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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Shipping News
Flies the Fields
Quarterstick Records

Rating: 9/10 ?


April 20, 2005
As ominous as a warning from a seer. Haunted by stray dogs, fallen soldiers and tortured souls. A somber meeting of sullen vigilantes gathered around the burning effigy of a traitor, their faces variegated by the fire. Desperately poetic with an intensity of mood born of fear and anxiety. Flies The Fields is all of this and more.

If Ginsberg had been a musical composer instead of a writer, this is how Howl might sound. The fourth release from Louisville's The Shipping News, progeny of the legendary Rodan, Flies The Fields is a sprawling tour de force that spreads across the land like a horde of mongrels. It's a behemoth that unhinges its jaw to open its mouth and swallow you whole. It overwhelms you with its brawny rhythms, its artful arrangements and foggy atmosphere, and its thrilling instrumentation.

Never have the guitars of Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble, who moonlights with June of '44 and Rachel's, sounded so angry or so forceful. The sharply struck chords of "The Human Face" and "(Morays And) Demons" sting like alcohol poured into an infected wound. On "The Human Face" though, it's newcomer Todd Cook taking over for Noble, who switches to bass and whips up a seething groove that builds to a boil but never spills over.

Phantom feedback bleeds as The Shipping News applies the jazz face paint of Karate and works through Fugazi's post-punk dynamics to present a scathing treatise on how dogma, religious or political, can divide and conquer. Lines like "We are a generation of every-day collision/We cannot underestimate the force our dimension" and "We move in congregations/those forms they separate into shapes of deception" are almost spoken, flowing easily from a fierce mouth and growing increasingly urgent. An alarm is sounded: if these systemic diseases persist, someone is going to "burn this whole damn place down."

Which The Shipping News does, in a sense, on Flies The Fields. Though still intellectually challenging, the band has taken its past indulgences, its penchant for being too mathy and creating overly complicated arrangements - see Very Soon, And In Pleasant Company - and thrown them into a blazing backyard bonfire. And that's one of the reasons Flies The Fields is so undeniably gripping.

Helped by the stellar recording work of Bob Weston, who emphasizes the blood and guts of the band's songwriting but not at the expense of the band's more cerebral elements, The Shipping News sounds less structured and more visceral. The energy of Flies The Fields is palpable. Without it, the anti-war rhetoric of "(Morays or) Demons" wouldn't be nearly as powerful. Tension rises as the chugging rhythm guitar machine marches in lock-step with the simmering drums of Kyle Crabtree. Release comes with yelled vocals and ringing lead guitar that reveal the force of The Shipping News' conviction.

On the closer "Paper Lanterns", the low rumbling bass of newcomer Todd Cook (The For Carnation and Parlour) bubbles underneath the song's guitar crust, threatening to erupt. Every so often spurts of electric guitar lava shoot forth, but restraint wins out and the expected explosion never comes. You won't miss it. The anticipation and menacing mood produced is more than enough to keep you enthralled. Even darker and more sinister is the smoldering dirge "It's Not Too Late." With its brooding bass lines and poisonous guitar ivy, not to mention its vaguely unsettling mood, "It's Not Too Late" is pure Slint.

Shining brighter is the more melodic opener "Axons And Dendrites", with its trebly bass and smooth, rhythmic momentum. Echoes of Chicago post-rock icon John McIntire (who assisted with the record) and Tortoise are heard here. And by blurring the vocals and giving the guitars a deep, bittersweet, bell-like tone, The Shipping News add texture, sadness and warmth, respectively, to the song's vivid lyrical imagery - here's where the stray dogs come in, along with the "millions of jet-black eyes blinking over the buttocks of Nebraska."

Twinkling like diamonds in the darkness of a mine, the guitars of Mueller and Noble are beautifully configured on Flies The Fields. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the shimmering instrumental "Louven." But don't underestimate the influence of Cook. He's given Flies The Fields more body than previous Shipping News' records, and that results in pieces that feel more fleshed out and less like skeletal architecture.

In essence, they're more like rich, dark paintings, the kind that make you feel a part of the scene - the kind that suck you into the canvas. In a climate where plagiarized Dark Wave or New Wave, or wild post-punk free-for-alls is rewarded with critical acclaim, where we settle for something that smacks of invention or seems simply well executed, it's gratifying and exciting to bear witness to, and laud, the broad artistic ambition of The Shipping News. Theirs is an aesthetic that's driven by an impulse to make classically beautiful art. To that end, Flies The Fields is a panoramic vision of the human experience in all its glory. There's strife, there's cruelty and there's hope, affirmed in the line, "I'm not afraid for the future," from "Untitled With Drums." That's a brave thing to say nowadays.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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