I think this is the first Shellac record that I’ve mentioned on here. I’m calling them Shellac Of North America for this post because that’s how they specifically seem to refer to themselves on this record: on previous albums the ‘Of North America’ part has seemed more of a strapline, but on this one, it forms part of the band name as it’s presented on the sleeve. It seems important to get this correct because the band – or rather Steve Albini, the driving force behind Shellac and a notoriously exacting individual – would no doubt think it a vital detail.
As with all Shellac releases, the packaging for Excellent Italian Greyhound is exquisite. Inside the polythene outer bag (sealed shut with a printed sticker that I carefully cut through with a scalpel), the gatefold sleeve is wrapped within an outer dust jacket that shows illustrations by Jay Ryan (a member of the excellent band Dianogah). The gatefold sleeve itself shows photographs of, indeed, the Excellent Italian Greyhound of the album’s title, sat atop a pile of brightly-coloured fruit, and this sleeve contains a printed inner sleeve that finally reveals the record itself, pressed on super-thick vinyl. The only part of the package that seems an afterthought, or an element to not have been given ultimate care and attention, is a CD copy of the album, thrown into the gatefold as a blank, unprinted disc. That seems to suggest the weight that Shellac/Albini place on vinyl’s precedence over CD.
The album’s opening song, ‘The End Of Radio’, builds slowly as simple bass chords underpin Albini’s flat-yet-powerful words. I first heard this song when I saw Shellac playing live at, I think, Koko in London. What was already a very exciting gig to attend (as, based on previous Shellac gigs, I knew I was not only in for some perfectly-presented music but also a super-entertaining performance) was made more special by the support band being Lords, whose guitarist Chris I am a friend of. ‘The End Of Radio’ seemed like a soundcheck at first – if you know the song, you’ll understand why – before exploding into life after several quiet, building minutes.
I met Steve Albini once at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, when Shellac were curating the event. After an alcohol-heavy day a friend and I were in the bar and she spotted Albini at a nearby table. It was often remarked in the past that I look somewhat like Albini, so my friend took it upon herself to pick me up, drag me to his table and introduce me with a “Hi Steve! This is Simon. He looks like you!” before retreating and leaving me to fend for myself. I handled the awkward occasion as elegantly as I could muster – slurring something like “Thissh is a really excshellent weekend, thanksshh so much…”. To his credit, Albini didn’t deliver a cutting putdown as he so often does with hecklers at gigs; he shook my hand, said thank you and left me to wobble off to continue my festival experience.
Who is the Excellent Italian Greyhound? It’s Shellac drummer Todd Trainer’s pet dog Uffizi, who was once featured (with owner) on Animal Planet’s TV show Dogs 101: