Album Review: Shellac - Dude Incredible

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Steve Albini has made a career out of minimalism. In the 80's, at the height of hair metal, Steve fronted the Chicago punk band Big Black and cut back on punk's already lo-fi aesthetic.

Instead of a drummer they used a drum machine (dubbed "Roland" by the band), instead of politics he sang (or growled) from the perspective of evil, corrupt, dark seedy underbelly of the "Me" generation.

After Big Black, you would think he would try to make a bid for stardom. These were the late 80's / early 90's where mainstream success was now a possibility for hard rock and punk bands. Instead, he made a new band, dubbed it "Rapeman" and decided the fringes of society were where he belonged.

His own music may have been relegated to the sidelines, but Steve had quite a run around this time, producing (or "recording" as he prefers to explain his role) hugely influential albums like The Pixies, The Breeders, Urge Overkill, Jesus Lizard, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and in 1993 he recorded Nirvana's era-ending "In Utero" album. Just based on other people's music, Albini can be deemed a legend.

In 1994, he created another group Shellac (or "Shellac Of North America" as they are sometimes referred to) and they were a tight, loud trio.

Twenty years later, Steve realizes that owning his own record studio "Electrical Audio" is his main gig, so he tends to release new music from Shellac at a painstakingly slow tempo. Dude Incredible is the first new Shellac album in 7 years but to listen to the new music, you could hardly tell it is "new" music at all.

Shellac has never been about re-inventing the wheel, or trying something new with each album.

Instead, Shellac were already strange and different sounding from the get-go, they are still mining the same feelings and sounds they were twenty years ago, and that is not a problem.

With nine new compositions, Dude Incredible goes for the gut-punch with a loud but not metallic guitar crunch and a booming, untreated drum sound which Albini has always called his trademark. With the new songs, Albini (with Bob Weston and Todd Trainer) often click into hypnotizing grooves of repeated guitar lines. Vocals are an afterthought, but when he does, Steve keeps your intention with strange mutterings and maniacal howls. Lyrically, themes are strange as they have ever been.

While fading out some of the violent underpinnings of his past lyrics, Steve instead dives into the idea of the original land surveying of America and how the original surveyors pretty much decided the landscape of the current country we live in. Also, Steve devotes a whole song about riding bikes as kids, titled...

you guessed it, "Riding Bikes." This sound recording is simple yet incredibly clean and sharp. Every element of every composition is shiny and bright.

In 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve at his studio. Before the interview I was nervous, reading accounts of Steve being an opinionated, aggravated "Darth Vader" of indie rock. Instead, when we showed up, he was warm, funny and highly intrigued by the box of Animal Crackers he was snacking on.

The guy is a totally captivating part of the alternative music movement. I give Dude Incredible by Shellac Four and a half Empty Lighthouses out of 5.

Check out Steve Albini's track-by-track breakdown of Dude Incredible:

For more on Steve Albini / Electrical Audio: