One listen to Shipping News’s fourth full-length, Flies the Fields, and its no surprise that these guys come from Louisville, Kentucky. The members hail from some of the area’s most respected acts, including June of 44, Rachel’s, and the For Carnation, and their sound — a bleak, trenchant post-rock — approximates Slint updated for the twenty-first century. Like that legendary quartet, Flies the Fields builds meticulous tension with starkly unadorned instrumentation. The bass is a bit funkier than Todd Cook’s, but you’ll notice the familiar grayscale guitar melodies, dry percussion fills, and the rare, near-spoken vocals that Brian McMahon made famous all those years ago.
But the Shipping News deserves more than off-hand comparisons or tenuous geographic association. Flies the Fields is a record worthy of a bit more. The quartet takes its name from the 1994 E. Annie Proulx novel, and like a good book, the Shipping News sets scenes that are as memorable as they are austere. “Louven” and its predecessor “Axons and Dendrites” erupt with pre-dawn (or pre-dusk) wonder. The dueling guitars’ drowsy melodicism leaves a bitter but not all-together unpleasant taste on the pallet, like an olive or a taste of Scotch. Closer “Paper Lanterns” is particularly effective in this regard. Cook’s fuzz bass provides an unshakable foundation over which guitars scream, sputter and purr, and someone mumbles that “words become obscure under water.”
The crew seems more like humble commentators than vocalists on these tracks, but given the frigid air of the music, such modesty seems appropriate. In fact, on the occasions when they do get ahead of themselves, the result is fairly laughable. “We are a generation of everyday collision. We can not underestimate the force of our dimension,” drummer Kyle Crabtree half sings, half raps on the chump-worthy “The Human Face.” Usually, though, you get the haunting “Untitled w/ Drums,” which channels shoegaze guitar and subtle vocal harmony into a searing point of white light.
Despite the transparency of its pedigree, the Shipping News has created a near Southern-gothic classic in Flies the Fields. The itch they scratch my be familiar, bled raw by the rash of post-rock acts over the last fifteen years. But the paranoid, skittish, highly literate and guitar-obsessed remain out there just waiting to pop this in their basement stereo.