In writing music for This American Life, Shipping News has now been a band for more than ten years. Long-lasting relationships and partnerships always rely on some kind of fragile tension and for the dramatic rock they create, the build-up always comes with a timely release. Though the trials and tribulations they’ve gone through as a band seem to be behind them, One Less Heartless to Fear showcases a band that still seems confused on what their true vision is. Strong and very durable, the somewhat live album is an interesting release, with many free-forming ideas and passing blunders abounding.
Following the illness of guitarist Jason Noble, the band opted to record the album’s entire song list at two separate touring shows. A lot of the applause and inter-spliced commentary is removed to reveal as close to an ‘album feel’ as possible but without too much editing or production, for that matter, there is a distinctive sound to the entire album. By the way “Antebellum” quickly spells in and out with a tenacious pace you’d never notice that it was all being constructed in a live setting. Songs like “(Morays Or) Demon” begin with a few introductory claps and cheers but the guitar’s maniacal melody and the drum’s driving pulse quickly dispel any kind of preconceived notion as to the quality of music on One Less Heartless to Fear. The band’s intensity to rise above remains a strong proponent and throughout the album, they remain in a steady flow of grooving sounds.
The music often falters from moments where the repetition seems to wear thin, like on “75.” Although there is a clear clash of dynamics and force, the bass hangs too close to the same note and in turn, the guitar simply mirrors its stagnant feel. For a band that hasn’t made new music in a while, there is surely going to be some rust and unfortunately, it’s a prevalent theme. While “Axons & Dendrites” chugs against the grain of a solid tone, much of the music’s dubs and overtones are lost in the mired production. And the guitar, relentlessly climbing on the same chord, simply pulls down the energy further; but still, like a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel, Shipping News showcase a time where the recurring theme can take over for fantastic results.
The aforementioned song’s ending delivers a climax that soars to a tremendous getaway and the closure is a quiet one into “Half a House;” where the sounds are opened to reveal a thunderous downpour of torrential walls of guitar reverb. There is a great deal of substantial potential around the entire walls of One Less Heartless to Fear and although it might be a bit harder to find in some areas – more so than others – for any band that’s been out of work for quite some time, this is surely a good starting point.