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A couple weeks ago, I worked with a friend of mine on a mix tape for my birthday party.  We slipped into total High Fidelity mode, analyzing each selection (Does it flow well enough from the last song?  Will people like it?  Is it rockin’ enough for a party?).  So, in my little world, it’s a pretty big deal that a song by Shellito (whose CD I’d recently received for review) made it onto the mix between The Smiths’ “Ask” and James’ “Laid.”

Ingredients’ opening track, “Orange or Green”, made the cut, with its twinkling guitar, “a-ha-ha-ha” chorus and gentle harmonies.  We wanted something quirky and slower, something that would lull our guests slightly but maintain the party’s momentum, after a crowd favorite and before we hit them with one of our favorite party songs ever.

Shellito (as in lead Mike Shellito, who makes the music along with Jeff Tanner and a slew of guests) create lo-fi acoustic guitar-based rock.  The pair has a knack for making complicated simple songs, and their second offering is a relaxed, Sunday afternoon kind of album.

Though they’re based in Philadelphia, Shellito and Tanner packed up their instruments and took over a cabin in South Carolina, where they wrote the self-produced and -engineered album.  The result is a light-handed twee album that looks back to 60s pop like Simon & Garfunkel as often as it explores more experimental contemporary indie pop like Belle & Sebastian. (On “Smart People” especially, the singer sounds a lot like Stuart Murdoch, and the cascading instrumentals have a B&S quality.)

The lyrics are an opportunity for word-play and smart turns of phrase, rather than coherent narratives.  Take “Virgo Torpedo”’s Gertrude Stein-ish juxtapositions: The bio Ohio / a duo with you know who / a 4.0 espresso / nabisco buono / Shellito.”  The lyrics are especially stellar on the tender and non-cliched love song “Happy,” with its catalogue of sweet and mundane shared activities (kissing in the shower”; “bowling after midnight).

It’s also the sort of music that can fade into the background, an idea played with on the closing track.  (“I don’t care about beautiful music / or writing a song with something to say / nobody listens especially lately / especially me with nothing to say / I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired / and I think you are too.”).  A talking crowd increasingly drowns out and overwhelms the simple song, until the music is completely eclipsed.

If Shellito keeps making albums this clever, maybe we should be listening.

Jennifer Conrad

Track List:

  1. Orange or Green
  2. Smart People
  3. Jim
  4. Lima
  5. Shung
  6. All Right
  7. Human
  8. You Really Really Like Me
  9. Virgo Torpedo
  10. Happy
  11. Norma
  12. Tired

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