By: Eric Greenwood
I met this guy at a party recently who absolutely freaked out because I had never heard of Shiner. Bands slip through the cracks. It happens. You can’t know about every good band all of the time; otherwise, life would be boring. But this guy really could not believe I’d never heard Shiner and would not let it drop. He then proceeded to go on and on about the genius of The Egg, Shiner’s most recent album, promising ridiculous things like “once you hear The Egg, you will have a new favorite album, not to mention a new favorite band.” Ok, I was intrigued to say the least.
I bought The Egg without even downloading a preview first. It’s on De Soto Records and since I was a Jawbox fan, I figured it probably wasn’t too risky of a purchase; the fact that The Dismemberment Plan is a label-mate didn’t hurt either. I guess I should also mention that my new friend gave The Egg the most hilarious description for me to go on, which I will quote verbatim: “The Egg is like Tool without the metal and Radiohead without the puss.” I was doubly intrigued at this point- not that I’m a Tool fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I was dying to hear what he meant by such a ludicrous statement.
Out of some kind of defensive reaction for being made to feel out of the loop, I think my first impression of The Egg was hypercritical. I found myself immediately naming influences and derivations and thought my friend had, perhaps, overstated The Egg’s grandeur to some extent. However, I must have listened to The Egg four or five times in a row, becoming drastically less captious each time until, finally, I saw The Egg for what it is: a smart, dynamic, aggressively tense and darkly emotional rock record.
Since purchasing The Egg I’ve gone back and listened to Shiner’s earlier work, and I was ashamed I'd never heard it before. It's that good. My friend’s Radiohead remark actually makes sense even though he was drunk when he said it (the bit about Tool still has me puzzled, though). Alan Epley’s voice is obviously gruffer than Thom Yorke’s but when he slips into falsetto there’s no loss of power or toughness. His voice possesses a smoky edginess that most vocalists of independent bands lack these days. There’s no overt sensitivity, yet you still experience whatever emotion it evokes.
You’ve undoubtedly read this about countless bands before, but Shiner is an extraordinarily tight-knit quartet. It has to be said, so there it is. Booming, complicated drums underscore melodically dueling guitar lines and subtle, growling bass. The airtight precision of the drumming is at the forefront of Shiner’s sound. Epley’s voice is a contrasting tool with its husky passive-aggression. On top of the borderline mathematical arrangements are towering melodies, which, by turns, swell and surrender to the flow of the cultivated songwriting.
“The Truth About Cows” opens The Egg with a sprawling, mid-tempo rocker, recalling Radiohead's guitar side but with much more meat. From Epley’s gravelly cadence you'd imagine him wearing sunglasses, standing legs far apart, guitar strap hanging as low as it can go, and hair slicked back. He sounds rough and tough, the epitome of cool. I can't emphasize this enough. This type of confident bravado is sorely lacking from music lately. It's as far away as you can get from all the self-absorbed whiners clogging up the record bins. "Surgery" is more immediate in its accessibility, Epley's vocal line once again stealing the show, as it straddles the line of singing through a controlled scream. It's hard-hitting, cerebral rock with ace hooks to boot, and it's truly one of the best songs I've heard in months.
"Play Dead" maintains the mid-tempo rock angle with another catchy chorus, but it's the drumming that stuns. Shiner takes a sharp left turn on "The Top Of The World", a moody, atmospheric come down. The title track launches right back into the rock with some clever production tricks in tow. It's a nervous and tense build-up that culminates in goose-bump-inducing chorus, wherein Epley's falsetto shines. Everything seems to lead up to the focal point of The Egg, "The Simple Truth", however. Jangly guitars strum in a tense, repetitive drone until the boiling point is reached, and then everything falls apart. The song then mutates into a five-minute breakdown of electronic noises, ghostly keyboards, and gorgeous intermingling clean guitars. The most astounding thing is that there's not a dull moment. Shiner has your attention until the very last fluttering blip fades away.
The Egg maintains a thematic lyrical consistency as well as a musical one. "Spook The Herd" lulls you in with its serene melodies and safe electronic pulses only to jerk the rug out from under you with a thunderous onslaught of heavy, low-end guitars. "Pills" is the jolt of electricity towards the end of the record that keeps you guessing. Shiner has masterfully arranged the track order to maintain a high level of intensity and anticipation. What's scary is that a casual listener could probably dismiss The Egg without having grasped it fully and feel confident in such a decision. Shiner's sound stems from familiar things for sure, but it absolutely brings new ideas to the table, as well as a fist-full of blistering, unrivaled rock.
Being new to the world of Shiner I feel like The Egg is an unknown treasure- the type of album you wander into a record store hoping to find every time you go. In my friend's drunken ranting he probably did make The Egg out to be more than it is, but his persistence worked. I'm a fan, a convert, a worshiper at the shrine of Shiner. The Egg is an astonishingly great album, and I will do what I can to spread the good word.