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Alternative & Indie - Released September 16, 2014 | Touch and Go Records

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Shellac tend to take their own sweet time making albums -- not because they're pretentious about their art, but because they're busy with their day jobs -- and as a consequence, when they do drop a new LP it seems like a real event among the sort of indie rock/math rock dudes who treasure the band's dark wit and masterful command of dynamics and instrumental interplay. So after waiting seven years, some folks might feel a tiny bit let down by Shellac's fifth full album, Dude Incredible, which runs a mere 33 minutes and doesn't have an epic-scale defining number in the manner of "The End of Radio" (from Excellent Italian Greyhound) or "Didn't We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are" (from Terraform). Dude Incredible does open with the impressive title cut, a taut but ambling rocker that follows a handful of thick-headed males out for bad adventures (sort of like a Big Black song, but with a greater distance from the subject matter) and skillfully turns on a dime several times, and "Riding Bikes" is a similarly effective and lyrically troubling song about teenage vandals. But most of the album is short on top-shelf material, and while Shellac have always taken a minimalist approach to their tunes, even by their standards "Mayor/Surveyor" and "Surveyor" feel like frameworks for riffs and not much more. But then again, songs have never been Shellac's raison d'être, and the qualities that make the band special are here in abundant supply -- the sharp, lean attack of Steve Albini's guitar, the rumbling bass of Bob Weston, solid and fluid at once, and Todd Trainer's drumming, rhythmically precise but expressive and imaginative. The members of Shellac have tremendous intuition in terms of how the pieces of their songs fit together, and simply hearing this band play this stuff, gracefully exploding like a string of firecrackers, is a very genuine pleasure. Ultimately, Dude Incredible is a good but not great album from an undeniably great band; it doesn't sound lazy, just short one or two top-rank songs that would bump its status up a notch, but it's clearly the work of as strong and interesting a band as you can hear these days. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | Touch and Go Records

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There are few men in the history of rock music who have less business being called sentimental than Steve Albini. Any man who would title an album Songs About Fucking or name one of his bands Rapeman would seemingly rank low on the warm and fuzzy scale. But for a few brief moments, Albini proves he has a heart after all on The End of Radio, an album that gives authorized release to two BBC Radio sessions he played with his band Shellac. The first part of this album preserves a four-song set from July 1994, recorded and mixed in a single day at the BBC's Maida Vale studio for John Peel's show on Radio One. Cut shortly before the release of Shellac's first album, At Action Park, these tracks capture early Shellac in fine fettle, limber and hard hitting on "Spoke" and "Crow" and exploring the spaces within their sound on "Canada" and "Disgrace." But the second part of the album, from a December 2004 performance recorded live to stereo (with an audience on hand) at Maida Vale, is the work of a more seasoned and intuitive group, and one with noticeably greater heart and soul. John Peel died a few weeks before the performance, and Albini begins the show by murmuring, "We are dedicating this session, and probably the rest of our career, to John Peel." This being Shellac, the loud stuff is very loud indeed, but this band had learned to stretch out and toy with the structures of their songs, and the intuitive communication and spacious dynamics between Albini's guitar, Bob Weston's bass, and Todd Trainer's drums yield remarkable results, especially on extended numbers like "The End of Radio" and "Billiard Player Song." This is certainly smart and terse enough for math rock, but with a beating heart deep within its body. When Albini improvises "John Peel was a hell of a man" in the former number and extemporizes about a variety of human struggles in the latter before declaring, "A lot of people say she's crazy…but I don't think she's crazy, not in any way that matters -- I think she's all right," he dips his toes into something like empathy, something he's not known to bestow upon his characters. In this context, it's unexpected and just a bit moving, and while the performance is already excellent, preserving a superb live band on a good night, the flash of warmth in their flinty sound makes this something special. Both performances are not hard to find in bootleg form, but the clarity of the remastering on The End of Radio makes this a must for fans of Shellac. It would be nice if we could get another live set from this trio that was recorded less than 15 years ago, yet as an artifact of the Live Shellac Experience and a sincere tribute to fallen comrades, this is as good as you could hope for. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 24, 1994 | Touch and Go Records

