Shannon & the Clams

Year of the Spider

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Year of the Spider Review

by Mark Deming

You can't fight progress, and Shannon & the Clams see no reason why they should. Twelve years after they released their scrappy, lo-fi debut album, they have the talent and the means to do more ambitious things, and if 2018's Onion, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and released by his Easy Eye label, found them dipping their toes into a more polished, elaborate sort of record making, 2021's Year of the Spider is the sound of them confidently wading into the pool. Auerbach was back at the controls for Year of the Spider, and his touch doesn't sound particularly intrusive, but he's clearly given them options they didn't have in the past. The richer audio, fleshed-out arrangements, and space for thematic growth makes this album sound like a step forward from Onion, just as Onion was an advance from 2015's Gone by the Dawn. Shannon Shaw was going through some personal tribulations while she was writing this material -- her father was fighting cancer, and a Peeping Tom became a frequent presence at her apartment complex -- and the darker tone of Year of the Spider reflects her troubles, just as the fire that destroyed the D.I.Y. venue Ghost Ship in their hometown of Oakland, California informed the mood of Onion. Shannon & the Clams are partying less on Year of the Spider, feeling ominous and ghostly on "Snakes Crawl," deeply contemplative on "Do I Wanna Stay," and powerfully mournful on "In the Hills, In the Pines." And while their patented blend of garage punk spunk and '60s pop song structures is on proud display on "Leaves Fall Again" and "All Of My Cryin'," the tighter performances and more luxurious surroundings make them sound less like a goof, bringing out the darker undercurrents lurking in those girl group sides they love so much. But having a producer and a budget that allows her more time to focus on her singing has helped Shannon Shaw mature from a very good vocalist to a great one, and her leads and harmonies here rank with her best work to date. Guitarist Cody Blanchard also sounds improved when he steps up to the vocal mike, and Will Sprott makes the most of the wider variety of keyboards available to him, laying evocative patterns into the songs that nod to sounds of the past without sinking into camp. 2013's Dreams in the Rat House and Gone by the Dawn were more outwardly fun, in part because they dealt with less immediately personal themes and had to rely on energy rather than an approach that brought out the details. But Year of the Spider is the work of four musicians who are not content to be goofballs -- they can maintain their creative vision while making more of it, and it's a great step forward for a band that's becoming deeper and more satisfying than one might have expected.

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