Shrimp Boat: Speckly

Jill LaBrack

Way underground legends' first vinyl is finally reissued. Test of time applied with mixed results.

Shrimp Boat


Label: AUM Fidelity
US Release Date: 2005-04-05
UK Release Date: 2005-05-09
Amazon affiliate

Bear with me. Because I didn't really know what I was going to do with this one. Shrimp Boat were one of those bands that the cooler-than-cool people knew about. They transcended the world of Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf, and Heavens to Betsy listeners and fell into the realm of Bands That Are Heard About. Hell, I owned Brian Eno, Big Black, and Smog, but Shrimp Boat scared me (I'm guessing... I'm blaming my subconscious here). Fans of Shrimp Boat belonged to that fascinating group of people who had read Finnegan's Wake before turning 21, were home-schooled and the better for it, or had visited Connecticut to discover the roots of Charles Ives as opposed to Thurston Moore. I instinctively felt I did not belong there, considering myself Smart, But Not That Smart.

Fifteen years later (on my watch -- 1990 was the watershed music year for me -- I discovered the Blake Babies and Pixies and promptly left behind Van Halen and Pat Benatar), and a whole lot of ducats (and time) spent on records, and I felt a little more prepared, and worthy, of listening to Shrimp Boat. I eagerly opened the package and put the CD in immediately, before taking off my coat or feeding the cats. And... nothing. And then nothing again.

I spent the next month (much longer than I should have taken) putting Shrimp Boat's debut, Speckly, into my stereo. In the morning, in the evening. When I was in a good mood and when I wasn't. I played it in the car and on my iPod. Through it all, things were not looking good for Shrimp Boat and myself. I wasn't hating it; it just struck me as a recording that hadn't aged well. I couldn't let it go at that, though. My memory of the band and their fans wasn't matching the sounds coming out of my stereo. So I dug a little further.

As expected all along, I struck gold. It happened over one weekend. It was the Raincoats fault, too. I borrowed a mix from a friend, one that he claimed had changed his life. The Raincoats' "No Side to Fall In" came on and I almost cried. As I sat there all emotional, trying to explain to my girlfriend what was so beautiful about this totally weird, out-of-tune slice of music, I knew it was time for me to listen to Speckly again. This time it stuck.

If you will kindly forgive that self-serving, lengthy introduction, we can get on to the review portion of this review. Shrimp Boat's 1989 debut is an invitation into a twisted world where the small details of life are celebrated as a matter of course. At first, it all sounds smarmy. In fact, I'm sure there will always be times when Speckly sounds like the too-smart lackadaisically using faux-sincerity to be different. "An Orchid is Not a Rose"'s lyrics move from the title statement to "An orchid is not a coal-burning power plant". The music shuffles through -- lightly strummed guitar, oddly blaring horn -- and adds its own level of seriousness. This is entertaining sometimes, and ridiculous at others. But some records are just not meant to be heard all the time, and Speckly falls into that category. When heard at the right moments, it is fun, smart, and intriguing. It can even be considered an exercise in why music should exist in the first place.

There's no denying the reference point of They Might Be Giants in describing the songs. Shrimp Boat, though, sound more amateurish which is actually endearing. There are no clever lectures here. There are just five guys -- Sam Prekop, Ian Schneller, David Kroll, Eric Claridge, Brad Wood -- playing songs that speak of (lyrically and instrumentally) planting seasons, droughts, and their beloved circle dances. It's hill music with horns. It's college rock. It's the opposite of U2. The sound of Shrimp Boat is the musical equivalent of a regional colloquialism: it separates by geography (the lonely whistling sound of Midwest USA) and invites by letting outsiders into that sound. Speckly is a sort of gift. You accept it, put it in a drawer, and when you pull it out, you're always glad you didn't just throw it away.






3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.