Shrag – Life! Death! Prizes! (Where It’s At Is Where You Are, 2010)

Shrag‘s first album, out a couple of years ago, was nicely summed up by one of its more throwaway songs, ‘Mark E. Smith’. Aside from the title, which gave a pretty brazen nod to their post-punk heritage, its trebly guitars and aggressive delivery provided a template for the rest of the record. It was good, yeah, but pretty unvaried. In that sense this new one (N.B. terrible album name) is a huge improvement on the first. The tempos are down, and the calmer songs are mostly the best: ‘Their Stats’, which for Shrag is almost a ballad, is lovely, finding the perfect balance between melody and emphatic delivery on the chorus. That’s not to say they’ve entirely mellowed, though: Helen still shrieks like a banshee on opener ‘A Certain Violence’, and the fuller instrumental sections have a more satisfying weight to them than they used to. The band’s new-found maturity gives them more interesting and clever subject matter for their songs, too: ‘Tights in August’ is a nice duet showing two sides of a relationship with some clever lines. ‘Furnishings’ is the highlight, building from melancholy guitar chords to a chorus with some of the best vocal delivery on the album and lyrics which remind me of the Coppola film “The Conversation” (probably not entirely what they had in mind when they wrote it, but oh well). It’s still not a perfect record: the yelps are still a bit grating and sometimes overused, and the lyrics are occasionally overdone (as on ‘The Habit Creep’, an interesting idea for a semi-spoken word piece which unfortunately fails to really click). But overall this is a real improvement, and points towards better things to come: hopefully by the next one they’ll have ditched the less effective of their riot grrrl pretensions in favour of more of the introspective stuff on here. 

Edwin Shaw

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