The evolution of Shannon Shaw’s namesake hipshakers has been storied and slow. Unlike some of their peers, the band doesn’t knock out an album a year, not even close. With four albums spread over the last nine years and this, their fifth, arriving three years after the last, a Clams album is often one to wait for – mind you, though, well worth it each and every time. In their tenure, they’ve traced the line from lo-fi crackle to a clarity worthy of Shaw’s impressive voice. Onion finds the band embraced by Dan Auerbach’s label Easy Eye Sound and at the disposal of his studio equipment, as such, it’s the most crystal-clear vision of their doo-wop surf dream sequence yet. Each note drips down the window panes in reflected neon glory. The Clams are the quintessential carhop heartbreakers, but they manage to make the classic sound feel like a universal plea to for love, understanding and self-examination here.
Back on those early Hunx records, Shaw always seemed a secret weapon, a true vintage find among a sea of rollicking camp. Whenever she was on the mic, the track immediately thickened, given life with her perfectly imperfect balance of power and grit. The best rock n’ roll voices can belt to the barstools, but retain a little bit of grounding gravel that shows a life lived rather than a life longed. Shaw’s voice is probably one of the most prime modern examples of the style (see also The Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy) and she’s often let her pipes languish behind a veneer of transistor static. On Onion the band rockets their back to the future bop in swooning, sumptuous stereo that pulls no production punches.
It’s satisfying to watch a longtime love reach the kind of potential they’ve always had in both construction and execution. Had The Clams ever been on your list to check out, then the time is now, as this might now stand as the best place to eke into their soul soaked universe – a high watermark if there ever was one.
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