Wednesday 2 September 2015

Shannon and the Clams - Gone by the Dawn

Article by KevW

Anyone who's heard any of the three albums by San Francisco-based trio Shannon and the Clams will be well aware that they have a passion for taking '50s sounds and garage-rock and converting them into their own unique style. Yet you can notice a distinct difference on 'Gone by the Dawn' from the very first listen. Not because the group's influences or musical direction have changed vastly, but because there seems to be more variation and, perhaps most notably, more emotion packed into certain songs. When you read that the album was written as one member was recovering from a serious relationship break-up, while another was deeply involved in a relationship, then the light and shade makes more sense, as does the fact that the lyrics seem so personal and so natural. In a way, Shannon and the Clams have always hidden behind their music, their costumes and their general demeanour. Well, perhaps not so much any more.

Just look at the first two tracks released from the album: 'Corvette' is slow, atmospheric, spooky and almost overwhelmingly dark and sad, as Shannon croons "I'm just waiting here, here on the corner here, for a Corvette that never comes", whereas before, her and her ex "cruised for years in that Corvette". It's a powerful statement dealing with the denial that it's all over; then there's the garage stomp of 'It's Too Late' which is a totally different tempo, feels much more bouncy in tone, but the lyrics rue a missed chance, almost contradicting the happiness of the music. And with a male lead and Joe Meek style production it could be a different band. The production on 'Gone by the Dawn' is described as their strangest yet, and on more than one occasion you can hear the influence of Joe Meek, along with Richard Gotterher and Phil Spector before he discovered excess echo. The hybrids of style are also interesting. 'My Man' is doo-wop mixed with blues and a raw vocal that could be from the '60s garage scene.

'The Point Of Being Right' is more difficult to define. Yes, it's clearly inspired by the two decades already mentioned, but the production means it could never be classed as a copy and also makes it sound fresh and current. The lyrics? How about "I knew that something wasn't right, I gave you space I was polite... you're hiding something big from me". It details the point where you know a relationship has run its course. Heartbreak seeps from this record and serves to make it all seem more potent. On 'How Long' Shannon sings "Oh are you lonely? 'Cos I feel lonely too. My one and only is adrift in the blue... are you defeated? 'Cos I'm defeated too" over a '50s ballad with surfy guitar and whistling that could be from a country track. If this is all beginning to sound a little glum, then in reality it's anything but. Instead this genuine emotion is compelling, especially when tied to the interesting sounds and stylistic blends. Tracks like the sparkling 'Baby Blue' and the twangy 'Telling Myself' are perfect alternative pop songs despite downbeat lyrics. Maybe the starkest point is in the title-track -  "If you're gone by the dawn, then I'll be gone too" - is this just about physically leaving? Or something much worse? 

Towards the end, 'Gone by the Dawn' sees Shannon and the Clams experimenting more and the atmosphere changes. There's something of a curveball in 'The Bog' which is the oddest and most curious of all, talking of witches and creeping in the fog looking for the ghost of a former lover, all over a rumbling bassline and the most unusual production on the record. It kind of feels out of place compared to the other tracks here, but it's worthy of inclusion because of its quality. The punky 'Knock 'em Dead' is another that doesn't quite fit the overall theme, but it's maybe the most invigorating number of all, and the high-octane 'The Burl' isn't far behind and has some inventive touches. There is one final reminder of the bitterness, helplessness and loneliness that occurs when love goes wrong though. 'You Let Me Rust' has a title that pretty much says it all, but musically it's as jaunty as we ever really get, a bit like The Drums being cross-bred with Del Shannon. There have been many great break-up albums, from Marvin Gaye's 'Here My Dear' to Spriritualized's 'Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space', and 'Gone By The Dawn' can be added to that list. Whether its impact on music will be as great is unlikely considering their very sound and quirkiness lends itself to more of a cult following than the top 10, but it doesn't half pack a punch when it wants to.

Shannon and the Clams' website

Pre-order the album

Catch them live:

11th November - Oslo, LONDON
12th November - Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, BRIGHTON

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