At Action Park

At Action Park

Few bands epitomize the phrase “power trio” better than Shellac, a mighty triumvirate that emerged from the early-1990s Chicago underground with the intention of combatting music industry commercialism—and anything else they considered lame. Guitarist Steve Albini was already a veteran of several snarling bands, not to mention the analog audio engineer of choice for the likes of the Pixies and The Jesus Lizard. After some heavy jams with militant drummer Todd Trainer, they enlisted bassist Bob Weston to form Shellac, eschewing promotion and hype for a series of short-run singles that felt nimbler and more nuanced than Albini’s bludgeoning earlier works. But the beautifully belligerent noise-rock of At Action Park, the trio’s 1994 full-length debut, takes no prisoners as it takes shots at, well, everything. First, there’s the sound: rock ’n’ roll distilled into perfect versions of its basic elements. With his pristine drum thunder, Trainer suggests John Bonham addicted to minimalism, with Weston slapping at every beat like it’s a gnat. Swiping at an aluminum-neck Travis Bean guitar with a copper pick, Albini’s riffs suggest a buzzsaw grafted onto a scythe, all dangerous and beautiful. And his hoarse shouts—about porn stars and loneliness and miscreants—always sound like the preambles to a fistfight. Indeed, Albini’s willingness to aim Shellac’s power at any target made the band instantly riveting. Sculptural and savage, opener “My Black Ass” confronts racism in baseball—as well as Albini’s personal distaste for you. With its unpredictable structure, “Song of the Minerals” is a smart tirade against the constraints of normalcy—about how we’d rather medicate someone than accept their neuroses, whether they be overeating, undereating, or self-mutilating. Inspired by fabled sex acts in Tijuana, “Dog and Pony Show” lampoons impotence and perversion, mocking men who will spend hours looking for a lascivious thrill just to silence their own sadness. Spare in its sound but unsparing in its criticisms, At Action Park became a touchstone for generations of young indie rockers, suggesting rock ’n’ roll could take the piss out of most anything—and sound deadly serious doing so.

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