Shipping News


Save Everything

Shipping News - Save Everything ©1997 Quarterstick
1. Books On Trains
2. Steerage
3. The Photoelectric Effect
4. All By Electricity
5. At A Venture
6. A True Lover's Knot

There's no use in ignoring these guys' CVs. Shipping News is a trio composed of Jeff Mueller, of the late June of 44, co-inventors and very possibly perfectors of math rock; Jason Noble, multi-instrumentalist for the tireless experimental chamber/rock group Rachel's; and drummer Kyle Crabtree, whose credits include collaborations with Rachel's and Shannon Wright, among others.

Save Everything leans closest to June of 44, actually. With the exception of "Steerage" which, after three minutes, opens up a lengthy sequence of hushed sound effects and random guitar plucking (and an enigmatic monologue delivered by what sounds a radio announcer), this album features the kind of stuttering math-rock that characterized June of 44's early catalogue. "Books on Trains", "The Photoelectric Effect" and "All By Electricity" bring melodious arpeggios, brisk slashes of guitar, nimble basslines, and punchy and attentive drumming together with a genuinely high-minded tone of seriousness and sincerity.

Mueller and Noble trade instruments as well as vocals and conceptually both employ dark nautical imagery; from the frantic shouting on "Steerage" ("Focus ... before the ship sinks!") to the fuzzed-out lullaby-like vocal melody of "A True Lover's Knot", sounding like a last testament, the entire enterprise suggests impending disaster.

Basically, Save Everything sounds like an album one might expect from some indie rock giants at the top of their game.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 09/2003

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Very Soon, And In Pleasant Company

Shipping News - Very Soon, And In Pleasant Company ©2001 Quarterstick
1. The March Song
2. Actual Blood
3. Simple Halo
4. Nine Bodies, Nine States
5. Quiet Victories
6. Contents Of A Landfill
7. How To Draw Horses

The tendencies on Shipping News's debut, Save Everything, veered toward moodly and articulate math-rock stylings with the occasional experimental flourish. Very Soon, and In Pleasant Company on the other hand, brings the latter side of the band into almost full expression.

I say "almost" because a couple songs here, notably "The March Song" and "Nine Bodies, Nine States" feature the kind of prominent and austere bass playing and deliberately sputtering drum beats that punctuate their debut. This does not fail to impress; Kyle Crabtree is a shrewd drummer and is unwilling to allow the listener to feel ahead of the music.

Most songs here however, open wide spaces of minimalism and near-silence. The most successful example of this approach is surely "Quiet Victories", which aches with weariness and despair. Mueller's guitar, drenched in reverb, exhales distorted chords at a crawling pace, while Noble's wounded vocals sing "Why did you trust them, why did you try, they cut off both your hands". At close to the four-minute mark, Mueller adds curt incisions of distortion to the dirge as drums and piano lock into synch. The song is a masterpiece of emotional cohesion, and the remaining songs, though not quite assuming the elevated lyricism of "Quiet Victories", masterfully explore emotional complexities and subtle musical dynamics.

The rub is that the band is now at a crucial point. "How to Draw Horses", with its quiet, acoustic arrangements and mumbled vocals, marks the only disappointment here, and I must hope that the band will avert any impulses of falling into the dreaded "background music" column that is promulgated on this closing track. (Said song might have sounded fresh, actually, had I not heard Cat Power's early records. While Chan seemingly stumbled her way through those albums, this Shipping News song is probably wound tightly with a kind of musical sophistication that is lost on me.)

In the end, Very Soon, and In Pleasant Company commands respect as ambitious and intelligent indie rock of a high order.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 09/2003

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