. artist : cellos .
. album : bomb shelter .
. year : 2012 .
. label : dead beat .
. grade : b .
Cellos’ Bomb Shelter cover depicts a living room bomb shelter den from ‘mid-century,’ replete with coffee table, a loveseat of tawdry puce, chair-railed offwhite walls, a vintage telly bearing the shame of innocuous graffiti, and an adult beagle reposing on a yellowing WWII-era wool shag rug. Bomb Shelter is, like its use of this photograph, a derisive time warp, a scrapbook of the timbres and various incarnations of noise and post-hardcore. The small (David Allan, d; Kyle Marchand, vox and g; Joe Rabie, b-g) but heavy-hitting Cellos draw with extreme eloquence on the musical bedrock of ‘85 to ‘95: The Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Nation of Ulysses, Big Black, and Jawbox.
Bomb Shelter’s lyrical versatility is underwhelming, but their accrued musical leverage is so extraordinary that it might not matter. Production and mastering, by Brett Humber of Sound Foundry Studios, render the vox treatment superficial (anyway) in order to place focus on the tonal construction of each song’s core. Though typically bass- and drum- heavy, these recordings also capture a not-so-rosy pinched-cheek-pink midtone from the guitar. However, that’s as much as can be said on a general basis, as Cellos’ songs address disparate visions of the post-hardcore aesthetic, from the buck-and-roll swagger of Jesus Lizard, to the wilted, post-punk planarity of Mission of Burma, to the articulate dissonance of Iceburn. Their intemperate naming choices certainly recall Jesus Lizard, Big Black or Jawbox. With “Sea Legs,” a rude innuendo, think “Low Rider,” “South Mouth,” “Ballast” or “Bloody Mary.” For the not-self-effacing-I-know-you-know “Hit Song,” think “Pop Song” and “Big Money.” And for the cultural affront and concerned repulsion of “Bomb Shelter,” think “L Dopa,” “Bullet Park,” and “Wheelchair Epidemic.”
“Sea Legs” lurches in a slinky pace where bass-then-guitar fills contribute mid-intro to an oblique, awkward sound, post-Jawbox but pre-alternative proper. “Legs” does pull nice lyrical tricks, though the scenario must have come after the apt song title: “Hey pretty, we got a lot of water coming / He got enough, he got enough [of] looking(,) pretty.” This terrific opener ropes the listener in with its frenzied pace, mathy frills, and piquant bridge, even pulling a David Yow ending. Marchland is still screaming when the lights shut off: “Man over blood!”
“Mailroom Blues” sounds like Fugazi and has a distasteful proletariat sensibility (see Big Black’s “Kerosene”): “Well, I’m rad at rat race today! / What about you? / I should cop out, there’s not much that I can do.” Otherwise, a Mac McNeilly drum break is minimal but dire, and antiphonal strategies also benefit “Blues,” as with “Wake! Work!” and “I gotta get out! Wake! / I gotta get out! Work!”
“The Greys” is an off-color song about zombies with, indeed, a forthright punky aura that’s a stunning exception to Cello’s Jesus Lizard-esque decadence. As with the production on Hephaestus, metal quality paramount, and a clean approach to rankling, dissonant percussion blocks at “Greys”’ inception feels similarly pristine and askew. A fierce, full-bodied guitar solo with a surfy tinge contrasts with the otherwise grim horror-punky fatalism. Marchland nicely dotes on a word itself for a repeated action, eventually spewing out his frustration: “they kept on coming around around around A-ROUND!” There’s also a belted scream, a la Yow’s terrific performance in “Monkey Trick,” and thought-provokingly avoidant lyricism: “Now you got suspicion, your favorite sound / A little suspicious, your favorite sound.”
