By Nathan Pavolko
From its earliest DIY bands such as Black Flag - pushing well beyond the social boundaries of their time - to the rise of commercial pop punk, punk has changed plenty over the past forty years. Many of the sounds and styles have drastically adapted to the current times; yet punk, to me, has always been more than a genre of music or style of clothing. At the core, it’s an ideology, a way of life that’s full of self-expression, individualism and acceptance. Now, with Indie and Electronic music at the forefront, punk is left in an awkward position, forcing itself back to the comfortable home of the underground.
In doing so, I think punk is in a period of reflection. Taking a look back at what made the music so unique yet attempting to combine a modern originality to its voice; Shopping is one band that can attest to my theory. Formed in East London in 2012 by guitarist Rachel Aggs, bassist Billy Easter, and drummer Andrew Milk, the trio channels the sounds of early post-punk with a bright concise view of a technology centric today. Packing an explosive dose of razor sharp guitar lines, precise biting bass lines, and energetic disco-dance beat style drums, the band released their debut LP Consumer Complaints in 2013 on their own label MiLK Records, and got a U.S release last spring with the help of FatCat Records.
Releasing their sophomore LP Why Choose also on FatCat, the trio explores their craft in an impressionistic way. The album cover has a dated look to it, reminiscent of an old SST record, with crooked frames of different hand gestures and a simple backdrop. The high energy of the song “Wind Up” kick things off with a pounding break beat and a Dick Dale surfer rock guitar. Why Choose is surprisingly clean throughout with no distortion or fuzz pedals here, which is a brave thing for a punk record. Being stripped of the walls of distortion or fuzz leaves some bands vulnerable. This can expose weaknesses in songwriting as well as any mistakes a player has made. Yet, Shopping proves to us that distortion is a luxury.
The band shows us that, not only are they great players, but prolific writers as well, while singing of frustration, fighting, rejection, loss of money, relationships, and humanity. They have catchy rhythmic hooks with wonderfully thought provoking lyrics. Often trading vocal melodies between Aggs and Easter to give a great balance of male and female vocals, they occasionally blur the lines of whose playing what role. Like in the song “Straight Lines”, a swirl of confusion filled with lust, passion, and loss.
With fairly short tracks, Shopping delivers kernels of intellect with a huge sense of fun, like a minimalistic Devo with an itching urgency and subtle dark undertones. The bands single “Why Wait” races forward in a similar fashion, asking us “Why wait // When it’s all on my doorstep // Why Wait // When it’s in the palm of my hand // Why Wait // When it’s all at my fingertips”? An increasingly prevalent theme in today’s culture with technology being so readily available, things are all too convenient.
Why Choose is a brilliant record in a crucial moment for current punk music. Harkening back to bands such as Gang of Four and The Clean yet completely their own, the band plays with a raw and driven spirit that’s hard to come by these days. Their intricate guitar and bass lines over a not-quite-disco drum beat creates an intoxicating energy. This album can easily have you dancing, rocking, or intensely listening to many of its tracks. Relentlessly pushing through at a short but satisfying 33 minutes, this album enlightens as well as entertains. Pick up Why Choose at any of their shows touring the US this month or go to iTunes for a download.