Shell of a Shell began as the bedroom project of Chappy Hull, known for his work in the post-hardcore bands Gnarwhal and Pile. After adding Nick Swafford (Teddy and the Rough Riders), Noel Richards (Watcher), and Dylan Liverman to the lineup, the result was Already There, a dreamy blend of punk aggression with polished, melodic sounds.
“To Disappear,” the bold yet fragile centerpiece of the record, is an elegant slow burn. Impossibly pretty rhythms crawl across a landscape of crisp, weaving guitars, eventually reaching a conclusion that is epic and intense, but still subtle. It’s fitting that according to Hull, the track is about “needing others and telling yourself you don’t,” as its battling elements make for a gorgeous contrast.
In the barely tonal, fuzz-abraded noise rock that Kal Marks have made over the last decade, the world is always ending. “Everybody dies,” proclaims one album title. “LIFE IS MURDER,” screams another. But at least according to vocalist-guitarist Carl Shane, you’d be advised not to take such sentiments at face value.
“The biggest misconception of myself and the band is that we’re miserable pricks,” he deadpans over email. “That may be a little true, but it’s unfair because nobody is that one dimensional. I’m very aware of how fucked this world is, but the sun always rises and I have to keep some proactive spirit. I don’t label myself a pessimist or an optimist. I try to be a realist.”
It’s a difficult stance to take in hard times, to balance the good and the grim, when everything feels like it’s falling down around you, but that’s the one they take on their new record, Universal Care, due February 23 on Exploding in Sound. Across 12 tracks, the Boston trio stretch into some of the woolier arrangements and screechier sounds that they’ve ever undertaken.
Shane often contorts his voice into twisted up shapes that sound as much like industrial screeches as they do human vocalizations. He sings about the perils of global warming, and bemoans the ways we let smaller problems occlude existential threats, all the while he and drummer Alex Audette and bassist Michael Geacone churn out #riffs that that chime and grind in equal measure. It all sorta sounds like trying to force a handbell through a paper shredder, and Shane’s not stopping until he gets to at least the first knuckle.
And yet for Shane, all that sonic violence is linked to the spirit of overcoming that’s embedded in the record, a triumphant feeling amidst the discord. “We got to stretch out, and try new things.” he says. “This record became more than what we set out for it to be. So there’s hope there. Hope that even as we get older we still dare to try. Also letting my anger or anxiety out in song is so relieving. I get to do that a lot on this.”
Shane has said in the past that he’s not tried to make direct political statements in his lyrics, but he’s observant about the world around him, channeling the anxiety and discomfort and existential tumult of 21st century living into twisted takes on rock tropes. He still downplays that side of the bands work via email. “My feeling towards politics hasn't changed,” he wrote. "It's just a thing that creeps into my mind from time to time, and I still don't quite understand them. Not my wheelhouse.”
And yet, there’s songs on the record like “Springtime in January” which explicitly engage with climate change and the ultimate end of everything we hold dear. It can be hard to make out exactly what he’s saying through the static and the squelching, but there’s this sense of doom, and an urgency to overcome it, that gives the record a strange power. Or at least a perseverance.
"I am concerned for this world, and it's hard to not be aware of the current political climate," he says. "More than ever it feels like an oligarchy, with real fiends and clowns making terrible decisions. I just speak freely about whatever in our songs. Sometimes I don't really know what the songs mean."
To borrow Shane’s own summation, it's realist rock of the first order that acknowledges the terrors of the world but recognizing the necessity of slogging onward.
Universal Care is out next Friday, February 23, on Exploding in Sound, but it’s streaming in full up above, if you need a dose of harshness to bring you back to center.
Around here, we’re big fans of the artists on Brooklyn-based label Exploding In Sound Records’ roster, which is why this new track was right up our alley.
Between his time spent playing in two of their bands, (Gnarwhal and Pile), Chappy Hull started writing songs under the moniker Shell Of A Shell. Though the project began as a solo outlet for Hull, he quickly grew eager to see his demos realized in a full band setting. So, he enlisted in the help of some local Nashville friends to bring his ideas for these songs to fruition. The group has since spent the past year and a half honing their raw, sludge-filled indie rock and playing shows all over the country alongside contemporaries Palm, Bully, and many more.
With the pop sensibility of Television and the cathartic execution of Drive Like Jehu, Shell Of A Shell meld together an explosive blend of spastic guitars and hardened vocals against a diligent and ripping rhythm section on “Already There,” the title track off of their debut record. The track is a blistering exploration into the human condition and coming to terms with the realization that contentment with one’s position can be deceitful.
Already There is the final installment in Exploding In Sound’s recent Tape Club series and will be available on March 9th. If they’re playing near you, be sure to see Shell Of A Shell at one of their upcoming tour dates with Bad History Month and Kal Marks, posted below!
