The Shipping News

When vocalist/axman Jeff Mueller agreed to borrow his band's moniker from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx, he hadn't read it yet. Fortunately, the handle turned out to be appropriate anyway. Like the tome's icy setting, the Shipping News's music initially seems severe and forbidding, yet the players regularly discover a rare sort of beauty within it.

The group's members hail from the likes of Rodan, June of 44 and Codeine, and some of the telltale aggression associated with these memorably thunderous acts survives on tracks like "Louven," which juxtaposes guitar glissandos with massive chords that move at a glacial pace. But Mueller and his cohorts employ this soft-loud dynamic -- among indie rock's most resilient signature sounds -- in ways that generally steer clear of stereotypes. For instance, "It's Not Too Late" is content to whisper instead of scream, while "Paper Lanterns" flares up and dies down on multiple occasions over more than eight captivating minutes.

In this case, judging a book by its cover turned out to be a pretty good idea.


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