The Shell Collector is a two piece band comprising Enrico Tiberi (vocals, guitar, synth and piano) and Manuel Coccia (bass & backing vocals). In 2013 the duo released a pair of Eps (“2 is the beginning of an army” and “rain songs”) and now, in 2014, they are set to release their debut full-length work, ‘Medusa’, via their own label. Described by the band (in what is surely a reaction against the endless need to label everything) as ‘post-vintage rock’, this eleven track record ranges across a number of influences from heavy, psychedelic rock via jazz-inspired tempos and into the dark heart of ambient electronica, always beckoning the listener deeper into the band’s own, dangerously twisted world of smoke, mirrors and snake-haired temptresses.
Opening with ‘the mean’ the band set out their unhinged worldview via crunchy riffs, vocal harmonies, switch-on-a-dime dynamics and progressive interludes, none of which should work, but which the band carry off with aplomb thanks to Enrico’s consistently excellent vocals tying the whole together. It’s a brilliantly inventive slab of heavy, psychedelic rock that somehow remains accessible enough that you can easily imagine it burning up the airwaves if the airwaves weren’t so utterly cluttered with identikit detritus. Seemingly unwilling to hold still, ‘amber’ could easily be a Nick Cave track until an Aphex-Twin-inspired interlude tears the track in half and sends it into a Ketamine-enhanced hole resonating to Mannuel’s twisted bass. It’s hard to express the sheer perverse pleasure the band appear to take in confounding the listener’s every expectation, and few albums offer such a diverse and richly rewarding listening experience as ‘Medusa’. In no sense calming down, the storm-ravaged riffs of ‘a sailor’ pits furious guitars and a pounding beat against taut vocals only to suddenly shift into utterly unexpected prog-pop territory with a breezy melody that stands entirely at odds with the crushing weight deployed elsewhere. It’s a scattershot approach not entirely dissimilar to acts such as Jesus Lizard and Mr Bungle and it is likely to divide listeners into those who love the band’s relentless invention and those who prefer a more straightforward approach. ‘Take your time’ sees things head into darker territory, somewhere between Depeche Mode at their most sultry, Massive Attack and At the drive in.
Having laid down a standard of wild experimentation, the second half of the album doesn’t disappoint with strangely progressive weirdness of ‘the filter’ drawing upon early genesis and, err, Pearl jam as its most unlikely of influences. Of course, such references only barely do the band’s music justice and there is no doubt that listeners will find plenty of other referents to throw at the mix so utterly diverse is the band’s approach to song-writing, yet for all that, the album remains a remarkably coherent listen. ‘Le Ombre’, which opens to the sound of an orchestra tuning, quickly dispatches notions of a soporific string-fest with a vital blast of guitar sending the song off into furious rock territory, albeit furious rock with a stunning progressive bridge that sees Enrico playing his guitar as if possessed by the spirit of David Gilmour. The acoustic ‘still winds they blow’ sounds as if its accidentally slipped onto the record from Godsmack unplugged, with Enrico’s rich baritone strained with emotion and the guitar-work held firmly in check for the song’s comparatively brief runtime. It’s business as usual, however, on the industrial fury of ‘common superstar system’, a track shot through with jabbering electronica and multi-layered vocals, so obviously it finishes with a brief acoustic trip that sounds like Beck on ‘one foot in the grave. Next up is the weird ‘mirror me’, which sounds like a ballad played on a record deck with a corrupted belt drive crossed with Coheed and Cambria. Briefly popping into adolescent disco territory is the humorously titled ‘my old titanic Panasonic tapedeck’ before final track, ‘What it is’, closes the album on a suitably unhinged note, sounding like the Butthole Surfers playing ballads with Anathema, a concept not easily conceived.
What do you want from your music? If you want to listen to music that plays it safe then forget it, leave here now. If, however, you’ve find yourself influenced over the years by the likes of Mr Bungle, Deus, Chrome Hoof or Butthole surfers then this is for you. Not that these bands are intrinsically the same as Shell Collectors, but they share the same, genre-hopping, no-holds-barred approach that marks them out as something truly special. No genre convention is left unturned, no stylistic departure is too warped for this diabolical duo and yet, for all that the album sounds like it should sound messier than the damaged guitar work of a three-fingered octogenarian on acid, ‘Medusa’ is a brilliantly cohesive and compelling body of work. Like any great album, there is no real review that can do justice to the insanity that the band have captured on disc, so bite the bullet, head on over to the band’s webpage and check them out for yourself.