REVIEW: Shellac – “Dude Incredible”

Originally published in Popdose on Sept. 15, 2014

Did you pre-order Shellac’s Dude Incredible yet? And, give it to me straight, are these Touch-and-Go Records legends still in their prime, still sharp as knives and angry as shit enough to take said knives and slash at your ears with them?

Well, the legacy of being Steve Albini carries with it, in no small part, Everest-ian expectations, to say nothing of Shellac’s other two-thirds, bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer. There’s the inherent drama and bloated anticipation that occurs between Shellac recordings, sure, sure, the last being 2007’s Excellent Italian Greyhound and the one before that dropping, goddamn, when Bill Clinton still was president. Then, of course, we have the music — the minimalist madness, the math- and post-rock precision, the implicit explosions as well as the explicit ones, the verbal acidity and, yes, yes, all of those references to Canada, billiards and cigars.

What to make of it all?

Well, here’s the truth, writ plain and simple: Dude Incredible, the first Shellac outing in nearly a decade, is hitting stores and streets Sept. 16, and, on first and second and third blush, it is one of the trio’s finest outings to date, right up there with the brilliant moments on gems like At Action Parkand 1,000 Hurts. Buy the fucking thing already and, trust me, you’ll want to hear this thing on vinyl, Skip.

Those familiar with the Albini canon will find more gunpowder to fuel arguments about his firecracker-genius with Dude Incredible, for sure. The hook-in-your-mouth title track, which opens the first side, bears hints of “Killers,” that excellent Lounge Ax compilation offering, but also unexpected flourishes, like the punkish Weston/Albini refrain of “Hand/ Over hand/ Over hand/ Over hand.”

“Compliant” lurches but somehow also comes off as methodical, “Gary” is bluesy in every one of the right ways, and the record’s three “Surveyor” tracks, all contained on the second side, size up the place like junkyard dogs; they’re almost manic in their pursuit of guarding the perimeter and laying down the foundations and expectations, but, get too close, and they’ll snap at you, feeding off the fact that you let down your guard. The instrumental “Mayor/Surveyor,” the record’s shortest track at what I clocked at about 1:45, would do any math-rock trio proud. And the light-footed but venomous “Surveyor,” which echoes the Shellac seven-inch EPs of ‘92 and ‘93, is the best closing track these guys have cut since “Copper.” Quote me on that, junior.

There’s plenty of great moments, with the lyrical oddities of “You Came In Me” reminding (older) listeners of Albini-isms such as Rapeman’s “Superpussy” and “Trouser Minnow.” On the riveting “The People’s Microphone,” a stop-and-start crusader if the band’s ever nursed one, Albini/Weston/Trainer rage in all the right ways and also keep the lid on the boil, sometimes seemingly at the same time. The slow-burn “Riding Bikes,” with its slender percussion and palm-muted guitar, hands itself over to some great narration and almost ominous walking bass — enticing stuff — as well as some pristinely recorded screams, occurring off in another room nearby, that seal the deal.

To be blunt, there’s not a dud here, in true Shellac fashion. There’s a reason Corey Rusk “retired” his label but still finds it in his heart (and in his wallet) to cut records by these guys. This is epic material and an engaging listen from start to stop — on track, if there’s any justice, for year-ending Best Of lists.

Only drawback? I might be retired or dead by the time these guys cut the next one. Over to you, Steve.

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