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Shrimp Boat - Speckly

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Artist: Shrimp Boat

Album: Speckly

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Jun. 21, 2005

Just as out-of-step with current musical tastes as they were in 1989, Shrimp Boat are the sore thumb of indie rock, an unclassifiable and wonderful combo that produced some of the most innovative music of the 1980s. The band’s signature kitchen-sink Americana has aged amazingly well, offering a range of sounds that still thrill and confound, often at the same time. After a few local cassette releases, the band released Speckly in 1989, to a small but devoted cult. It has now been given a scrubbing-up and the reissue treatment by Brooklyn’s Aum Fidelity.

Shrimp Boat’s unique approach springs partly from the band’s original Monkees-style setup in an industrial Chicago neighborhood, where they shared a loft and recorded almost constantly. This loose, ongoing process of songwriting afforded them the opportunity to explore countless styles and relentlessly hone their sound. What’s more, they took their time, jamming and playing little shows for a few years before they released their first “real” album. As a result, Speckly sounds incredibly confident, showing a band who know their sound inside-out and aren’t afraid to take it to the edge.

For the uninitiated, that sound involves banjo, intertwining vocal lines (often sung out of key), loose drumming, and a funk-derived vibe that permeates even the most rootsy material. Lyrically, it’s a free-form affair, although the singers often borrow both the imagery and inflection of blues and early country, giving many of the songs an earthy, improvised feel.

Last year, Aum Fidelity started the Shrimp Boat revival with Something Grand, a luxurious four-disc set of rarities. It was a mighty compendium, packed full of strange, twisted beauty and tiny, rough gems. Given the Shrimp Boat method of endless recording, it was also the only way to get the full story. What charms, then, about Speckly is its cohesiveness. Everything here fits without ever feeling forced, a gorgeous, swirling mess of funny, odd songs that take their time to assert their power. But once they settle in, they are impossible to dislodge from the brain’s pleasure centers. What’s more, with the benefit of time and hindsight, Shrimp Boat’s influence on later musicians becomes glaringly obvious. Those who recognize early Pavement aren’t far off, but the easy eclecticism also prefigures contemporary noodlers like No Neck Blues Band and Animal Collective.

Indeed, it’s the pervasive sense of ease that really marks out the band’s sound, especially when you consider that they were contemporary to bands like Big Black, who couldn’t relax if they tried. There’s an innocence here that feels unrepeatable, even for the members of Shrimp Boat themselves. Sam Prekop and Eric Claridge’s work in The Sea and Cake is often stellar, but note how icily precise it is in comparison to the gently unfolding songs on Speckly. “Lemmings Leap” and “Planter’s Song” shake and bounce like Parliament-Funkadelic invaded by white boys, while “Melon Song” is a fine proto-slacker slice of silliness. “Hyatt Ridge Circle Dance” makes a good case for every guitarist to pick up a banjo, at least once.

Apparently, Aum Fidelity has spent years working on these Shrimp Boat re-releases. It makes sense that Shrimp Boat have remained so close to people’s hearts over the past 15 years; their music is generous, playful, and warmly human. In the ’Boat’s heyday, there were people who would drive from New York to Chicago simply to catch a show. Speckly makes this understandable.

By Jason Dungan

Other Reviews of Shrimp Boat

Something Grand

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Find out more about AUM Fidelity

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