Two years ago, after a series of misfortunes left her questioning everything, Shannon Shaw did what anyone in the midst of such crisis would do: She visited an astrologist. The vocalist and bassist for the Oakland rock band Shannon and the Clams was advised to channel the power of Durga, a vigilant Hindu goddess who can be recognized by her eight arms; Shaw, a noted arachnophobe, caught onto this irony right away. “I was getting protection from the thing I feared the most,” she explained. These tentative but notable steps outside her comfort zone drive Shannon and the Clams’ sixth studio album, Year of the Spider.
Since forming in 2009, Shannon and the Clams have infused garage rock with flourishes of ‘60s doo-wop and neo-psychedelia; their last record, 2018’s Onion, was especially indebted to that era. On Year of the Spider, they dig even deeper into their old-school repertoire and its various off-shoots: “All of My Cryin’,” written and sung by guitarist Cody Blanchard, struts with a disco flair before bursting into ABBA-lite harmonies. The atmospheric synths of “Midnight Wine” approximate those of Suicide, while the eerie “Snakes Crawl” feels like a take on classic country. By incorporating a wider array of subgenres without losing their core identity, Shannon and the Clams create music that’s familiar without feeling redundant.
Year of the Spider is not only the most musically diverse Shannon and the Clams record, but it’s also the most lyrically affecting. The highlight “Mary, Don’t Go” references a stalker who forced Shaw to move out of her apartment. The chorus evokes the heartbreak of bidding farewell to her roommate: “I’d like to protect you, but what if I can’t?” “In the Hills, In the Pines” mourns shuttered fixtures of the Clams’ Bay Area DIY scene and the relationships that fizzled out as a result: “And the people I knew/They just fled in the night,” Blanchard sings. The Motown saunter of “Vanishing” backdrops Shaw’s heartbreaking reflection on her father’s diagnosis with cancer: “Open up, open up/You’re still here/Weary mind, bleary eyes/You’re not vanishing.” While Year of the Spider is devoid of love songs in the most traditional sense, Shaw depicts the bond between her family, her community, and her friends with just as much passion and empathy.
Sometimes, Year of the Spider can feel a bit cluttered. “I Need You Bad,” a song addressing the deep, hidden parts of the self, is a melodramatic ballad that gets in its own way. The thrashing cymbals of “Godstone” nearly wipe out Shaw and Blanchard’s harmonies altogether. But if these are the result of trying new things, then they are minor blips in Shannon and the Clams’ progression. Year of the Spider’s centerpiece is its deceptively chipper title track, which summarizes the traumatic period Shaw experienced prior to writing the album: “I know that change is good/But it hurts, and it is frightful,” she bellows over an instrumental that weaves early R&B with a surf-rock riff. For all the struggle that inspired the record, Shannon and the Clams embrace the change with grace.