Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company
STORY PROBLEM: WHAT do you get when you add June of 44's guitarist, the Rachels' drummer, and Rodan's pianist? Answer: a math-rock Venn diagram. The loci of these various musicians' social circles have created Shipping News, a stylistic melding of dark instrumentals, static-tinged guitar loops, and quiet vocals that lurk beneath a thick swath of noise. While the Shipping News may have initially seemed like a mere side project for Jeff Mueller (guitar), Jason Noble (bass and keyboards), and Kyle Crabtree (percussion), Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company is a gloriously moody reward for their efforts, and competes in artistry with the work of their other bands.
Much like the E. Annie Proulx novel that provided the name for this band, Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company starts off hushed and slow, building to become louder, angrier, and scarier from one song to the next. "The March Song" sets the mood of the album perfectly, drawn along by minimal guitar taps, before building to an explosive climax. The song follows such a slow pace that the music manages to seem even creepier than Mueller's surreal lyrics about an insect man. "Quiet Victories" starts with heavy-handed power chords and percussion, moves into an unusual blend of emo and blues, and eventually peaks with a wall-of-sound of looped guitars and feedback. The album concludes with the more subdued "How to Draw Horses," in which Mueller and Noble sing about a horseless circus carousel. The ensuing musical crescendos reflect the horses' lurching movement without mimicking a cheesy calliope.
The newest member of Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company's circus of musicians is a sweater, which is listed in the liner notes as part of the Shipping News' instrument cache. Judging by the album's strange aesthetics, this could be either a reference to what Jason Noble describes as "layers of guitar looped so many times it's like a cushion of noise surrounding the song," or simply an actual sweater waved vigorously in front of a microphone. Not having spoken to Noble or Mueller, I can only guess that the sweater must be a metaphor for the way Shipping News weaves together a complex fabric of musical collage and eerie lyrical narratives. Just don't expect the sweater of sound to warm up the album's chilly mood.