Away Team is the latest album from Nashville indie quartet Shell of a shell. This album is rife with tension, a very personal experience that’s built on depression and loneliness. You can hear it clearly on Chappy Hull’s strained vocals, as he seldom gets a moment of reprieve in this record, where everything is sung with a heavy dose of anxiety or scorn. Heart is kept on sleeve in his songwriting, and you can see the cuts and bruises along the way. The guitar work is stellar, it keeps quiet when it needs to but could go all out in a moment’s notice. There’s an unpredictability in Away Team’s song structures that will keep you into a false sense of security, where sections of quiet can suddenly erupt into rage and chaos in just a moment’s notice.
The opening song “Funny” starts with a ballad that carries a lot of heavy baggage. The loneliness and longing is palpable in its sparse instrumentation. Hull sings in a leisurely pace, ruminating on a “ghost of the past”. “Knock” comes in with erratic rhythm shifts and dynamic changes in volume. It’s restless start is contrasted by a rumbling breakdown of drums and ends with a serrated guitar hum.
“Fill in the Blank” starts slow and steady. Hull sings about trying and failing again and again, which is expressed by its seemingly lost and dejected pace. This slowly builds up and reaches a boiling point, culminating in a climactic cacophony of rage and chaos. Hull erupts in a lung-busting screech and the guitar and drums smash its head in a wall of noise. “Find Me a Field” is a slow ballad that’s haunted by a constant air of discord. There’s an unsettling feeling here that suggests something is about to go wrong, and someone is about to face his final moments in life.
Shell of a shell strays from its contemporaries in the final tracks of the album, opting to end on two lengthy epics in “Don’t Expect” and “Seems Like”, which runs at eight and ten minutes respectively. The first is an introspective slow burn, full of self doubt and anxiety. There’s a moment of rest in the middle where the guitars fall into a dreamy breakdown, before it ends in a bursting explosion of hardcore guitars and vocals. The second is the album’s central thesis. It starts as a soul-searching movement that develops gradually into a heavy torrent of emotions, making all tracks that came before look like a warm up (there’s also a sneaky jam stuck in there for good measure).
Away Team is a deeply vulnerable album, and you don’t even have to dig deep into the lyrics to empathize with its narrative. Every sonic element carries weight and adds it into the mix. It’s the kind of catharsis everyone needs in their life when they’re close to rock bottom. The kind of statement that tells you you’re not alone in your suffering, because I’m here too.
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