Like Hardly Art labelmates Colleen Green, La Luz, Chastity Belt, La Sera and S, Shannon and the Clams is a project that has become more notable for the strength of the songwriting voices than the particular sound.
So while Gone by the Dawn is at a basic level vintage garage rock, with sweet wisps of doo-wop, Motown and surf, what’s most indelible is the honest, relatable humanity in the songwriting of Shannon Shaw (bass), Cody Blanchard (guitar) and Nate Mayhem (drums and keys). Their tools—irresistible melodies, danceably enticing rhythms and a timeless sense of cool—are merely in service to those voices.
On the band’s first couple records in particular, Shannon and the Clams hewed a little close to the 1960s. And while 2013’s Dreams in the Rat House found the band more creatively recombining its vintage influences, Gone by the Dawn does so much more than conjure the past. (Give at least some credit to Shannon and the Clams’ ever-burgeoning sound to fellow Bay Area weirdo Sonny Smith of the chameleonic Sonny & The Sunsets, who produced Gone by the Dawn at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studio.)
There’s complexity, mystery and head-turning musical strangeness all over the record, turning the playfulness of Shannon and the Clams’ past albums into an off-kilter weapon that’s every bit as strong as the band’s melodic gifts. The lyrics in Gone by the Dawn come from two breakups, with Shaw and Blanchard both contributing glimpses of their own sadness, rendered real enough to feel enveloped by the same heartbreak.
Equal parts bold and vulnerable, Shaw gives herself completely to her emotion-infused vocals: the wounded and faded patience of “Corvette,” the regretful “Gone by the Dawn,” the angry pell-mell attack of “Knock ‘Em Dead,” and the album’s showstopper, “How Long?” dripping with loneliness and longing. Blanchard’s lead vocals typically transmit more pain than Shaw’s, with “It’s Too Late,” “Telling Myself” and “Baby Blue” as his strongest tracks on the record.
Gone by the Dawn deftly blends a joyful escape musically with the weighty emotional journey of the lyrics, and Shannon and the Clams have more than topped themselves on the record, pushing to a whole new level.