Album Review: Shell Of A Shell – Away Team

  • Peter Hough posted
  • Reviews

Shell Of A Shell

Away Team - Exploding In Sound Records

It is albums like this that beg the question: ‘what is music for, anyway?’ At its most basic, primal level, music appeals to the gut. It’s neither subtle nor sophisticated – hell, you can dance to the sound of a single drum and not think about it at all. That’s your instinct, that’s some kind of prehistoric, tribal reaction to a rhythmic noise. Drummers and bass players know this. What they do goes in through the core, not the ears. This is why rock n roll works. This is why every wedding band in the land has a handful of guaranteed floor fillers in their set. When the energy level is down on the dancefloor, hit them with Stevie Wonder‘s Superstition and there’s no looking back.

Above this base level rises the pyramid of music. The higher up you get, the more angular and thoughtful it becomes. The nearer the top you are, the less likely you are to be dancing. Up in the top 25% is jazz improv, embittered loners with oscillators, atonal orchestral pieces, Zappa/Beefheart-type esoterica and finally John Cage’s 4’33” (which, if you don’t know, is the sound of any number of musicians not doing anything, nominally for four and a half minutes).

Somewhere up in the top 11% of that pyramid is Nashville’s Shell Of A Shell, whose debut album is deliberately and determinedly obtuse rock. It would be impossible to publish a review of Away Team without quoting the press release, which states that it is ‘a very personal record, built on internal feelings of doubt, guilt, reflection, and unshakeable depression‘. It’s a challenging listen, for sure, that teases with some musically eloquent and beautiful passages that dissolve into chaos and disorder. If you like certainty, cliché and predictability, you will not enjoy this. The album is very firmly rooted in the same part of the left field that Radiohead camped in when they finally lost their minds.

And yet … it sounds brilliant. Self-indulgent and overblown with enough melody and passion to make it listenable. It might well be a slow burner. It might end up being the most enjoyable recording ever. It might not. I have no idea. This is for you if you like to be challenged and don’t like dancing, although I can’t help but feel that if Stephen Hawking had an internal disco in his mind, this is what it probably would have sounded like.

Away Team is out on February 28th via Exploding In Sound Records and the band are set to tour this Spring.