Monday, December 6, 2010

Music Monday: Shellac

Maybe every Monday (until I go Johnny Cash crazy) I will share some music that I am obsessed with.

My favorite band for the past few months has been Shellac. They self-describe as a "minimalist rock trio" although others have called them silly words like noise-rock and math-rock or sometimes just indie rock or whatever. Anyway the best thing about Shellac is that it is made up of three guys who are not crazy about being rock stars or anything. They only play music because they really like playing music. Guitarist Steve Albini and bassist Bob Weston both are well-renowned recording engineers in the indie scene. I know the most about Steve Albini--he is basically my hero but if I knew as much about Bob Weston and Todd Trainer they would probably be my heroes too. All I know is that they do Shellac because they love making music, and for no other reason at all. This is the best reason to make music.

The band started as an outlet for Albini's interest in vintage Travis Bean aluminum bodied guitars as well as the Interfax "Harmonic Percolator" distortion pedal. There are people who seek out unique tones and so forth but no one goes as far, or is capable of going as far as a guy who is in the running for greatest record producer ever. When Albini buys guitar effects he buys like half a dozen of the same pedal and then tries out all of them to figure out what minute differences due to manufacturing tolerances there are in each instance of the pedal. I watched him do it in a youtube video where he reviewed some Harmonic Percolator replicas. Anyway you are unlikely to hear a guitar tone that sounds like his, ever. That was the point.

[Yes he is wearing stilts for no discernible reason.]

Anyway I could describe Shellac's credentials and reputation forever. What I should really be talking about is their music. Shellac epitomizes everything good about minimalist rock that has ever been said. They limit themselves to a very small set of musical timbres but not only in spite of, but because of that limitation they achieve greatness. Albini's repetitive barely-tonal riffs establish more mood than harmony, with Weston's grooves wandering and meandering throughout, all over Trainer's aggressive drumming that the critics can't seem to think of any better word for than "primal". If I asked you "how much do you think a band could actually say with that kind of palette?" then your answer would probably be very little, but Shellac takes that as a challenge and creates some of the most dynamic and diverse music still being made.

The fact that they are basically the "tightest" band ever is a large part of this. They are capable of playing seemingly random unrelated things, but these musical ideas always converge together perfectly, and and when they do the full aural power of their sound is unleashed. In an interview Albini talked about dynamics saying that if your band is tight enough, you should go with a three-piece, because when there are only three of you then every entrance and every change that any of you make in the music becomes way way way more dramatic. But that is only if you are capable of pulling it off at all, of course. Most musicians aren't.

I guess a lot of the stuff I am writing in this post is exactly what they are saying in the video. Whoops. Anyway they are amazing and this is my favorite song off their newer album.

Here is another good Albini video on the music industry in general:

Hopefully you can see why they are my heroes. You should buy all of their records, preferably on vinyl because that is what they would want me to say, but if you're not into that then whatever. Let me know if you need help finding them, I am good at finding things.

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