It may have been a couple decades since the Triangle in North Carolina, and specifically Chapel Hill, was tagged as the “next Seattle” and major labels came to town trying to unsuccessfully court the likes of Superchunk and Archers of Loaf. But just because the spotlight isn’t shining quite as brightly on the Triangle doesn’t mean it isn’t still chock full of great rock bands. Case in point: Spider Bags. These guys have been taking Carolina by storm one show at a time, and have managed to release a couple of great records too. Now, they’ve got their new record, Shake My Head, out on Odessa Records (an excellent local label, in many ways a lynchpin to this thriving music community), and it is yet another collection that demands we sit up and take notice of this band.
Opener “Keys to the City” is rollicking garage rock, untethered in its speed and unbridled in its energy, but it’s straightahead rocking is deceiving. Because, while everything here is tensed-up rock, Spider Bags is not content to go basic guitar-bass-drums at all. In fact, the breadth of sounds and textures on Shake My Head is what makes all its frenzied zeal work so well. The laid-bare opener is followed by “Simona La Ramona”, which smashes all kinds of different sounds together seamlessly. The rise-and-fall bass line comes straight from classic R&B, while singer Dan McGee enploys a country twag and an echoed jangle to his guitar, and they warm it all over with horns. It’s a frustrated lovelorn song, but while all these sounds are concise, it’s when the song bursts open in Beach Boys-esque backing vocals — a sea of high-register coos — that you see all this band is capable of.
From there we get the blistering guitar heroics of “Friday Night” or “Standing On a Curb,” the sunkissed power-pop of “Quatzelcoatl Love Song,” the moody layers of instrumental track “Shawn Cripps Boogie” and so on. Shake My Head is an album that refuses to settle into one sound, and its restlessness reflects much of what McGee sings about here. There’s a lot of feeling stuck on this record. On “Simona La Ramona” — which reworks lines from another frustrated rock tune, Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” — McGee leaves the city for the country and finds no relief. On “Friday Night” he complains “all my friends are leaving town, I’m the only jerk that sticks around.” “Standing On a Curb” finds him, well, standing on a curb and waiting, more than once, for more than one person.
Much of this tense waiting, this feeling that your surroundings are closing in around you, is associated with the relationships that either keep you in one spot or force you to move on. Shake My Head is an album concerned with finding a place to settle into, or at the very least with those moments when you just need to skip town before you peel your skin off. The songs never complain, but rather convert frustration to propulsive energy. And while there’s a healthy dose of swagger to these rock tunes — the wild joy of these songs, and the confidence behind it are both palpable — there’s nothing winking or ironic about Spider Bags. Irony, so it goes, is the song of a bird that’s come to love its cage. Spider Bags are rattling the bars at every turn on Shake My Head, and it may run out all too quickly — the 10-song, 34-minute run time makes it feel like they’ve just gotten started — it’s still a sweet, sweet rattle.