I'm half-inclined to start with an apology. In my review of Theme From Kindness, Shield Your Eyes' mostly impressive previous album, I made a point of comparing them to the likes of Big Black, Shellac, and Q and Not U; it seemed to me that they were consciously taking their cue from a particular strain of abrasive, physical underground rock music. In a recent interview, the British group's guitarist/vocalist Stef Ketteringham sounded pretty miffed about such comparisons. 'I don't like how Shellac and the Jesus Lizard sound', he told Artrocker; 'I don't like the drum sound on albums recorded by Steve Albini...I would hope when Volume 4 comes out it will be described in some way as a progressive blues rock album'. The press release, meanwhile, goes out of its way to disassociate them from American noise rock, aligning them instead with various seventies power trios. So that's that, then.
Only that isn't quite that, because plenty of things about Volume 4, the group's new record, do still recall precisely the set of bands that they want to distance themselves from. There's the vocals, a series of strangled yelps which (on most of the tracks, at least) sound part Tim Kinsella, part David Yow, and no parts blues rock. There's the lo-fidelity production, which by making the whole caboodle sound like it was recorded in the leaky basement of a disused industrial factory accidentally apes Albini's production style. And then there's Ketteringham's own guitar sound: his instrument squeals and wheels its way through many of the tracks as he wrings harsh but interesting and unconventional sounds from it. You know, like Big Black did.
At the same time, there is a marked blues rock influence here, most notably on the closing track, 'Schutze Deine Augen', which rollicks along pleasantly (not a word I'd previously have associated with the group) with a Mississippi strut. Throughout, there are fewer of the frantic, compulsive rhythmic shifts which characterised their previous record; melodies are given a little more space to develop into, and occasionally the songs slip into shambling grooves which distantly recall the Groundhogs. The band seem to be relaxing slightly, and the subdued, shuffling 'Crowd' is almost tender.
Another excellent Shield Your Eyes album, then, albeit another one which (however unintentionally) brings to my mind underground noise rock as often as it does blues and prog. It's a step forward for the group, an ambitious and interesting record which doesn't, I think we can all agree, sound much like any other music being made in the UK right now.