With all of the recent attention on Steve Albini, recording engineer (and Steve Albini, rabble-rousing Reader letter writer), his most important contributions have unfortunately gotten short shrift. With Big Black and later Rapeman, Albini set a certain standard for rock extremes. His musical achievements--adopting the brittle metallic guitar of Gang of Four's Andy Gill and turning it into a wheezing, razor-edged, corrosive menace, then adding huge, relentless machine rhythms and bludgeoning bass lines--have inspired more mediocre copycats than anyone should have on his conscience. Albini has been publicly inactive for a few years, focusing on the production work that's the reason for his current infamy (along with his exchange of barbs in these pages with scribe Bill Wyman). But the last year and a half has seen him fine-tuning a new trio called Shellac with former Volcano Suns bassist Bob Weston and former Rifle Sport drummer Todd Trainer. Out this week is Shellac's debut album, Shellac at Action Park (Touch & Go), an elaboration of the band's previous singles: Weston's massive circular, groove-heavy bass; the raw yet inordinately swinging pound of Trainer's drums; and Albini's skittering flash guitar, an explosive force that adds texture, color, and velocity to the band's dynamic attack. Lyrically Albini's retained his off-kilter observations about human behavior, but he's left behind some of the sensationalism (the subject of Big Black's "Jordan, Minnesota" was the community-wide sexual abuse of children) for more individual but equally intriguing portraits. A line from "Il Porno Star" goes "Porno star arrive / No English, no money / Two things / A cock like a stallion and an iron will," while "Crow" distills obsessiveness down to two lines: "He flies like a crow flies, straight to her / Why?" Live the band's intensity and matter-of-fact humor are unparalleled. They also hardly ever play out. Also on the bill are MX-80, semilegendary art punks who made some remarkable albums for the label Ralph in the early 80s, Six Finger Satellite (see Spot Check), and Tar. Sunday, 6 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie; 539-2555.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Daniel Corrigan.