noise rock anarcho-spirit, and refined it. This has a lot to do with the fact that he’s one of the finest audio engineers alive, and can capture the chaos and dissonance in glorious, glowing hi-fi. Sometimes their records are even packaged like test equipment. But inside, you have the atonal, metallic skrawk from bands like The Ex or Glenn Branca – the same well that Sonic Youth would draw so much inspiration from, early on. You’ve got the full-on battle onslaught of early ’80s DC hardcore. But this music is from Chicago, make no bones about it.
Shellac are burlier than the east coast contingent. Steelier. This is music for engineers. Engineers of panic and strength and confusion.
This time out, and maybe it’s just my ears, but Shellac sound more metally than ever before. They occasionally grind down into doom and sludge, even some post-hardcore riffage. But Shellac are, as ever, their own thing. But it raises my most valid point about Dude, Incredible.
Which is, people are primed to hear this record. Maybe even need to hear it.
After 15 years of seriously downtuning our ears, spassing out to lowdown, thrashy, hissy, buzzy, hammering metal music, (not to mention tens of thousands of hours of squealing noise), Shellac make more sense than ever before. You can see their conviction, and why they are doing what they do, and appreciate it more than ever.
The key to Shellac is in their rhythmic precision. They always stay slow ‘n sludgy and in the pocket, for what seems like aeons at times, until the repetition is enough to break you (because Shellac’s riffs never vary), until they finally rage and storm like a cataclysm, out of nowhere. It’s a process that never gets old, that tired post-rock tried to facsimilate, but could never quite pull off.
Because Shellac have done the work.
You can feel the countless hours in the practice room on Shellac’s records, that have hammered them into a well-oiled machine. Top musicians, at the peak of their game, captured in staggering detail and fidelity. This is timeless, important. There are moments (at least one anyway) (Riding Bikes), that sound captured in the rehearsal space. It sounds like Shellac just going for it, and you’re granted a fly’s eye view. This reveals one of the other dynamics of Dude Incredible and what makes it work.
Shellac really, truly, do not give a fuck.
They are in their own world, doing their own thing, to the best of their abilities. It’s personal. They’re pushing themselves, driven for their own reasons (for the sake of the art, presumably), and we are given insight into that world. So around the well-machined rhythmic pummeling, there are moments of rough humor, abrasive tendencies. There’s jokes about squirrels. Lots of talk of baseball. On this record, frequent mention of surveyor’s.
Like I said, Steve Albini has been perfected the post-punk sensibility throughout his career – its dissident nature, its sarcastic humor, its wall of noise. He’s been doing his thing, and getting better and better at it, all the while getting more accomplished as an engineer, so it all sounds exceptional. But is uncompromised in every other way.
So what you have here is a highly proficient, insanely well recorded metal/post punk/pigfuck/sludge-travaganza, that is primed to be heard, and loved, by everyone.
I’m reminded of the most recent part of The Swans story. They’re just doing what they do, and getting insanely fucking good at it, and it seems the world is catching on, and they are getting the recognition that they deserve. And people are getting the chance to experience the muscular ceremony that is The Swans live.
It’s the same thing with Shellac. They enlighten us to the possibilities, when art is raised to its highest potential. They inspire us to practice, and keep doing what we do, and what we love. To never lose our sense of humor, and never stop fighting.
You can read Shellac breaking down every track on Dude Incredible at exclaim.ca
and read another very thorough, very thoughtful and informed review over at Louder Than War