The Glands


"I was sitting at the bar last night," confessed Athens, Ga. scribe John Britt, "and I just couldn't keep my mind focused on the conversation I was having. Not because of the drinks, but because the bartender was playing the Glands' Double Thriller CD yet again...I was in such awe over the quality of the songwriting -- instrumental Brit-pop meets faux-soul meets Stonesy swagger all rolled up like a Guided By Voices that give a shit -- I had to tell somebody how great it was."

If there's a dark heart to Athens, Georgia, then the Glands, with their sly, mysterious and sardonic tunes, have found it. Athens has long been known as a disproportionately hip college town and its signature sounds have been obliquely jangly (as in REM) or radiantly goofy (as in the B-52s). The Glands are a late-night alternative to all that. Put together by guitarist/singer/songwriter Ross Shapiro and drummer Joe Rowe, the results are beyond geography, really. Shapiro and Rowe have been a part of the Athens scene from Pylon's eighties bounce to Olivia Tremor Control's nineties lo-fi, but the pair and their loose collective of musical friends could have been toiling in London or on the Lower East Side. The Glands' influences may be many and wide-ranging, but they will cop to only one: Michael Jackson. For it was Jackson himself, they say, who used the same mixing console for his "Thriller" that the Glands employed for their pointedly named debut, Double Thriller. How the board got to Athens remains unexplained.

Shapiro likens Double Thriller to a photo album of a particular place and time. The place was, for the most part, a new studio across from the legendary 40 Watt Club. The time was often the wee small hours before dawn, when itinerant musicians straggling from the 40 Watt might be looking for somewhere else to go. Out of a makeshift collaboration among friends with unusually wired body clocks came songs crafted in the studio, then a live band that began to play around Athens; the live combo now includes Craig McQuiston on bass, Frank McDonald on guitar, and Doug Stanley on keyboards and lap steel. Finally, a homegrown disc made it official. Shapiro and Rowe initially released Double Thriller on their own; after the Bar None fellas heard it, the Glands resequenced the album and created new cover art for its national release.

Like individual snapshots, each tune on Double Thriller has a palpable personality and a distinct mood. Taken together, they may form a complete picture of life chez Glands; approached one by one, the sounds can be dizzyingly diverse. As yet another Athens writer, Dave Basham, put it: "...the high points are astrally good. From the deep baritone come-on of 'Pretty Merrina' (think the Thin White Duke with pelotas) to the Pixies-like scrawl of 'Welcome To New Jersey' and the rant/rave of 'Free Jane,' the boys can cook. And 'Two Dollar Wine' is pure velvet heaven, with Shapiro and Rowe 'getting on the groove' in a super-sound-of-the-seventies bump and grind."

While college kids slept and the bars were shuttered, Shapiro and Rowe drew in ideas and influences like a radio receiver picking up distant stations during the quiet middle of the night. Call it the sound of being sleepless in Athens.

Press Quotes

Like floating underwater, with the sounds of the pool party floating in from the surface. Despite the plural noun name and the composited thrift store cover, the Glands transcend their average look to form some brilliant experimental pop, filled with moody chords and cleverly arranged songs. “Pretty Merrina” is slow and drawling, and though the chorus seems trite at first (with its sotto voce “ah, yeah”), after the first listen it’s the only appropriate flourish to this gorgeous ballad. “Call Me Doctor” is a short acoustic number featuring a fairly straightforward steelstring guitar background and an odd lyrical message that competes with the friendly melody for attention. The disc is bookended by “Two Dollar Wind” and “Two Dollar Reprise,” a song that blends wavering guitar with a loping bass line and a melancholy chorus of voices, perfect for soaking in a hot tub with the lights off. And with that return to water, we conclude this review.
— Kurt Channing, INK, Winter 1998
The Glands are huge. Or will be soon. Don’t bother buying this album, as one of your friends will undoubtedly be tuning you onto them shortly. Largely the product of one Ross Shapiro from Athens, Georgia, Double Thriller (reference to M. Jackson) reeks of marijuana. The guy looks like one super record fan boy in the booklet, and the picture I get is genius in slow-stoned motion. This record is for you, Chong-man: sharp, coherent loser lyrics delivered tunefully over a smothered slop of indie-rock lo-fi dub and served up on cheap guitars. He hits all your favorite references: Robyn Hitchcock, Brian Wilson, Robert Wyatt, Guided by Voices; it’s as good as white music gets. Everything is mid tempo; Ross has been working on this for 20 years, and will speed up for no one. Every micro-generation demands one overweight middle-aged manchild spokesperson (Frank Black, Bob Mould, Buster Bloodvessel, Mama Cass, etc.) and now we have ours: Ross (the Boss?) Shapiro!
— Bob Gaulke, The Rocket, Winter 1998
Word has it that this Athens outfit used the same mixing console Michael Jackson employed to make Thriller, but who cares if the story’s true? In a just world, these 15 tracks would have more commercial cachet than the Moonwalk. This is one of those discs that comes out of nowhere, grabs you where you live, and makes you wonder where this band have been hiding their stash all these years. You can play spot-that-influence - I hear Sparklehorse and Guided by Voices, as well as elements of ‘66 Beatles (melody) and ‘ ‘66 Stones (attitude) - or you can just sit back and soak in the narcotic haze of “Pretty Merrina,” the splintery sneer of “No. Zero,” and nod your head because it all feels so right. Just about everything here - from the reverbed vocal on “Skin” (“You’re always talkin’ ‘bout your skin/Somebody should tell you it’s thinner than you’re thinking”) to the sticky tar-and-turnpike mood piece “Welcome to New Jersey” - makes for immediately gratifying pop.
— Jonathan Perry, The Boston Phoenix, January 1999
As the chorus hits on “Pretty Merrina,” the fourth track off Double Thriller, head Gland Ross Shapiro whispers with awe and pleasure, “Oh..Yeah.” It’s the perfect sentiment for their beautifully fuzzy collection of garbled rock that hits like a post-bender 5 A. M. caffeine infusion. The mumbled daze of “Pretty Merrina,” though, is just one of The Gland’s sticky fingers. Double Thriller opens with the sleazy porn grind of “Two Dollar Wind” (presumably it’s Shapiro in the background laconically drawling, “papa don’t take no Greenland, mmm hmm”), then chunk-a-thunks along with the Pixies-ish “Welcome to New Jersey” and later saunters around the bar on the creepy-Stonesy “Son of Mine.” Shapiro and drummer Joe Rowe have turned quite a trick in keeping all of their stylistic nods from seeming forced or awkward, everything is blurred together perfectly in short bursts of airy, ambiguous vocals and Flaming Lips-esque psychedelic trills. When the duo wallows in this lazy pop (“This is the Coat,” “Sunshine Happiness,” and the stripped-down acoustic of “Call Me Doctor”) the only thing to do is close your eyes and bask in their glazed glory.
— Travis Nichols, Flagpole, November 1998