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Cerberus Shoal - Cerberus Shoal  CD (album) cover


Cerberus Shoal



3.89 | 8 ratings

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4 stars This was Cerberus Shoal’s first album, released in the mid-90s as a 12 inch vinyl on their own Stella White label. You won’t likely find that one anywhere since there were only 1,000 pressed, but the remastered CD version from North East Indie is pretty easy to locate; I got mine for $5 USD used off Amazon. Like most of their first half-dozen albums, this one is steeped in a post-rock sound of plodding arrangements, barely intelligible spoken-word vocals, drone and the occasional crashing crescendo. The roots however seem to be more post-punk grunge ala the Afghan Whigs, Babes in Toyland and maybe even a little earlier stuff like Bauhaus or even a little Gun Club. I feel like I heard a thousand bands that sounded like the hard stuff on this album back in the latter 80s and early 90s, but honestly I can’t remember a whole lot of them now and all that stuff is on cassette dry-rotting in my attic today so I can’t really be bothered to crawl up there and root through it to come up with any of the names.

The difference here of course is the melding of cerebral post-rock and electronic drone with the grungier stuff – none of the bands mentioned above did anything like that (except maybe Bauhaus a little, but I really never got into them much back in the day). Also, Cerberus Shoal made a habit of regularly reinventing themselves through endless experimentation and collaboration in their ten-plus years, so this album isn’t any more representative of their ‘sound’ than anything else they recorded. Listening to a Cerberus Shoal album is more about trying to understand their trip than it is about discovering (or necessarily even enjoying) their music.

That said, I was surprised to find that this quickly became one of my favorite of their albums once I finally picked it up a while back. It’s kind of funny really – I love this (their first) and ‘The Land We All Believe In’ (their last) most of all, even though the two records have as diametrically opposing sounds as you’d think is possible from the same band. While the latter is heavily inspired by American folk and late-90s Mile End music, this one seems to owe a debt to Kurt Cobain and Slint as much as it does to Efrim Menuck or Mike Moya. The blend of sounds is both intriguing and at times baffling, but like the best art it definitely inspires thought and conjecture.

The highlight of the album is the lengthy and sonically brilliant “Daddy as Seen from Bar Harbor” with its thundering guitar forays and unrestrained feedback creeping out sporadically amid plodding drums and several band members offering conversational dialog in the background. I’m not sure what the point of the lyrics are, and don’t really care – the mood is what’s important here and not the message. I’ve played this one sitting in an airport people-watching, and get the same vibe as I do from playing f#a# ∞ in the same setting. A real trip for sure.

The remastered version includes a 39 minute rendition of “Rain”, which isn’t really related to the brief opening track “Rain” as near as I can tell. Instead, this one starts off with some laid-back guitar and quiet vocals before exploding into shouted singing and grunge-like guitar distortion, only to fade to almost silence before repeating the cycle several times with slightly different riffs and tempos. While I think this was included on the CD more as filler than anything else it does give a glimpse into the creative process of the band and foreshadows a lot of the music they would release late in the decade.

The other three tracks are more of the same really, with only “Breakway Cable Terminal” standing out for its extended jamming vocal/guitar dirge that would have been right at home in many clubs circa 1992 or so. I get the impression these guys had plenty of ideas and creative talent, but no real sense of where to take it. The raw energy combined with clear evidence of musical talent is palpable. Their later album ‘Homb’, while more restrained, gives off some of the same force and would be a great lead-in to this album for anyone wishing to explore the band’s music.

I may be a little generous here, but for the time being this CD is still getting a fair amount of play on my Blackberry so I’m giving it four stars for being able to keep my attention for several months despite a number of other discs landing in my lap during that time. I may tire of it after a while, but four sounds right for now so that’s what I’ll go with. Recommended for anyone who got into grunge and then outgrew it, but would enjoy that same rush but with music played by seriously talented musicians. Enjoy.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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