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Shannon and the Clams – Dreams in the Rat House

on May 22, 2013, 12:01am

Lots of acts have copped the girl group and ’60s vibes over the last decade or so to varying degrees of success, whether drenching classic pop structures in lush harmonies or simply recording their tunes in a garage for that lo-fi sound. Few, though, have the raw material that Shannon and the Clams can bring to that task, first and foremost being Shannon Shaw’s captivating and genre-accurate vocal delivery. Rather than dipping a toe into retro stylistics, the San Fransiscans dive into the deep end on Dreams in the Rat House.

“Rip Van Winkle” shines particularly bright in this collection, a pearlescent surf pop jam about an underappreciative dude chided for “sleeping all your moments away.” Sure, the easy jangle of the guitar, the tambourine shimmy, and the light percussion all fit the tropes to a tee, but Shaw’s rich and gritty delivery strides across the top, carrying the song. Immediately following that bit of sunshine is “Bed Rock”. “I’m never going to get out of bed / I’m going to stay here ’til I’m dead,” sings a suddenly demonic voice leading the band through some lightly evil garage thumping. Without Shaw’s effortless pipes at the fore, the traditional structures slacken a little bit.

Though “Bed Rock” jars from the easy-going surf vibe that the album opens on, the Clams are able to find their footing on non-beach songs. “Now she’s gone, I miss her so,” they moan to close out “In The River”, following  some Joplin verses and rich horn bellowing. Waltzing ballad “Unlearn” shimmers and sways on military snare rolls and Shaw’s most fragile moments on the disc, but even here she builds to a wild growl. In that moment and throughout the disc, it’s Shaw’s seemingly uncontrollable voice that steals the show, finding powerful moments even in stale formats.

Essential Tracks: “Rip Van Winkle”, “In The River”, and “Unlearn”

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