Music Reviews
Dude Incredible

Shellac Dude Incredible

(Touch and Go Records) Rating - 8/10

One day in early July, I received an email promoting a new LP called Dude Incredible from the seminal noise rock trio, Shellac.  Eager to find some preview of what was in store, (A single, perhaps? Maybe a trailer), I was instead disappointed to find the following note:

“Other than the informational sheet you hold in your hand (or virtual hand), this record will have no formal promotion. There will be no advertisements, no press or radio promotion, no e-promotion, no promotional or review copies, no promotional gimmick items, and otherwise no free lunch.”

So, I bought a copy.

Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer have been making music together as Shellac for about 20 years.  For Albini, his tenure in Shellac follows his eruptive turn as the frontman for pigfuck’d drum machine warriors Big Black and the short-lived and charmingly dubbed Rapeman.  His influence in independent rock music over the last thirty or more years is unquestionable, his rep as a recording engineer (because he prefers this turn of phrase to “producer”) has gained him considerable renown and, at 52 years of age, he’s still lively, outspoken and unapologetically abrasive.  With Dude Incredible, the band’s fifth LP, Shellac delivers a very spare and assaultive listen, 33 minutes that fly by and demand repeated listens as a result.  I’ve dropped the needle on this album maybe six of seven times since it arrived on my doorstep and given the unbranded CD that was included a spin or two on the road.  There’s no fat to cut.  No embellishments or distractions.  It’s all tempo, rhythmic irregularities and jagged melodies.  And, it gets the job done. 

In late July, Abini was interviewed for Kreative Kontrol, a podcast led by writer, Vish Khanna.  In it, Albini described in one word the contents of Dude Incredible, and then expounded on his descriptor, adding some detail to the thoughts behind each track.  According to Albini, the title track is a study in societal or community politics demonstrated by monkeys wherein a leader offers the promise of female company and adventure and is ultimately challenged by dissent in the ranks or outside interference.  The album’s longest song, Dude Incredible is a campaign gone awry, “Oh my brothers; Oh, my other comrades” an acknowledgment of camaraderie that eventually takes on the desperate tone of a plea for help. 

Whether Shellac meant to or not, they’ve come up with a fairly political album.  While the orderly tension induced by the following track Compliant is somewhat of an outlier to this assertion, (as is the lack of imagination needed to comprehend the meaning behind You Came In Me), there’s remarkable comment not only on group mentality, but also on the acquisition of land, community malfeasance and protest (instrumental The People’s Microphone).  Riding Bikes has a sinister indifference to it, the havoc it details addressed with some measure of nonchalance.  The lyrics to Gary were pulled from a volume of communist folk songs (The Big Red Songbook according to Albini’s interview), the words penned by T-Bone Slim.  The song itself is somewhat of a eulogy for Gary, Indiana and the man whom the town was named, (“Oh what a pal was Gary/Oh, what a pal was he…”).

So, while land seems to spurn the dirt-laden aftermath of industry and wilful destruction of property inspired by boredom, there are three tracks involving surveyors, or the occupations of America’s forefathers, (which includes a sleekly imbalanced instrumental called Mayor/Surveyor).  The first is All the Surveyors, a rather strange intro preceding the music: “Who walks the king’s road?/Who fears the king?/Fuck the king!”  The song cites “cameras in orbit,” remarking on how the breaking of ground now involves the surveillance of territory.  The album’s finale is Surveyor, a “take-no-shit/get the fuck outta my way” immediacy bred to grab complete and total attention.  “Founding fathers/Meander Viriginia/Western expansion/Frontier settled with order…”, Weston vocalizes as if reading from a notebook filled with highlights from a social studies teacher’s lesson.  Some slowed-up traction is gained after a pause in the rush and Weston ends the song quoting George Washington:

"The want of accurate Maps of the Country which has hitherto been the Scene of War, has been a great disadvantage to me. I have in vain endeavored to procure them and have been obliged to make shift, with such sketches as I could trace from my own Observations."

Dude Incredible, either through arrogance, ego or the basest of instincts, desires to own, rule, use up and breed.  To some extent, the same could be said of Shellac, though I believe their continuing vigor and complete disinterest in sanitized conveyance less resultant of ego or arrogance than their own form of malfeasance with the musical climate around them.  Albini is, in his own way, a surveyor also, having staked his claim long ago and mapped out his own path within an industry that has for years seemed less interested in the perseverance and preservation of art and culture than an easy payday.  If malfeasance produces something honest than so be it.  Dude Incredible will be settling in my record library with order.