Record Review - 2 February 05 2003

In an effort to explore songwriting unfettered, RMSN (Royal Majesty's Shipping News, Shipping News for short) released three EPs of separately conceived songs — one "solo" per bandmate per EP, in handmade packaging limited to 1,000 copies apiece. Three-Four collects and re-sequences those out-of-print EPs, as well as three additional tracks, one from each songwriter.

Shipping News follows — and fills in — the line separating post-rock and math rock. As such, serrated riffs and shoegazer washes sit side-by-side on Three-Four. Sample-heavy songs mired in oppressive and impressive molasses-thick drones ("Paper Lanterns," "We Start to Drift") lumber and hypnotically pulse with the implosive dread of the finest Massive Attack. "Haunted on Foot" and "Haymaker" betray Shipping News' June of 44/Rodan roots — all jagged agitation, thrown-open riffs, throttled repetitions and harmonics chiming like bells from bows in a morose pea-soup-thick miasma.

But the thing is, with angularities, turning four corners of a square is still like going in circles. Shipping News' songs are often fraught with tension, but rarely offer release. Similarly, while the album's three new songs strain at their bounds, they never rend their tethers. Guitarist Jeff Mueller's songs remain the most reined-in, folkish and delicately strummed. Drummer Kyle Crabtree's work continues to be saw-toothed and complexly pointillist/counter-pointillist. And bassist Jason Noble's submerged melodies are still tide-like, cyclic and rinsed in oscillation. While Three-Four fails to rework its material into a full-band context (as was once hinted), the 14 songs still rank as some of Shipping News' finest.

RMSN plays the Earl Sat., Feb. 8.??