Friday, January 2, 2015

Shellac - Dude Incredible (2014)

I just noticed that there were about 7 posts in May of 2010 devoted to albums released around that time (some of them are still memorable and classic--i.e. This is Happening and Sisterworld) so I should remind everyone that Flying Houses is not just a book and occasional movie blog, but a blog about the arts.  Dude Incredible came out in September of 2014, so this review is way, way late, but I have been listening to this album and other Shellac albums constantly since then, and I think any band that keeps you listening over, and over, and over, should be written about (even if they aren't that great--though Shellac is great), because it says something about your personality.  Something about that music touches you.

So what is it about Shellac that I find "touching?"  Their viscosity.  Their viciousness.

I started listening to Dude Incredible on YouTube but quickly downloaded it.  I didn't buy it.  Steve Albini has full permission to call me a douchebag, but I justify it.  I justify it because I bought 1000 Hurts and Excellent Italian Greyhound from Reckless Records back in 2006 and 2007.  The weird thing was, I never really listened closely to Shellac until now.  Let's just cut to the chase and point out that I discovered "Wingwalker" at the same time as this album, and it changed my life. (Rediscovering "Watch Song" was also notable, but not as revelatory.)

"Wingwalker" was released in 1994 as a B-side on the single "Doris."  This was shortly before their debut album At Action Park was released.  "Doris" is not a bad song at all, but it is only slightly awesome when compared to "Wingwalker."

Now I had heard 1000 Hurts as early as 2003, from a friend at NYU.  I later bought it, and Excellent Italian Greyhound when it came out in the summer of 2007.  I guess I didn't see what all the fuss was about, and never looked into their first two albums.


I got At Action Park through a friend in Austin, TX that let me import a few gigabytes of music off his iTunes.  I listened to it a bit, but never obsessively.  Now I realize that the run of songs between "The Admiral" and "A Minute" is almost perfection.

I didn't listen to Terraform until after my obsession took root.  Maybe I became so obsessed because Terraform was basically new to me, and it was like hearing two new albums at the same time.

But "Wingwalker."  "Wingwalker" was mentioned in a Pitchfork review or two and I absently clicked on it on YouTube after listening to a couple tracks from Dude Incredible.  It was almost as if, during the first listen, I had found my favorite song of all time.

How had no one ever played this for me before?
Did all of my musician friends just pretend they liked indie punk rock, and never really listen to it?

I don't really know what "Wingwalker" is about, but it seems to be about an aeronautic engineer that has sacrificed everything else in his life in the name of building a perfect plane.  It could be the theme song for The Wind Rises except that the tone of the song is a thousand times more menacing than that film.  It has an extremely dark, foreboding rumbling bass line, and a textbook loud-quiet-loud guitar part.  Except the entire song is loud.  There is also a breakdown in the middle of the song where Albini delivers a monologue about how the plane has become a metaphor for his life.  I have probably listened to the song hundreds of times (I listen to it about 1-3 times per day) and have not gotten bored.

Enter Dude Incredible.  After thoroughly ingesting all of the Shellac albums, I have to say this one is about as strong as all of their other albums, minus Excellent Italian Greyhound.  I would never say Excellent Italian Greyhound is a bad album by any stretch--I just get bored with more than half the songs on it.  Not the case for any other Shellac album.  Dude Incredible is short.  It's barely over 30 minutes and there are 9 tracks.  The opening track, the title track, is the best song on the album.  "All the Surveyors" and "Surveyor" are nearly as good.  The rest of the songs are pretty awesome, and I rarely skip them except "Gary" and "Mayor/Surveyor."  Probably the best parts of the album are the very beginning and the very end: the lyrics to both songs ("Dude Incredible" and "Surveyor") are awesome, but they are the best parts because there is so much to look forward to, and because ending the album with a quote by George Washington is pretty badass.

Enter Terraform.  Terraform is technically their second album, and I will not comment on The Futurist here except to say it is definitely their weakest album, but still, could not be called "bad."  The song most people mention when talking about this album is "Didn't We Deserve a Look at the Way You Really Are?" and they usually don't have kind things to say about it.  The song runs for 12 minutes and is basically a two-note bass line with a couple crazy moments of guitar crash and typical Shellac lyrical poignancy (Caught a glimpse of you in an unselfconscious smile/reveal yourself/didn't we deserve a look at the way you really are?).  I personally love this song because "This is a Picture" follows it, and "This is a Picture" is definitely on my top 5 Shellac songs list [(1) "Wingwalker"; (2) "Watch Song"; (3) "This is a Picture"; (4) "Dude Incredible"; (5) "Surveyor"].  It also has my favorite line: "You know where there'd be angels?/Heaven that's where/..../I can't wait to die/I can find me some/That's where I'll find my wife/When I'm through with my present one."

Every song on Terraform is pretty good once you get past the first track, but I like the way the first track just goes on forever and how the rest of the album flies by (except "House Full of Garbage," which is not the best song but also means a lot to me personally for reasons I will not discuss here).  "Disgrace," "Mouthpiece," and "Rush Job" each have really cool parts.  Some people think "Mouthpiece" is boring but I think the bass line in it is one of the hottest things they have done.

That is pretty much all I wanted to say.  Yes, I didn't pay for this album.  Yes, I missed the July concert at Lincoln Hall, and yes, I will pay $20 or $30 to see them live next time they play in Chicago.  And I will gladly play my top 5 songs by them for anyone with an open mind.  I liked a lot of albums in 2014 (the new St. Vincent, the Ex Hex album, Owls II...) but listened to this more than anything else--so, my favorite.

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