When Shrag played at the Scala as part of Fortuna Pop!’s 15th anniversary celebrations back in November 2011, it was easy to forget that they weren’t already a part of the label’s close knit family comprising some of the UK’s best indiepop bands.
Since they formed eight years ago, Shrag have felt like the band Fortuna POP! was missing, and certainly they’re regarded alongside the label’s most popular signings – the likes of Allo Darlin’, Evans The Death, The Wave Pictures and The Crystal Stilts. That night they paid tribute to Fortuna POP! and confirmed that this, their third album, was to be released by them. So they’ve finally hooked up; a band and label that have always felt made for each other… and they’re living happily ever after because Canines is the best thing that Shrag have made.
And they’ve made lots of things; as well as their two previous LPs, there have been dozens of EPs and 7 inches – they’ve been the epitome of the DIY band, sticking to indie labels and doing things their own way, which is why Canines might surprise some people.
With the band’s advancing years, they’re creeping towards a darker, more reflective sound. That’s not say the snotty, shouted boy/girl vocals have been ditched – far from it – but they’re enveloped in new, more considered sounds. An extreme example of this is Jane With Dumbbells, which sees singer Helen King dishing up her soul to an unusually downbeat, thrashing track, which culminates in luscious strings. Similarly, Flinching Forever showcases a new, maudlin side to Shrag which, while still chorus-heavy, is at odds with everything they’ve released to date.
In other places, the changes are less noticeable; the initial ingredients are all in the pot, but they’ve let the DIY sound slip, letting producer Andy Miller, whose alumni include Mogwai and Scout Niblett, polish up their fuzzy post-punk guitars and crunching bass lines, so for the first time in their career, Shrag sound produced. From the fizzing, head-bobbing intro to the album’s opener Tears Of A Landlord, which recalls The B52s, and their mission statement Show Us Your Canines, which is easily the meatiest thing they’ve done, with cut-aways that wrap King’s brattish chants in barbed wire, to album highlight Tendons In The Night, which owes much to The Fall – they actually sound more vicious and energised than the scratchy DIY band who’ve skulked in their peers’ shadows.
But behind the more discerning sound, there’s still a silly, punk band desperate to get out – and sometimes it does. Show Us Your Canines and live favourite Devastating Bones, with its lusty retort “I think you might need those knees for kneeling” could have been plucked from their second album Life! Death! Prizes!, and show off what a well-rounded repertoire Canines has given them.
If Shrag’s new alliance with Fortuna POP! is the secret ingredient to Canines then there’s a lot to be said for holding out for the right one to come along, because this is the record Shrag have been threatening to make for nearly a decade.