Indie-poppers bare their teeth on album three, blending sweetness with menace.
Jude Clarke 2012
Brighton/London five-piece Shrag have always possessed a darker edge than their indiepop/twee label suggested. As the title indicates, third album Canines sees them baring their teeth to produce a set that blends sweetness with something more menacing.
It would be easy to let the sheer joyous racket that the band creates fool you. Shouty sloganeering on Show Us Your Canines, Chasing Consummations and Devastating Bones, and the boy/girl sing-along vocals, create an initial impression of cheerful, lively naivety. Dig a little deeper, though, and a more serious, sometimes troubling, side comes through.
Often carried on a wave of aggression from post-punk guitars or with ominous basslines, there is a focus on the visceral – Devastating Bones’ protagonist posing “on your rib cage”, the prospect of the titular Jane With Dumbbells ripping out her teeth – and the carnal (Show Us Your Canines, Chasing Consummations).
One of this album’s delights lies in the band’s exuberant use of language. Lyrics clearly springing from an enjoyment of, and gift for, words abound, from …Canines’ “I’m enamoured of your feral sighs” to wonderfully economic yet descriptive couplets like “Synergies and simulations / Painted smiles and calculations” (Tears of a Landlord). Elsewhere Jane With Dumbbells offers “toxic mornings and saccharine days”, and Flinching at Forever “clean tired people who drink gin on the train”.
A skewed take on contemporary life in the UK seems to be a loose album theme, with a couple of songs – perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, in this Olympic year – focussing on sport. The bouncy Tendons in the Night is a fascinating take on the sometimes sadistic appeal of sports, training or spectating: “Something blossoms in the soul when the gymnast cries (…) Through that chrysalis and rebirth / We understand our own worth.”
Throw a few more lushly instrumented segments into the basic see-saw-guitars-and-drums formula (the strings of On the Spines of Old Cathedrals, the brass of the closer) and it is clear that, musically, thematically and stylistically, this is a band that subverts expectations. And, in doing so, bring us something altogether more complex and interesting.