Shannon and The Clams Triumph on The Moon Is In The Wrong Place

The beloved West Coast garage rockers soar to new, personal heights on their emotional and captivating seventh album.

Music Reviews Shannon and The Clams
Shannon and The Clams Triumph on The Moon Is In The Wrong Place

August 2022 found Oakland vocalist (and perennial yesteryear-punk-rockabilly legend) Shannon Shaw just weeks away from a storybook wedding with her fiancé Joe Haener, a drummer and fellow Bay Area music staple. Instead, Haener passed away in a car crash just outside of his family’s vegetable farm in Oregon in a catastrophic loss that rocked both Shaw and her bandmates to their very core. The moon is in the wrong place, indeed. It was out of this tumultuous aftershock that the band’s momentous seventh record (and third LP with producer and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach) was born. Recorded in Nashville at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Studios, the Clams forewent their usual creative process by spontaneously playing on unfinished demos together to see what they might come up with. The result? The Moon Is In The Wrong Place, a mark of their most ambitious, introspective record to date and a remarkable continuance of momentum from their 2021 LP, The Year of the Spider.

The album opens with “The Vow,” a Nancy Sinatra-style ballad that perfectly sets the tone for the entire bittersweet LP. Defined by sweeping declarations of love, it’s a song that is simultaneously devastating when one considers the context: Shaw wrote it to surprise Haener on their wedding day. “I hated the idea of him never getting to hear it,” Shaw explains. “What do you do with this depressing song that never got to have its life?” Equal parts hopeful and tragic, “The Vow” is a fitting introduction that provides a glimpse into the yin and yang of remembering bygone good times—a mantra that encapsulates the album and Shannon and The Clams’ catalog altogether.

“Oh So Close, Yet So Far,” one of the project’s standouts, is an earth-shattering testament to love’s everlasting glow. Characterized by uptempo soundscapes that fall somewhere between Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and the Arctic Monkeys’ “She’s Thunderstorms,” the track listens like a classic 1950s love song dipped in West Coast garage rock. When Shaw sings, “You are the constellations / You are the breeze / You are the birds / You are the trees” against the backdrop of the song’s rosy guitar-driven instrumental, you can hear the depth of her love—and you can feel the utter anguish of her loss, too. Dotted with gut punch one-liners masked amidst upbeat vocals (“The people mistake you for somebody who’s doing alright”), “What You’re Missing,” another of the project’s high points, perfectly demonstrates that duality. “Real or Magic,” meanwhile, depicts the ghosts of grieving with heartbreaking accuracy. “Woke up from another terrible night, bad dreams working overtime / But then I looked into his beautiful eyes, you were there and you were bathed in light,” Shaw sings sweetly before coming to: “Was it real or was it magic?”

And while Shaw laments that “the moon is in the wrong place” (a phrase pulled from something Haener said to her shortly before the accident) on the album’s frenetic, melancholic title-track, she knows she must find a way to move forward despite. “So Lucky,” too, is a testament to the enduring glow of Haener’s presence in her life, arriving as a song that plays out like an ode of gratitude for having experienced true love even if your partner is no longer here. “Thank you for all you built into my heart,” Shaw sings, before avowing how she “will remain forever changed.”

It’s this very acceptance that illuminates a path forward for Shannon and The Clams, creating a bright ray of hope showcased on “Bean Fields” (written for and named after the bean fields at Haener’s family farm). An upbeat track that highlights the beauty present amidst tragedy and the enduring, ever-brilliant and rapturous chemistry between Shaw, guitarist Cody Blanchard, drummer Nate Mahan and keyboardist Will Sprott, it’s a touching song that’s arguably the best on the album—and the most joyful, and maybe one of the band’s riskiest. “I heard I must keep living, I know you’d want me to,” Shaw sings, delivering a line that feels like it could be the thesis of the whole record or an entire continuing lifetime. But moving forward doesn’t always mean leaving the past behind. “Life is unfair yet beautiful, only cause you were here,” Shaw belts on “Life Is Unfair,” the album’s coda. It’s a heart-wrenching sign-off, one that’s both happy and sad at the same time. Maybe that’s the whole point.

Watch Shannon and The Clams’ recent Paste Studio session at the East Austin Block Party below.

Elizabeth Braaten is a writer from Houston, Texas.

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