If there's such a thing as "classic" indie-rock, Connecticut's Shellye Valauskas Experience is making it. With jangling guitars, hooky melodies and a loose, electric energy, just about every track on the band's new album "History of Panic" sounds like it belongs on a college radio playlist circa 1985. It doesn't hurt that Jon Auer of the Posies and Big Star sings backing vocals on four tunes here, or that drummer Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, XTC, etc.) plays drums on five, but they're basically value-added components on these 10 self-contained little gems that Valauskas and her main collaborator, guitarist and producer Dean Falcone, have crafted.
I don't remember exactly when I first heard her music — opening for Freedy Johnston, maybe, or an installment of the Daffodil Festival in Meriden? — but Valauskas has been a fixture on the New Haven music scene for the better part of two decades. Yet "History of Panic" is just her third release (and the first full-length credited to the band), following "The Stupid Truth" in 2002 and the EP "Box It Up" in 2008. So she records at an unhurried pace. In fact, "History of Panic" was nearly five years in the making, and what Valauskas intended at first to be an EP expanded as she chipped away at it at Q Division in Boston (where her bassist brother, Ed Valauskas of the band the Gravel Pit, works as studio manager) and Firehouse 12 in New Haven.
Her pop instincts are at full mast on opener "Do Over," a bright and punchy song with a sing-along chorus, and on "Over the Top," which features trebly guitar from Falcone and layers of prismatic backing vocals. Album standout "Leftover Mistake" charges ahead on a blustery guitar riff and the hypnotic blend of Valauskas' and Auer's voices, while Valauskas sounds rueful on "Cheap Shot" over serrated guitar riffs. She shows a more subdued side on "Mandocello," singing quietly over glimmers of tremolo guitar. "Options" bobs gently on a low-key riff, and pedal steel guitar gives it just a hint of country that suits Valauskas' clear, tuneful voice as Auer chimes in on backing vocals.
Connecticut indie musicians are sometimes overlooked in favor of more prominent scenes in bigger cities, but the Shellye Valauskas Experience is a shining example of the talent that exists closer to home, and if she takes her time between records, well, they're worth waiting for.