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At Action Park

Shellac - At Action Park ©1994 Touch & Go
1. My Black Ass
2. Pull The Cup
3. The Admiral
4. Crow
5. Song Of The Minerals
6. A Minute
7. The Ides Of North
8. Dog And Pony Show
9. Boche's Dick
10. II Porno Star

Having already done time with the abrasive 80s entity Big Black and been the "recorder" (not producer) of the entire alt-rock spectrum, Steve Albini's Shellac show the temperance of years of experience and total disregard for convention in music. Shellac is a lot less searing than some of his past projects but still retains a confrontational, slicing edge that puts them uniquely in their own category. Armed with a very metallic (not in heavy metal terminology, but in the fact that the guitar really sounds like some sort of alloy) distortion and looping, simple rhythms, At Action Park is a very satisfying release that harnesses aggression without base level hate or pettiness. The trio utilizes a basic format of ringing bass, the strangely distorted guitar, repetitive drum patterns and of course Albini's acerbic vocals to make a sound firmly their own. The guitar sound itself is wholly satisfying, having no real peer in the music world. The way the music lurches and loops is actually quite groovy and can make one move one's fanny as well as tickle the ears. Needless to say, this is prime true indie rock that blazes a wonderful and powerful sound with a single drop of pretention.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Excellent Italian Greyhound

Shellac - Excellent Italian Greyhound ©2007 Touch & Go
1. The End of Radio
2. Steady As She Goes
3. Be Prepared
4. Elephant
5. Genuine Lullabelle
6. Kittypants
7. Boycott
8. Paco
9. Spoke

Without a doubt, Shellac's Excellent Italian Greyhound earns instant approval based on the recording quality. Say what you want about the opinionated Steve Albini, but that guy knows how to mic a room and get an amazing sound, particularly with the drums. In this age of computer aided recording techniques, there's something to be said for a band who sets up their equipment and gets a good sound by good old fashioned studio smarts.

Now that I've gotten the positives out of the way, I have to say that despite the great drum sound, Excellent Italian Greyhound is one of those albums that seems unfinished and under-realized. Oh sure, one can make excuses and point out that they're a "minimalist rock trio", but that can also be taken as a euphemism for "half-assed" in the songwriting department. Shellac has never been the most prolific of artists, releasing albums once every few years whenever the the urge hits them, but you'd think that in seven years, they'd be able to complete an album's worth of songs. Although "Steady As She Goes" comes across as a fully realized song, it's the agregious offenders of "The End of Radio" and "Genuine Lulabelle" that really set this album back. In particular, "The End of Radio" finds the band pushing their minimalist luck by having Albini rant about being a lonesome DJ while throwing in a chord here and a snare roll there with a few bass notes hanging out just for the fun of it. The song is utterly interminable. I can't picture ever listening to its entire duration more than once. Even when Shellac has something good going, such as the instrumental "Kittypants", one gets the impression they left something out on the playing field.

The handful of good moments on this record are far overshadowed by the patience-testing dinking around. Perhaps I traded in my post-rock credibility in years ago, but I couldn't care less if a song is minimalistic, layered with the London Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestra combined, or played entirely on Schroeder's toy piano...I simply want good songwriting. Shellac tests my patience far too much on Excellent Italian Greyhound, making it a lackluster recording. I'm not sure if Steve Albini's reputation gives him a free pass with many listeners, but this record is a disappointment to me.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2010

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