Album Reviews - Reviews

Shellac – Dude Incredible


Shellac don’t operate like a normal band. Releasing albums every seven years in between Steve Albini and Bob Weston’s day jobs as recording engineers; no fanfare, no previews or singles; no accompanying tour. One thing they can be relied on for, however, is their consistency. You could essentially arrange Shellac’s discography into any order and it would be difficult for a newcomer to work out the correct sequence. This is no bad thing – no one wants to hear a Shellac album that doesn’t sound like Shellac – it’s a testament to how consistently strong they’ve been over the last 20 years that there’s been no discernible drop in quality through their catalogue so far – and luckily, album number five, Dude Incredible, is no different.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that another seven year gap and the sporadic nature of the recording schedule (the album was recorded in various stints at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio over the last few years) would make this a fractured and uneven listen, but somehow this isn’t the case – it’s probably their most direct and cohesive piece of work to date. Running at a mere 32 minutes – their shortest proper studio album to date – all the fat has been trimmed away. No track breaches the six minute mark, and there are no long meandering missteps like ‘Genuine Lullabelle’, the one track that weighed down 2007’s otherwise great Excellent Italian Greyhound.

The title track continues in their long line of great openers, boasting perhaps the finest riff Albini has ever put to tape (which is quite a claim), while Weston’s spiky, metallic bass sounds so full it’s easily mistaken for an extra guitar on first listen. The lyrics are apparently about monkeys, making their way “to where the females congregate/perhaps they’ll let us fuck them“, before getting into a fight with a group of strangers on the way. It’s an immediate career highlight. The Weston-led ‘Compliant’ wrings more melody than one would expect from the checklist of an OCD sufferer (“Stove. Off. Compliant.”), but ‘Riding Bikes’ is the album’s other high point, a tense slow burner in the mould of ‘The End Of Radio’ or ‘House Full Of Garbage’. Before reaching a climax that once again showcases Todd Trainer’s furious drumming, Weston’s bass leads the melody while Albini picks out the same nervous two note refrain, the aural equivalent of someone anxiously pacing up and down a room.

Side two showcases the album’s unexpected sense of cohesion with a suite of songs about surveyors/ the United States’ founding fathers. The best of the bunch is ‘All The Surveyors’, beginning with a strange medieval chant exclaiming “Fuck the king!” before morphing into one of the most forceful tracks in their canon, full of more lyrical gems like “Energy is mass multiplied by the speed of light squaredthat’s a big number“. Albini’s guitar is as buzzsaw-like as ever throughout, never moreso than when the ear-splitting distortion kicks in at the end of instrumental ‘The People’s Microphone’.

With some of these songs being in Shellac’s live set from as early as 2008, they’ve clearly had enough time to nail them down but without overdoing them to the point of becoming stale. It’s great to have them back, but sadly, we can now only dread to think about how old we’ll all be when they decide to make album number six. Cathal McBride