When Athens, Georgia singer-guitarist Ross Shapiro passed away in 2016 at 53, indie-rock fans and peers mourned a uniquely talented artist who didn’t record much but really made it count when his did. As frontman for the Glands, Shapiro helmed two LPs, 1997’s promising Double Thriller and its fantastic 2000 follow-up The Glands – albums that kept coming at you with ebullient hooks, hot, hazy guitars and diagonal epiphanies like “I wanna live but not be found,” which Shapiro managed to render as if that line would have made perfect sense bouncing out of your car radio in 1978 between “Miss You” and “Just What I Needed.”
Now, those two albums, plus a collection of unreleased songs, have been reissued as a beautiful vinyl set called I Can See My House From Here. The accompanying book of liner notes and photos has tributes from the likes of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, comedian David Cross and Drive-By-Truckers’ Patterson Hood, who recalls walking down an Athens street shortly after The Glands was released and hearing its bang-up opening track “Livin’ Was Easy” playing from the windows of multiple houses, Sgt. Peppers-style.
Shapiro didn’t start making records until he was in his 30s, and you could hear his long musical memory and erudition poking through the guitar swirls of songs like Double Thriller‘s “Grey Hat,” where he sounded like as cross between ira Kaplan and Tom Petty, or “This Is the Coat” a dB’s-like slice of Southern power pop that referenced Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” With 2000’s nineteen-song The Glands he really upped his game – from ambivalent anthems like “Livin’ Was Easy,” “When I Laugh” and “Straight Down,” to the bouncy Sixties piano-pop of “Swim,” to languid, hummable guitar pastorals like “Fortress” and “Soul Inspiration.” There was something sweet about the way Shapiro’s love of natural pop pleasure cut against the grain of the late-Nineties’ fetish for exotic obscurity; at a time when Athens’ trendy Elephant 6 scene was producing bands that filled their LPs with inspiration from the Incredible String Band and Os Mutantes, The Glands had a song like “I Can See My House From Here,” bright and beat-happy, bringing to mind the Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” and Brand Nubian’s “Drop the Bomb.” The warmth and immediacy of the music helped give lyrics that offered Shapiro’s own colorfully opaque spin on the classic slacker-genius theme of ‘to try or not try’ a mythic gravitas. You wanted to pull for him, even if you weren’t sure where he was pulling you.
Shapiro seemed like a guy on a roll at the time but he never released anything else after The Glands, despite continuing to record. I Can See My House From Here comes with Double Coda, a 2-LP treasure trove of orphaned songs that’s also available as a stand-alone release. Shapiro sings about things he gets (“So High”) and things likes (“Feelies”). “Pleaser” is a high-power plea for emotional rescue; “Atmosphere” is a “Swim”-like jaunt with totally-Nineties turntable scratching thrown in for no apparent reason other than the fact that it kinda works; “Pie” is a funny parody of post-Nirvana alt-rock bellyaching; “Piano Jazz” is not-bad piano jazz. The man did not want for pretty good ideas.
The highlight might be “Possibilities,” a soft, aching love song that nails our eternal fumbling struggle to find the right words for our weird feelings. It’s perfect Shapiro, rendering a classic rock and roll feeling in his own gauzily gorgeous idiom. Like the rest of this wonderful release, having it in our world is a real gift.