There are plenty of bands today making retro-inspired pop. Plenty borrow a chord progression or recording technique and leave it at that, another contingent gets hung up on anorak specifics of period-accurate strings and amps, rendering themselves campy whilst trying to show the world what serious musicians they are. Shannon and the Clams have never shied from this camp but embraced it wholeheartedly, developing an aesthetic that’s identifiable yet leaves space for evolution as evidenced on their forthcoming album, Gone by the Dawn.
As a member of Hunx and his Punx, singer and bassist Shannon Shaw is well familiar with playing with the tropes of 60s pop and a healthy dose of gender politics. On tracks like Point of Being Right, she belts equal parts Wanda Jackson and Divine, a studied composite of glamor past interpreted for today. She’s joined here by guitarist and singer Cody Blanchard and drummer/keyboard player Nate Mayhem; the trio’s roots in playing grimy clubs and house parties not lost but mythologized in some of the albums loungier tracks.
Not heavy-handed or overly cheeky, the album will get you swaying on the floor then thinking on your feet. Corvette borrows typically American imagery and a coquettish delivery to tell a story more personal than the archetypes from which it draws. The riff at the beginning of Telling Myself recalls Television, a sure sign of a good guitarist, but perhaps out of place in the album’s milieu.
It’s instrumentation choices like the abovementioned that make me wish it went a little more campy. The honesty is apparent as is the power in the delivery, I just can’t help but think that could be taken even further with some string fills or a kazoo interlude. We know that the group are good musicians; to showcase their skills in such a clean manner risks sanitizing it completely. The phrasing can leave the songs feeling flat with not much differentiation between verses and chorus, the sparse instrumentation goes not garagey but cold.
At first listen, it seems puzzling to have included tracks like The Bog, but this track probably comes closest to what they’re trying to achieve. It’s equal parts romance novel Child ballad and halloween novelty flexi-disc. It pays homage to mid century pop culture and ideas about gender, producing an appropriately weird yet charming track evocative of the era from which it draws and in which it was produced.
The first half of the album sways in a sequin dress, the second half throws on a vest and jumps in the pit. Knock ‘Em Dead directly draws from their more punk roots and the closer You Let Me Rust packs melodramatic punch. You Let Me Rust sums up the rest of the album with its boy-girl vocal interplay, b-movie organ, fuzzy guitar, and account of a past affair in metaphor. It reminds us of why we approached this world and what it has to offer, both in reference to its source material and the listener.
Gone by the Dawn is out 11 September on Hardly Art.