A little after the release of their album Party Naked Forever and Bethlehem Steel has given a fitting video treatment to single "Finger It Out." The clip features quickly passing video moments of what touring life entails for the band, complete with stops for Arby's, performances, hair-washing hijinks and of course, plenty of views through the passenger window. It's a perfect collection of memories, given that the track was written in response to enjoying the time you have and soaking it all in.
Much of the energy on this track seemingly thrives on the uncertain, with instrumentals from Jon Gernhart (drums) and Patrick Ronayne (bass) fueling this tangible energetic force, made all the more powerful with Rebecca Ryskalczyk's cathartic, piercing vocals. You know those moments when you stop and think about what's ahead and what you've been through; when you wonder how much time you'll have left and what your days will be filled with? This song encapsulates that nervous energy of the unknown and in video form it displays an answer, that for right now, Bethlehem Steel is having the time of their lives, and we should, too.
3/06 - Brooklyn, NY @ The Silent Barn w/ Peaer 3/07 - Philadelphia, PA @ Everybody Hits * 3/08 - Raleigh, NC @ Slim’s * 3/09 - Atlanta, GA * 3/11 - New Orleans, LA @ Hey Cafe (Community Records 10th Anniversary Festival) * 3/12 - Dallas, TX @ SX Foreplay Fest * 3/13 - 3/17 - Austin, TX (SXSW) 3/18 - Fayetteville, AR @ Back Space * 3/20 - Buffalo, NY @ House Show * 3/22 - Queens, NY @ The Footlight * * w/ Washer & Yazan
There’s always been a wild edge to the music of Kal Marks, a kind of unspoken recklessness that goes hand-in-hand with the music itself; a wide-eyed flash of a stare, a palpable nervousness that rarely settles. Perhaps, then, a rabid animated video is the music’s best pairing, that same warped vision brought to life in scintillating video form.
And so goes, with the sharing Springtime In January, another cut from the forthcoming new record, which arrives today, bitter and snarling, alongside its inspired corresponding visual, created by director Carly Lieberman. “I like making problems seem trivial by presenting larger less manageable problems,” Carly says of the new video. “Carl (of Kal Marks) told me this song was about climate change, which is a clumsily managed problem created by humanity. So I started thinking about what would have to happen to make the self destruction of the entire earth seem like less of a problem. This video is about becoming so caught up in small scale problems, that we end up completely blindsided by the more damaging ones.”
A boisterous, screeching affair, the new track makes for a fiery introduction to the band’s forthcoming new record, Universal Care, which is due out February 23rd via Exploding In Sound. “This world is much too noisy,” the band’s Carl Shane, adding a little more context to the whole piece. “We all bark over each other both in person and on the internet. It causes us all to ignore the biggest problem facing this world, which is global warming. There are plenty of issues today, that deserve attention, but our climate should be priority number one. I fear we’ll never reach any common ground on this, and leave this earth in rougher shape for future generations.”
Pre-order the new record, check out a host of tour dates, and watch the new video below right now. The band are also currently running an Indiegogo campaign for a new van; find more details on that here.
3/03 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bazaar w/ Maneka, Baked, & A Deer A Horse 3/09 – Hadley, MA @ The Flip 3/10 – Cambridge, MA @ Elks lodge w/ Nice Guys & Bat House 3/24 – Portland, ME @ Bowl Haven w/ Greed Island 4/03 – Philadelphia, PA @ Everybody Hits 4/04 – Washington, DC @Rhizome 4/05 – Richmond, VA @ Champion Brewery 4/06 – Charlotte, NC @ Lunchbox Records 4/07 – Asheville, NC @Static Age 4/08 – Nashville, TN @ East Room 4/09 – Atlanta, GA @ 529 4/10 – Tallahassee, FL @Wilbury 4/11 – New Orleans, LA 4/12 – Houston, TX 4/13 – Austin, TX @ Beerland 4/14 – Denton, TX @ County Brewery 4/18 – Flagstaff, AZ 4/17 – Phoenix, AZ 4/18 – Los Angeles, CA @ Top Space 4/19 – San Francisco, CA @ Hemlock 4/20 – Oakland, CA @ Eli’s mile high club 4/21 – Corvallis, OR @ Sparkle Castle 4/22 – Portland, OR @ Rontoms 4/23 – Seattle, WA @ Black Lodge 4/24 – Boise, ID 4/26 – Denver, CO @ Club Scum 4/27 – Omaha, NB @Brothers Lounge 4/28 – Minneapolis, MN @ Hexagon Bar 4/29 – Madison, WI 4/30 – Chicago, IL @Subterranean (Downstairs) 5/01 – Kalamazoo, MI @Rancho Unicorno 5/02 – Ohio 5/03 – Rochester, NY @ small world books 5/04 – New Paltz, NY @ Nachohouse 5/05 – Allston, MA @ O’Briens