Unlike most celebrated independent bands, the three members of Shellac have made it clear they have no desire to turn the band into a full-time job and accept the attendant financial and professional compromises that would come with that, so while the seven-year wait between Shellac's third album, 1000 Hurts, and 2007's Excellent Italian Greyhound may have seemed interminable to their fans, for Shellac it was doubtless seen as business as usual, simply waiting until they had material they liked and the time seemed right before presenting it to the public. And on the surface, Excellent Italian Greyhound does sound like a typical Shellac record -- Steve Albini's guitar still slices like a freshly sharpened hedge-trimmer, Bob Weston's slabs of bass continue to give the songs a strong melodic mooring, and Todd Trainer's drumming strikes a balance between rhythmic precision and free exploration the way he always has. But the difference this time out is that Shellac have grown stronger, more intuitive, and simply better during their seven-year recording break, and Excellent Italian Greyhound is the most satisfying album they've made since their debut, 1994's At Action Park. The album opens with "The End of Radio," a remarkable exercise in dynamics as the patterns of the guitar, bass, and drums collide and intersect for just over eight minutes, and it's as impressive as anything this band has ever performed in the studio, fraught with musical tension that ebbs and flows with an inspired fusion of concision and intelligently applied force. If "Steady as She Goes" and "Be Prepared" aren't quite as startling, their energy and aural bravado are equally impressive, and throughout this album the audio is spectacular in its clarity and sense of space (do yourself a favor and crank it up to an appropriately powerful level). Part two kicks off with "Genuine Lulabelle," and its random silences and oddly placed comic voices mark it as the album's only real misstep, but the primarily instrumental selections that follow show this band still has a firm grasp on its gifts, and though this music is a uncompromising as anything any of these musicians have ever released, there's an intelligence and artistry that can't help but lure in anyone who loves rock & roll with smarts and a sense of purposeful adventure. Excellent Italian Greyhound is just Shellac being Shellac in their own sweet time, and these nine songs demonstrate how challenging and rewarding that can be; it's a stellar accomplishment from a truly singular band.
|Label:||Touch & Go Records|