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There isn't much question that Shellac has about as distinctive a sound as a rock band can. Within seconds, you know who you're listening to. There's no mistaking the harsh metallic grace of Steve Albini's guitar playing, the ominous pre-storm rumble of Bob Weston's bass, or the jittery caffeinated rhythms that emerge from Todd Trainer's drum kit. The trio ranges from subdued, depressive noodling sessions to abrasive musical temper tantrums to straight-ahead locomotive-powered rock, but you always, always know it's Shellac. And if you have any doubts, once Albini starts in with his plaintive, rambling vocals and brutally honest lyrics, those doubts will disappear.

Albini started Shellac in 1993, fresh off his success producing Nirvana's In Utero (he is also acclaimed for his work on albums by The Pixies, PJ Harvey, Man or Astro-man?, and others). He tapped equally acclaimed producer Weston (who has worked with Sebadoh, Archers of Loaf, Rachel's, The Coctails, and others) to play bass and Todd Trainer (formerly of Brick Layer Cake) for drums. The trio put out three seven-inches in the early '90s before issuing their debut LP, At Action Park, in 1994. 1998's Terraform and 2000's 1000 Hurts would follow, featuring the bitter, incendiary "Watch Song." You can get all of these albums on CD if you want to, but Shellac really sounds best in the analog glory of the vinyl record. They press all of their records on virgin 180-gram vinyl: it's thick, heavy, and terrific-sounding.

Albini gets primary credit for Shellac's unmistakable style. The group's angular sound, comprised of bizarre schizophrenic time signatures, incredibly jagged guitar parts, and totally stripped-down no-frills production that has become Albini's calling card is clearly descended from work he did in his old bands, '80s cult heroes Big Black and the short-lived Rapeman (which featured members of The Jesus Lizard). Shellac's lyrics -- almost alarming personal, visceral, nakedly honest -- also have Albini written all over them. Love him or hate him, Albini is one of the most intelligent, direct, and uncompromising voices in rock, and one deserving of your constant attention.