This is a side of Shipping News some people might not be all that familiar with, and for a good reason. They sound decidedly more edgy on this live record, with more raw, unbound energy than what has been displayed previously. It’s as if they’re quite perturbed, or just plain pissed, at someone or something, and they couldn’t hold it in any longer so they ratcheted up their usual intensity.
SN had kept a relatively low profile over the years, musically and otherwise, despite releasing four albums on the well-regarded Quarterstick Records, and in the five years since their last album, Flies The Fields, the band members (Kyle Crabtree, Todd Cook, Jeff Mueller, Jason Noble) have experienced two marriages, fatherhood and serious illness. They’ve come away from it all with an album that wants to clean out the cobwebs, blow the carbon build-up out of the engine and maybe even rage a little.
Recorded at Skull Alley in Louisville and the O-Nest in Tokyo, there’s a newfound freedom in both 90s noise rock and musical meditation as they slam into the set with a nervy, driving opener called “Antebellum,” that has a kind of Lungfish demeanor, and they don’t take long to cover musical ground that stretches from Louisville to Baltimore to Chicago and back. The excellent second song, “This Is Not An Exit,” is a huge shout-out to Steve Albini in all his colorless glory.
Now, I don’t want to spoil any of the other surprises, so I won’t divulge too much, but along the way they hang out briefly with Crain, June Of ’44, Liquor Bike and, finally, Shellac. Every song stands proud and says “fuck you” to a world that might just say “fuck you” right back. They wrench some serious anguish from the guitars and deliver everything with an intense verve and gusto, even the meandering “Half A House.” There’s a distant spatial aspect to the overall sound, and when they finish the pounding rhythms on the last song, “Do You Remember The Avenues?” it comes as close, for a moment, to re-living Big Black as we can get these days without totally mimicking them, or trying to update that sound. There’s a brooding quality to the whole affair that is something I never expected from a band that is usually very measured. A grand nod to the bleak urban-industrial-guitar angst of a decade gone by, as seen through the dead and dying trees.