Shiner's The Egg is the sound of a band stretching itself between the opposite poles of melody and complexity, accessibility and nebulousness, and coming up with something entirely original and unheard of in the process. It's a concept album in the best sense of the word: It doesn't have a cheesy central theme per se, like disillusioned robots or mythical dragons, but it feels as if every song fits into one expansive puzzle, like the album already existed, just waiting for its creators to capture it on tape. Kansas City, MO's Shiner has long been at work in the underground rock trenches spreading the word of its angular, math-y post-rock. Since 1993, the band toured the nation tirelessly and put out three acclaimed full-lengths on independent labels, not to mention enduring several lineup changes. The Egg, however, feels like the album they have been waiting to make. For its fourth release, the group has finally solidified to include Allen Epley (vocals, guitar), Paul Malinowski (bass, backing vocals), Jason Gerken (drums), and Josh Newton (guitars, keyboards, noises). The members' talents mesh together so well, it seems impossible that this is their first complete album together. It doesn't hurt that indie super-producer J. Robbins climbed aboard either; his crisp, lucid sound creates a tug of war with Shiner's natural tendencies to go dark and murky. The constant ebb and flow between sonic radiance and shadow permeate the entire disc. The songs themselves bask in an epic splendor, replete with the kind of arrangements that reward repeat listenings. "The Truth About Cows" melds big rock verses with a minor chorus and Gerken's machine gun drumming, while "Surgery" juxtaposes Malinowski's trudging bass thump with swinging guitars and "bop-bop" backing vocals. "Play Dead" is a bouncing pop gem dressed in angular, distorted guitars and inventive, stop-start arrangements. After these three straight-ahead rockers, Shiner jumps off into the deep end with "The Top of the World," one-upping Radiohead in the process. This track serves as a total departure for the band, what with its Björk-esque lullaby chimes, subtle electronic beat, and quivering lead notes that dare the listener to guess whether the sound is a keyboard or a guitar effect. Part of the genius of this record lies in that trick: Often, the guitars and keyboard sounds are indistinguishable, but they always remain in service of the song, so the listener doesn't care. Shiner takes a page from Radiohead with the sonic experimentation on The Egg, but the band members surpass them in that they can bend those experiments into actual songs as opposed to toying with them until they lie limp and formless, à la Amnesiac or Kid A. Tracks like "The Egg" and "Bells and Whistles" build on this concept, combining inventive effects and atmospherics with songs that actually rock. Throughout, Epley's voice assumes a multitude of guises, from bruised and raspy croon to an ascending, downright pretty falsetto. Newest member Newton has proved himself indispensible; his inimitable guitar squawks and blips spice up songs like the discordant "Pills" and the apocalyptic "Spook the Herd." Everything comes together on the album's eight-minute magnum opus, "The Simple Truth." The song begins with a melancholy, downbeat air, punctuated by tightly syncopated, polyrhythmic drums and a lilting bassline but, midway through, it all melts away into an ethereal dreamscape. Epley continues to strum gently while ambient guitar and keyboard noises fade in and out like seagull cries lost in the wind. Malinowski gently nudges the rhythm forward, and finally Gerken breaks out into a skittering drum pattern, pushing the song to a crescendo, until it melts away, back into silence. The Egg may never receive widespread popularity or acclaim the way a Radiohead album might, but it stands as a testament to the limitless possibilities within the seemingly "tired" genre of good ol' rock & roll. This is the type of album you want to keep to yourself but share with everyone you know. As long as bands like Shiner continue to test the limits of themselves and their listeners on albums like The Egg, the people will keep coming.
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AllMusic Review by Ted Alvarez