Dreams in the Rat House
There’s a method to Shannon & The Clams' madness that keeps this retro-rock trio from slipping into pure camp. The Oakland, Calif.–based group’s third album is an impressively well-realized outing that takes various sonic flotsam of the ‘50s and ‘60s (doo-wop, R&B, girl groups, early psychedelia) and refashions it into something personal. Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard mix and mingle their voices with gusto, rasping and yowling one minute, tenderly crooning the next. Bathed in reverb and wrapped in distorted treble, the album’s sound gains impact from Blanchard’s crisp guitar picking and the versatile, sweat-raising drumwork of Ian Amberson. Keeping irony to a minimum, Shaw and Blanchard lyrically update classic literature (“Rip Van Winkle”), pay tribute to a beloved pet (“Ozma”), and embrace the laws of chance (“Heads or Tails”) amid sly harmony moves and snaky, teasing rhythms. They recall the day-glo ghoulishness of The Cramps on “Bed Rock” and “Rat House” and conjure memories of The Shangri-Las’ teen-angst epochs on “Unlearn” and “If I Could Count.” Beneath all the zaniness is solid musicianship and real emotion.