Wonder what it takes for an album earn a spot on the KALX Top 35? Check out our album review for one of the most played records in May, Onion.
Oakland garage rock sweethearts Shannon and the Clams are no strangers at penning songs of longing and heartbreak. With four records under their belt, the Clams have become masters at exuding a sense of timelessness through their music, delivering their barebones lyricism via catchy 60s-inspired pop. Their fifth release, Onion—produced by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys)—is no exception. Though we still get the same Clams charm we all know and love, Onion features a refinement of their signature sound, re-channeled into some new thematic territory.
In Onion, timelessness takes on a new form, as the album is a poignant tribute in memory of those lost in the Ghost Ship Fire of 2016. Guitarist Cody Blanchard and frontwoman and bassist Shannon Shaw embody their mourning in their own way. Behind a rumbling, rolling tom in “Backstreets,” Blanchard sings of the isolation that comes with feeling like an outsider. The track is an ode to artists and outcasts, those who would find solace in supportive communities and DIY spaces such as Ghost Ship. The last track, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” sung by Shaw, is an achingly beautiful ballad dedicated to the friends and family of those lost to the fire. The song opens with Shannon’s gorgeous timbre, supported by wavering organs. The tempo soon picks up, a plucky guitar line weaving itself in as Shaw’s voice envelops you in an embrace of comfort: “Do what you must / To grasp every feeling / Now open those eyes and take in that light.”
Such glimmers of hope are peppered throughout the album. In the doo wop-inflected, slightly tropical “Onion,” Shannon sheepishly admits her host of personal problems, but promises that she will“keep working on it.” Expertly balancing between croons and huffs on “If You Could Know,” Shannon’s husky voice packages a deck of emotions in an under 2 minute song. The hip-swinging, upbeat bop is yet a fleeting, urgent tune that perfectly captures the unchartered waters that come with a new lover, highlighting the virtues of living in the now and not fretting too much about the future.
The last third of Onion slightly loses its steam, but thanks to Auerbach’s arsenal of instruments, sonic embellishments flecked throughout the record keeps it fresh. You’ll hear the bright dings of a Glockenspiel pop up, or the bubbling of vintage keys. In addition to these new toys, Auerbach steers the Clams toward a cleaner quality of production The overall result? A clearer, more realized gleaning that doesn’t lose the Clams’ original raw appeal. Don’t worry—you’ll still get that stinging bite of an onion.
Favorite Tracks: “If You Could Know,” “Onion,” “I Leave Again,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Adrienne majors in a soft science and has a soft spot for “Pacific Coast Party” by the band Smash Mouth. Catch her sporadically on the KALX airwaves as DJ yan yan.