After just one listen, most people could reel off a list of bands that Shrag like. Their influences are so unashamedly splashed throughout their second album, it’s like a call to action for fellow fans of a certain pocket of post punk and C86.
From the dirty, Gang Of Four-esque bass in opener A Certain Violence to the underlying panic inducing, Riot Grrrlish yelpings that follow later in the song, it’s like they’ve put their record collection in a blender. But that’s no bad thing – there’s a joy to be had dissecting the tracks on Life! Death! Prizes!, and finally remembering who or what each song reminds you of.
They deal two hands; the first being hyper-punk bratpop a la Dananananaykroyd. At its most brazen in second track Stubborn Or Bust and live favourite Ghosts Before Breakfast, the latter especially delves into the sugar-coated synth/guitar duels of ’90s bubblegum punks Bis and early Riot Grrrl torch bearers Heavens To Betsy.
Their last single, Tights In August just about slips into this hand too – it’s a tad calmer but the cute as pie sentiment is ever present. A stroppy, heavily accented love song with boy/girl vocals, it focuses on the big stuff: “Your love is like your August tights, it looks so bright but it’s impractical tonight.”
But don’t be put off by the silliness. Underneath the hammering keys and glass shattering shrieks is a gorgeously grainy, spiky record that feels DIY enough to be endearing, without impacting on the sound quality, and some of the instrumentation is genuinely fascinating. A lesson in less is more, the balance between showy musicianship and basic, up front three-chords-and-a-drumkit is spot on.
However their second hand shows the band possibly don’t feel the same way, as they veer towards a more sensible, grown up, polished sound. Tracks like current single Rabbit Kids and The Habit Creep are more produced, and the latter even brings out a pretentious side almost unimaginable from the band who wrote Ghosts Before Breakfast. The sing-along slow rap features the unforgivable line: “Actress, cars, contraceptive, thighs, bird, man, break and semaphore eyes, and you’re singing these hymns with upmost piety, bestowing your gifts on the pawn inside of you.” Likewise, Their Stats features the strange slowed down rap they seem so fond of but inspires a collective look of confusion at their live shows.
An exception to the rule is When We Go Courting. An end of the night, melodic warmer that will nestle itself away in your head for days, it’s more sophisticated, but still feels natural.
Shrag’s self titled debut album, released last year, was a collection of the five seven inch singles they’d released since their inception three years earlier, so in real terms this is their first proper album, and it marks quite a progression. There’s a darker edge, and whether fans like it or not, a desire to experiment and move past the plastic indie-pop they were becoming known for. By switching off their B52s, Tallulah Gosh and Monochrome Set records they’re carving a sound of their very own, but they’re not quite there yet.