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Shipping News



Shipping News: for seamen, a periodical crucial to their livelihood; for literary aesthetes, a Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning title by E. Annie Proulx; for indie rockers, yet another talented experimental group to emerge from the twin Midwestern experimental rock metropolises of Chicago and Lousiville. You may not be surprised to learn that Shipping News (the band) appropriated its name from The Shipping News (the book), revealing its members to be literary aesthetes as well as musicians. That figures, since the band essentially began when two of its members collaborated to compose music for the NPR show This American Life. Yeah, these fellas are highbrow.

That founding pair consisted of bassist/vocalist Jason Noble and guitarist/vocalist Jeff Mueller, who had both tenured in the short-lived metallic indie rock band Rodan before moving on to other bands -- Noble to the classically minded chamber-rock ensemble Rachel's and Mueller to the funky experimental rock outfit June of 44. They enjoyed working together again, so they recruited Kyle Crabtree, a sometime Rachel's contributor, to play drums and began recording. Now, anyone familiar with any of the aforementioned bands can probably guess at the breadth and ambition, the restless experimentalism, and the high-quality musicianship that characterizes Shipping News. While you shouldn't come expecting the dubbed-out fusion-rock meanderings of June of 44 or the avant-classical stylings of Rachel's, jazz and classical music are definitely subtle influences. The trio uses those influences to add color to dark, often bleak, mostly instrumental experimental rock compositions that often seem to bear the shadowy imprint of late '70s British post-punk. Sure, the music's mathy and definitely sounds like it comes from Chicago, but at times it feels like it could be a post-rock Wire played at half-speed. Then a keening viola enters the fray and the percussion turns delicate and chiming and the modern classical influences rise to the surface. The compositions are shadowy and angular, with Crabtree providing driving beats and Noble getting lost in spiraling low-end grooves while Mueller noodles and squawks. A host of looped synths and other effects helps make the vibe weirder and more ominous. Definitely music to get lost in.

The trio debuted in 1997 with Save Everything. The band's members' other commitments have definitely restricted The Shipping News' recorded output, but in 2001 they finally returned with a sophomore release, the desolately lovely Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company, which is where you'll find "The March Song."