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Neo and Retro are One and the Same for Shannon and the Clams

“Gone by the Dawn,” the new LP from Oakland California’s Shannon and the Clams is raw, honest and most importantly fun. It is one of those records that you will listen to, start to finish over and over again.

“Retro,” for lack of a better prefix slang term, has always been cool. At least in some capacity. In fact, recycling popular trends in music, art, and fashion is a continuous cycle.

See, this is how it works: some kind of pop cultural style will be popular from somewhere between 2-10 years. Eventually, contemporary audiences grow weary of a trend that has outstayed its welcome, and/or usefulness, and some other trend moves in to take its place.

The next 10 years are spent, pop culturally speaking, moving on from whatever epoch the last decade wrought upon society. However, during this 10-year period, those who were children during the initial popularity of the trend du juor, some of age and acquire some autonomy.

These young adults, nee collateral observers of pop culture, have warm and fuzzy memories of the music they grew up with. As the mainstream world of pop culture has sort of moved on, it is up to this new crop of artists to help us reconnect with the sweet music of their youth, that the rest of us have so carelessly seem to have forgotten.

However, one can never really go back. We can only continue to move forward. So although we may embrace, and try to recreate the fuzzy warbles of our past, we can’t escape the influence of our contemporary existence.

As a result, the music of any given generation that attempts to be “retro” is never quite as indistinguishable from the tunes that inspired them as we might hope. Like The Hitcher said in that episode of The Mighty Boosh: “elements of the past and the future combining to make something not quite as good as either.”

But what if it was better? Or at least on par? After all, is not the goal of any pursuit is to build on the success that has already been achieved in an attempt to create something better? Or at least a unique counterpoint to what has already been established?

Good news everyone, because we totally have a record matching that description on our hands. “Gone by the Dawn,” the new album from bay area indie faves Shannon and the Clams certainly seems to scratch that itch.

Shannon and the Clams have been crafting their own brand of 50s’ and 60s’ styled rock & roll with a punk aesthetic (self described as “weirdo oldies”) since 2009. Bassist/Vocalist Shannon Shaw met Guitarist/Vocalist Cody Blanchard while the two were at art school together.

Shaw and Blanchard have acknowledged in interviews that they really didn’t like each other at first, but they each found the other’s art compelling. As a result, this unlikely duo has been earning the adoration of fans and critics alike ever since.

“Gone by the Dawn” is the fourth by the group. Over the course of 13 tracks, Shannon and the Clams take the listener back in time without ever having to leave the comfort of one’s own headphones.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the album is that it is never predictable, nor does it trade in hackneyed tropes nor overused cliches. Thematically, the record runs the gamut from wistful and heartfelt songs of lust, longing, and heartbreak, to chugging garage rock anthems to existentialism, to spooky sounding Halloween-y jams about finding oneself lost in a creepy muskeg and accosted by some kind of primordial beings.

In the music press, much is made of the “retro” aesthetic bestrewn about the band’s catalog. While this is certainly one of the easiest observations to make about the band, it is not inaccurate.

However, many bands that adopt a retro style fail to achieve the richness and diversity that can be found on “Gone with the Dawn.” Shannon and the Clams are not just some hipsters with a penchant for the passe. On the contrary, the vastness of their collective musical knowledge is not only impressive, but on ubiquitous display.

They aren’t simply passive observers of pop cultural artifacts gone by. Their knowledge of styles and artists from yesteryear is impressive to say the least. Shannon an the Clams don’t just talk the talk, they actually walk the walk.

Shannon and the Clams are not indulging an artistic urge based on any pretense of looking cool. Yet they are crafting catchy, fun and emotionally sincere songs that embrace a variety of foregone styles from a variety of bygone eras.

The music of Shannon and the Clams both transcends and outshines any of the “retro” platitudes made in the music press. They don’t just regurgitate old sounding riffs, they sound like they were creating records the entire time.

This alleviates the listener of having to concern themselves with whatever scene or style the music is commensurate with. Instead, one can let “Gone with the Dawn” take them on a journey. A very personal, and musically rich journey that is completely rewarding on every spin.

Whether about heartbreak, or victory, the songs on “Gone by the Dawn” are honest, visceral, and emotionally rewarding. Oh yeah, and did I mention you can dance to it?

Not that such a timeworn triviality is ever warranted. But, if you plan on catching Shannon and the Clams on tour (which they are right now), be ready to cut a rug. Few audiences can resist this kind of an invitation to have fun.

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