Shellac's first three singles (especially Uranus) suggested that Steve Albini was moving into more subtle and dynamic territory after the musical and lyrical brutality of Big Black and Rapeman, but the group's first full-length album, At Action Park, proved that the misanthropic noisemaker responsible for Atomizer and Songs About Fucking was still very much present. "My Black Ass," "Dog and Pony Show," and "Il Porno Star" revealed Albini was still obsessed with sex, violence, and anti-social behavior, and the hard, metallic guitar figures of "Pull the Cup" and "Song of the Minerals" were as uncompromisingly abrasive as ever, with Albini's trademark engineering (dry, stark, and crystal clear) making the rough edges all the more punishing. But At Action Park does reveal a band more musically intelligent and imaginative than Big Black, and while it hits a good bit harder than the 7"ers that preceded it, Shellac is still significantly more concerned with the space between the notes than any of Albini's earlier projects. Just as importantly, in drummer Todd Trainer and bassist Bob Weston, Albini had found a human rhythm section that lived up to his exacting specifications, with Weston adding both melody and force with his thick, meaty tone and Trainer displaying both precision and an expressive abstraction behind the kit. And while Shellac's idea of a good time would still make most folks uncomfortable, there's a dark but genuine humor to a few of the cuts (especially "Il Porno Star"), and "Song of the Minerals" suggests Albini may actually feel compassion for one of his protagonists. At Action Park made it clear that Steve Albini was slowly but surely maturing, while stubbornly refusing to compromise in the process. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released August 8, 2000 | Touch and Go Records

Don't expect 1000 Hurts to open your ears to anything new. Shellac's sound hasn't developed much. Are they yanking chains by periodically releasing selections from one extremely fruitful session? Only the band and a few tape operators know. No other band sounds like them, which legitimizes this status quo. The jagged scrapes of Steve Albini's guitar, the somewhat laggard bass from Bob Weston, and the awkward-yet-steady time keeping of Todd Trainer's drums remain in top form. For what it's worth, Albini's guitar does seem to gain more grace as the years go on -- just watch out for the ugly jazz fusion lick that ends "Canaveral." Raw, no-frills production? Absence of overdubs? Goofy time signatures? They're all a part of the cauldron. As with the band's previous LPs, you get healthy doses of extended hypnotic doodling, rumbling mid-tempo tantrums, speedy jabs, and a joke or two. And as with any recording featuring the wordsmithery of Steve Albini, one fights the urge to transcribe the whole damn thing. Often humorous, occasionally unsettling, but always intelligent and thought-provoking, Albini's lyrics are a bit nastier than the past couple records. "Prayer to God" is no plea for forgiveness or well-wishing; he asks his lord to kill an ex-girlfriend and her accomplice. "Canaveral" dreams of whisking an enemy to outer space, in hopes that he'll become fertilizer. If you know the band's sound, your mind was probably made up prior to reading this. You know what to expect, aside from it not being quite as fantastic as At Action Park, but certainly better than Terraform. True to Shellac form, the record is a sound purchase. Within the domain of atonal, anti-commercial rock & roll, very few are on their level. ~ Andy Kellman
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 19, 1998 | Touch and Go Records

Three and a half years is a long time between albums, especially for indie rock bands. Though Steve Albini and Bob Weston were busy with their respective production careers, the wait between Shellac's 1994 debut album and 1998's Terraform doesn't seem to have done the group any good. What sinks Terraform more than anything else is the opening track, a ten-minute dirge with a repetitive riff and little else to recommend it. After that, the album gets better yet still sounds remarkably similar to the debut, if slightly less noisy (much of it was recorded at the Beatles' Abbey Road Studios). ~ John Bush
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 5, 2007 | Touch and Go Records

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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. ~ Mark Deming
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | Touch and Go Records

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