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Shannon & The Clams
Onion Ella Braidwood , February 19th, 2018 09:28

Crooning, grooving and heartbreak from the Oakland doo-wop surf punks.

Shannon & The Clams had just started writing Onion when, in December 2016, a fire shook their home city of Oakland in California. The blaze engulfed the Ghost Ship warehouse – a hub for local artists and musicians – and killed 36 people.

Understandably, the disaster had a profound impact on the band, and they’ve dedicated their latest album to the victims of the fire. There is a deep, underlying sadness throughout the record. Third track ‘Backstreets’ encompasses singer Cody Blanchard’s response to the fire and the hostile environment facing artistic communities (“Where do we go / when there’s no place to run?”). In the final track, ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’, Shannon Shaw pays tribute to the families and friends of those who died. Above swooping backing vocals, she sings: “The colours you painted will stain unforgettable shades / We’ll remember you.”

The band have not let grief consume them, though – their quintessential sounds ring through. In many ways this album is classic Clams: addictive guitar hooks, bopping baselines and doo-wop chord progressions, on songs about identity, masculinity, break-ups and hook-ups. Like marble, Shaw’s voice is smooth and soothing – although she has her husky moments – while Blanchard’s is gritty sandstone, rough and rasping. The record, their fifth, sounds crisper and more refined than the band’s previous work. They recorded it in about 10 days in Nashville with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach as producer; there’s less distortion than on their earlier stuff and the backing vocals are more pronounced, akin to the high-pitched chirping of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.

In ‘The Boy’, Blanchard croons and rails about toxic masculinity over gorgeous riffs and twangs: “When I was a boy, I learned not to cry / My daddy would scream, I learned how to hide.” There’s more heartbreak on ‘Did You Love Me’ and ‘It’s Gonna Go Away’, and there’s giddy, bubbling new love on ‘If You Could Know’. There’s daffy vegetable analogy too - on the title track Shaw compares her layers of experiences to the eye-watering vegetable – “Holy shit / This isn’t it / no one told me I was just an onion.”

This album strays towards monotony at times, but a plum guitar solo or a sweet-sharp lyric will always hook you back in. Shannon & The Clams are a band of cult status, and this album should expand that cult – it is their most powerful and poignant work to date.

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