I’ve been barely able to contain my excitement as the 4 June release date of Shellac‘s “Excellent Italian Greyhound” approaches. While I still enjoy flipping through the racks of a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ record store, most of my music procurement these days is via online vendors or direct from record labels, and it’s very seldom that I feel a desperate urge to make sure I get my hands on a new release the moment it hits the streets. But here I was, as nervous and giggly as the proverbial schoolgirl (although schoolgirls are more likely to give me a “fuck off grandad” or “piss off pervert!” than be nervous & giggly), wondering what excuse I could make for being late for work Monday morning after having made a detour to a suitable record shop. Yep, that’s what a seven year wait for a new Shellac record will do to me. I then got wind that the good folk at Norman Records had received their precious Shellac cargo on Thursday, early enough for it to arrive on my doorstep on Saturday if I was lucky…
So thank you to Norman, and to Royal Mail (who are very seldom worthy of my thanks, the usually lazy, incompetent bastards!), for I have indeed now been able to get to grips with “Excellent Italian Greyhound” for the past two days…

As one would expect from Shellac, quality is paramount – not just in the recording of the music but in the presentation of it too, and that attention to quality is evident from the moment I delve into the packaging: the handscreened slipcase by the incomparable Jay Ryan revealing the gatefold sleeve adorned with photos of Todd Trainer’s handsome greyhound Uffizi, and inside more of Jay Ryan’s art. The vinyl itself is of course 180 gram audiophile quality, and as with previous album “1000 Hurts” the vinyl version comes with free CD version. So on to the music…

Shellac - Excellent Italian Greyhound

Shellac record #13 is touted as the band’s longest record, but at 42’22” it still ends all too quickly. But hey, it’s quality not quantity remember, and the quality is here in spades…

I mentioned in a previous post that Shellac’s natural state is in performance, and that their recordings (despite the prowess of two masters of their craft in Albini and Weston) can only serve as “best effort” attempts at capturing the live Shellac experience – so it doesn’t surprise me that album opener “The End Of Radio” doesn’t have quite the same impact as it does live, Steve’s radio announcer sounding more matter-of-fact when announcing the end of radio (and the world?) than the impassioned pleas of the last announcer on earth that he inhabits when this is played before an audience. However Albini’s cries of “Can you hear me now?!” do get more urgent as the song goes on, and the shuffling-yet-martial sound of Todd’s snare builds the tension so that ringing guitar chinng that announces that instrument’s introduction into the mix  is one of the most satisfying sounds there possibly is.

I’ve always been slightly disappointed in “Steady As She Goes” when experiencing it live – it has sounded messy, somehow lacking the lean muscularity of Shellac’s other songs – but, contrary to my assertion above, this does actually sound better in its studio state, Albini & Weston’s recording skills decluttering the sound so that the song is revealed as a great chugging rocker in the mould of classic AC/DC.

One of the many enjoyable aspects of a Shellac show is the ‘choreography’ (like the ‘stomp break’ in the middle of “Watch Song”), which serves to highlight just what a fantastically tight band they are. “Be Prepared” makes a joke of this with its botched intro and false starts. Once it ‘properly’ starts it still confounds with its switches in pace, but is anchored by (another of) Todd’s virtuoso drumming displays. “I was born already bald! I was born wearing spats and a dickie!”

“Elephant” is one of the few tracks I haven’t heard before (when it’s seven years between albums, the fans are likely to have heard most of the ‘new’ material before it’s actually released) and is satisfying in its Shellac-ness. It features Bob Weston on lead vocals, Albini muttering underneath (“covered in shit & hair, many hairs”) and like other Weston tracks (e.g. “Song Against Itself”) it has somewhat of a philosophical lyrical bent: “Here comes the argument… / Fact of the matter is: facts don’t matter / Anti-intellectual: the new virtue / Repeat a lie, that makes it true.”

Halfway through, the album switches gear with “Genuine Lulabelle” (“she knows her way around a cock”), which live serves as an emotional slow burner like “Mama Gina” but here seems more overtly ‘experimental’, with Steve crooning “you could say I’m the genuine article” interspersed with a Don LaFontaine soundalike (himself echoed by a Larry David-style silly voice) and finished off with some female-spoken Italian – recalling both “The Futurist” and the improvised break in performances of “Billiard Player Song”, as well as the promiscous protagonist of Rapeman‘s “Trouser Minnow.”

“Kittypants” is the other song I haven’t heard before, and its an instrumental delight – sounding more akin to Jay Ryan’s Dianogah than ‘traditional’ Shellac, it has a languid groove and an inexplicable ‘feel-good factor’ that so far hasn’t failed in making me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. At under two minutes long it’s all too brief.

“Boycott” is propelled along by Bob Weston’s bass and is the other song to feature his vocals, the ‘boycott’ in question seemingly of a particularly unpleasant-sounding person: “A broken moral compass, points straight to hell / You better pray from an empty hole, the empty hole that was your soul / Do you believe your own lies, when the cost is a friend’s life?”. Albini’s guitar adds beautiful chiming accents.

“Paco” is another instrumental, its loping rhythm conjuring up images of a spaghetti-Western, before it changes tack into a muscle-bound math rocker which very much recalls “Il Porno Star” from first album “Shellac at Action Park“.

“Excellent Italian Greyhound” closes with “Spoke”, a song which has been around for ages (it was first recorded for a Peel Session way back in 1994) and which brings to mind the punky shoutiness of mclusky (Albini once referred to mclusky as “the best band in Britain”). With its gibberish vocals and propulsive rhythm it’s pretty infectious, and when it ends after just more than two minutes it only heightens the sense of loss I feel that the album is over!

Well I don’t like to pre-suppose but I think I might already have my mind made up as to my June “Album of the Month”… “Excellent Italian Greyhound” is everything I hoped it would be, I just wish there was more…


Here is “Paco” from the live Peel Session broadcast 02 December 2004.


Shellac – Paco (live Peel Session)



For some great photos of Shellac’s recent performance at the Paradiso in Amsterdam check out dennisstempher’s Flickr set here.


all images used in this post copyright Shellac & Jay Ryan



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