Northern Transmissions' review of 'Onion' by Shannon & The Clams



Shannon & The Clams

Pastiche can only get you so far. Though Shannon & The Clams are five albums into their discography, they still seem to be straddling a unique sound while giving doo wop a fresh face. While this often means there’s a lack of identity in their album, their rare standout moments show the promise of a band ready to step into themselves. Unfortunately they don’t do quite enough to be unique on this album but their music is still a joy to listen to either way.

The blaring vocals of “The Boy” set the album out with the band’s usual surf-rock charm, while just a little more fiery than usual. While their writing is fairly standard for the genre, the way the band has developed their sound within that shows where they’ve come as a band. “It’s Gonna Go Away” however reinterprets the band’s surf pop with popping drums and shrieking harmonies to give it a dark and cutting edge. The more haunting elements the band injects into this track make their sound fresh and poignant next to their standard songs.

“Backstreets” carries a racing and urgent energy to a classic crooner pop that would’ve never felt so worried back in the day. The shredding way the band releases all the tension of this is decidedly lo-fi and makes it feel powerfully understated. “If You Could Know” falls into some of the band’s most derivative trappings, as their insistence to update the past has them struggling to define themselves. This said, the modern sense of lo-fi party rock of bands like The Okmoniks and Nobunny cuts through to make the track feel more modern.

There’s a lovely sense of conflicting pop ideas on “I Never Wanted Love” as Grease-like pep clashes against a wavy and warbled Beach Boys sound. Their ability to embrace and twist nostalgia pays off in surprising ways here as well, giving the song a timeless quality. “Onion” strolls along with the most modern guitar rock sounds, as they bring a vintage sensibility to more aggressive rock ideas. Catchy and to the point, the song has that cut-and-dry single power to make the band worth hearing.

“Did You Love Me” exemplifies the band’s mastery over pastiche best, as the devastating vocals blaze a trail through the track that would put any song that inspired it to shame. The cascading organ hooks that close the track come together on top of the harmonies and solo to make a dense and fiery finale to a surprising wallop of a track. The discordant energy of “Love Strike” smashes everything you think you’ll hear, creating its own fresh world within the track. The subtle hi-fi touches within the track and more fleshed out synth sounds make the song really pop and give its old sound something brash to run with.

The frantic drum work on “I Leave Again” is a surprising touch, and offers the song a heft that feels like a Morricone western score. Though this feeling is wonderfully unique, Shannon & The Clams don’t elaborate on it enough to make it last. There’s so much bite in the delivery on “Tryin'” that it’s hard to fault it for such a simple old sound. While much of the instrumentation drags through the song’s first half, the band really push themselves over the top in the second half, even in the writing, to make for a whirlwind of a listen.

In the album’s close they strangely enough go through their weaknesses and strengths in full force on last time. As “Strange Wind” and “Tell Me When You Leave” lean towards their more standard rehash of old pop, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” however uses it as a base for a personal and provocative song full of mesmerizing sound.

Words by Owen Maxwell


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