Shannon and The Clams are the prime example of a retro rock-inspired band that still feels fresh and singular. They may appeal to crowds hungry for nostalgia—they’ve even toured with Greta Van Fleet—but the Oakland band possess a quality that makes their Motown and surf rock-infused sound more than the sonic version of rose-colored glasses: soul. It’s an intangible factor, but every line delivered by lead singer and bassist Shannon Shaw vibrates with grit and gusto.
The band have grown as a group, getting a little more polished since the garage-punk edge of their debut I Wanna Go Home, but maintaining a defiant spirit up through their sixth album Year of the Spider. Forget cheap replicas—this is a gem you’ve just unearthed from a forgotten shelf in a secondhand shop. They’re not just carbon copies of the first band that made them want to pick up instruments; they’re Shannon and The fucking Clams.
Year of the Spider is decidedly rooted in darkness and the band’s own personal struggles. From the outset, Shaw and bandmates Cody Blanchard (vocals, guitar), Will Sprott (keys) and Nate Mahan (drums) make it clear that they’re unsettled, needing to move on in order to grow and thrive. Opener “Do I Wanna Stay” sounds like a Bond theme crossed with a Spaghetti Western soundtrack, delivered from the corner of some seedy roadhouse. Silvery cymbal flashes and off-kilter keys set the scene as Shaw insists that her home is no longer her own—a situation that was unfortunately a reality for the singer after an interloper forced her from her apartment in 2019. Like most changes, it’s easier to imagine than execute (“I dream at night I know that someone’s found for me / A softened place for me to lie my head,” she sings in her unmistakable smoky voice, and later, “Awake it’s hard to see what lies ahead”), but she remains resolute.
Between the love songs (“I Need You Bad”) and flights of fancy (“Godstone,” which “tells the story of a surreal underwater encounter Shaw had in Hawaii,” according to the band’s website), are other moments that explore the harsher side of life. “Midnight Wine” is a raucous duet, with synth warbling in the background and almost masquerading as a jaw harp. Despite its upbeat, slightly sexy feel, the song tells the grim story of “friends I’ve had that have died from drug addiction and that feeling of desperation that drives you to seek shelter from reality in drugs,” Blanchard noted in a press release. He acknowledges the cyclical nature of addiction—“For I was damned the day I was born / To a daddy in a cell, to a daddy in a cell”—which only compounds the feeling of inescapable doom.
Shaw’s fingerprints are all over title track “Year of the Spider,” a doo-wop ditty about what it’s like when your nightmare scenario becomes your reality. Warped, almost drunken keys start off the tune before thumping percussion and Shaw’s glittery ashtray of a voice chime in. Shaw alludes to her father’s cancer diagnosis in the first few lines (“He said, ‘The one you love, he needs a doctor,’”), but the only word of wisdom this “Bad News” messenger has for her is that “It’s the year of the spider.” The statement feels nonsensical until you learn that Shaw is strangely a spider magnet in her everyday life, in spite of her fear of spiders. It’s a predicament that forces her to face her arachnophobia, and as an astrologer advised Shaw, she “was getting protection from the thing I feared the most.” It’s a more poetic version of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“Snakes Crawl,” penned by Blanchard, returns to the feeling of inevitable disaster. The ‘60s psych-inflected song is an unsettling lullaby, the lyrics painting a short horror story: “Fish no more bite our 20 toes / In the river where I loved you true / Snails crawl on the bottom / Cleaning the bones I once knew.” Spidery organ crawls into your ears and Blanchard realizes that, despite his attempts to regain control, “The path we set / Was always bent / To the will of water.”
This feeling of inescapable doom comes to a head in “Leaves Fall Again,” which feels lifted from a Western and barrels full speed ahead with hoofbeat-like drums. The song is a last stand of sorts, as everything seems to be going wrong once more. “Does this cycle never ever end?” Shaw and Blanchard ask plaintively.
The next song, “Flowers Will Return,” answers this resolutely: The cycle doesn’t end, but it has its moments of beauty. The track is a sunny, Beatles-esque pop song with dreamy harmonies, the perfect response to the gloom and doom of “Leaves Fall Again.” “I want you to learn / That flowers will return / If you, if you give it time,” Blanchard and Shaw impart to us, sounding much like a modern-day version of The Byrds.
Year of the Spider isn’t about overcoming the rockiness of life as much as coming to terms with it—living with darkness rather than succumbing to it. The lesson is a poignant one for our times, but just as vitally, Shannon and The Clams’ latest record is a rip-roaring listen.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.