“Toronto” is encumbered with too-much slide guitar melodies which ends up being painfully, productively dissonant. A really classic — nearly Sabbathesque — guitar solo stuns the listener with the purity of its high notes, but otherwise, the song’s tone is reminiscent of Big Black’s “Bad Penny,” and, lyrically, “Toronto” makes Albini-style prompts through the end (“What wires? / Big city? / It’s now/ Black hole”) and also includes reprisals and screams (“Black Hole!”), dragging the motif along until the bitter end: “It’s a big city, a black hole!” (again, see the final straw of “Bad Penny”: “Slap my hand”).
“Mass Production Scheme” lifts the drum introduction from The Jesus Lizard’s “Then Comes Dudley” but changes the levels — even more than Yow, whose growling salivation can get lost in the strata of wheeling guitar, Marchland sounds like he’s singing from a compressor in a pinhole at the bottom of a pit, and this yields a unique contrast with the bombastic tonal depth of the drums. The chord progression that builds to the close of the pre-chorus is brilliantly upbeat. Sneakily, the bridge should be the sort that builds to a duel-of-the-antennae racket, but instead it’s played smooth — only dissolving to noise just after the listener thinks they were fooled. “Scheme” seems to be about an industrious (har) serial killer: “Well I pick it up every night / Sweet teen maladies for the masses / No danger, no home.” If that’s the case, how sick that Marchland adds, “I’m so glad / I’m so glad we made it / WE MADE IT!!!” (… which is, by the way, a very Jesus Lizard-esque lyrical evolution!). Cellos also involve ambiguous context with, “Hats off for a mass production scheme,” (which seems to refer to a gleeful lineup both) and, “Wait when I’m away,” which makes Marchland’s character either think women are pining to be confronted by their killer … or that he’s, in this “Mass Production Scheme,” the foreman. Narrowly compressed vox toward the end recall Big Black, and so does the reprise: “Hats off for a mass production scheme.“
The wryly-named “Hit Song” is the noisiest, with vitriolic static spittle, rashing guitars, and a typhoon of blustery feedback cavorting and caterwauling, more like Drive Like Jehu than anything else. The production manages to be spotless in all this noise, giving the disorienting impression that such raw sound is crystalline. Intriguingly, Marchland’s cries are superimposed with a dub-esque intrusion: “I thought it mattered / I thought of you but I was wrong” — what an interesting choice! Then the dissociation and fragmentation lands all out with a Daydream Nation-esque squealing squall.
“Bomb Shelter,” the standout, has the energy of Iceburn and the sly beauty of A Minor Forest. It’s creeping and elegant, crunchy metal paired with math rock, and, as the title track, is lyrically essential as well. Marchland’s speaking for a woman, saying, “That’s a man with us / He’s got us right in the crosshairs / We’re not safe from anyone.” “Shelter” becomes protective, indeed, and very spacious as extended by mood-shifting guitar fills (see Big Black’s “He’s A Whore” and A Minor Forest’s “Wussy” for the total capacity to manifest a changed, charged tone). These fills are interrupted by the mixed-message alarms in haunting falsetto, “Don’t stay / Run away” and “Get away / Come down.” “Shelter” has the most deeply-rooted cynicism of any song here, and maturely creates a sense of prolonged annexation, hideaway unexposed thanks to the fills and the slow (un?)alarmist sounding out of the falsetto. The closing evolution seems to involve a man returning to the “Shelter,” and drums evoke the pounding on doors. Enticingly, he cries, “Where / Get away / Come back,” and, “And when, when there’s more!” “Shelter” explores apparent protection and the ways in which it may or may not be valid, here presenting a scenario where women are (or find themselves to be?_ self-aware and self-concerned resources for the locking-down … rations (to whom?). “Shelter” ends with the man asking, senselessly, “Where / Where’s more / Where / Where’s more.”
Bomb Shelter is an acrid channel for the rude impetuosity of post-hardcore’s heritage — and even better, it seems to posit a post-post-hardcore. Cellos are instantly refreshing in that they’ve looked back so intently that they’re looking forward, and Bomb Shelter is an exceptional and immensely enjoyable rehash for anyone who enjoys the genre. What’s more, it’s an experiment in jaggedly patching together the many guises of noise. Highly recommended!
by Brittany Tracy