It's hard not to love Shellac. More likely to play Reykjavik than Detroit, and more likely to release songs on flexi-discs in Dutch comic books than provide MP3s on their website, Shellac (or Shellac of North America) will always be known for doing it their way. Being able to operate completely outside the typical machinations of music -- independent or otherwise, their press sheets typically exclaimed "no free lunch," referring to promo copies -- the trio carved out a sizable niche in the sewage-infested gutters of underground rock & roll.
Started in an informal setting between infamous engineer and guitarist Steve Albini (ex-Just Ducky, Big Black, Rapeman) and drummer Todd Trainer (ex-Rifle Sport, Brick Layer Cake) in 1992, Shellac came into full formation after Albini invited bassist Bob Weston (ex-Sorry, Volcano Suns) to move to Chicago and employed him as an engineer at his studio. A clutch of singles soon appeared in 1993 and 1994 on Touch and Go and Drag City, somewhat following in the footsteps of Albini's Big Black, if only due to his trebly, cutting guitar work and deadpan vocals. As with Big Black, Shellac provided a forum for Albini to air his thoughts on the uglier side of humanity, though lowering the perversity and upping the humor a notch. (An early claim was that all Shellac songs concerned either baseball or Canada, sometimes both in the same song.) The odd rhythms of Trainer and rumbling bass of Weston clearly removed Shellac from any of the members' previous involvements. Laying the groundwork for Shellac's following output, their sound varied little since the initial recordings. Always featuring a raw sound, the band's recordings rarely (if ever) employed overdubs. Economy and precision are always at the top of the priority list.
They are definitely one of the best sounding bands in the world. And they still manage to be as weird as all get out. Sonically, their recordings are so loud and live sounding. The players are unbelievably tight and efficient. The drums are like a machine, way up in the mix, driving the songs, so precise and perfect, but somehow still impossibly groovy. The arrangements are simple, but manage to be intense and convoluted and confusing at the same time. Albini is the absolute master of the jagged angular riff.
Stripped down minimal math rock, no one does it better.
In 1998, Shannon Wright disbanded her group Crowsdell, moved from New York City to nowheresville North Carolina and sold nearly everything she owned. She had enough of the music biz. On her guitar and a friend's piano, she started writing songs later found on her debut album, Flight Safety, released in 1999. Touring a tremendous amount directly following that release led to the formation of her second full-length Maps of Tacit in 2000, an album that stood up on a chair and pointed it's finger at the crowd, questioningly.
Dyed in the Wool, her third release, is the prevailing document of Shannon Wright's earnest singularity and adept capacity for writing beautiful songs. This record unfolds Shannon's distinct penchant for instantaneous melodies over twisted, poetic settings that range from irresistible pop to the uniquely baroque.
The songs on this album include some of Shannon's most inspired performances and complex songwriting. The melodies are executed with unnerving emotion while Shannon's percussive guitar playing and self-taught, splayed-finger Thelonious Monk-isms on the piano give the songs an untouchably rare character. Shannon enlisted a line of talented friends, whose musicianship spreads itself over bands like The Rachel's, Shipping News, The Glands, Boxhead Ensemble, Edith Frost Band, Lofty Pillars, Rock*A*Teens and The Japancakes, to play many of the backing parts that she had written. On prior albums, Shannon had the exhausting task of playing nearly all the instruments herself. Having a band in the studio allowed Shannon the opportunity to layer songs with subtle nuances. The addition of lush string accompaniment adds a new emotional texture to Dyed in the Wool, which like her previous records, was engineered by Andy Baker in Athens/Atlanta and Steve Albini in Chicago.
Any of the album's individual parts - sublimely elusive lyrics, timeless melodies tied with crafted arrangements and potently heartfelt studio performances - intertwine, connecting this album to the masterful songwriting of Shannon's Flight Safety with the frightening intensity of her Maps of Tacit.
Given Shannon's furious live performances, there is no question as to why both the Dirty Three and Low have selected her as an almost exclusive choice for an opener. Shannon recently garnered huge European acclaim while opening for, as well as playing and singing with Calexico. Shannon will be performing some solo shows in support of Dyed in the Wool, but mostly will tour with a full band, including US and Canadian dates with excursions into Europe and South America.