Last year’s debut album from Brighton band SHRAG was one of my favourite releases of the year, and still remains one of the most frequently played on my I-Pod. But for any band, so we’re told, their follow-up album is the most difficult to make – and especially so when their first was so strong and well received. So how would SHRAG shape up with ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’?
Pretty darned well, I’m happy to say!
Initial thoughts were that the five-piece (two girls, three lads) had ‘grown up’ in a sense. The songs show a greater sense of maturity and depth. There also seems to be more of a darker edge to several of the tracks, and less of the almost flippant but cleverly funny lyrics of the debut.
And indeed that may well be the case, but it should be borne in mind that the earlier album was ostensibly built around a collection of the band’s five earlier singles – and that actually fifty percent of ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ was already written.
(So ‘bang’ goes that little theory, then!)
Opening track ‘A Certain Violence’ exhibits that slightly manic, darker side. The guitars are flat out from start to finish, while the deep bass line and combination of girl / boy vocals with a frantic shouted female line laying over the top of it all evoke memories of The B52s. ‘Stubborn Or Bust’ also heavily relies on a prominent bass-line to drive the song along, but as with the vast majority of their songs it is the dual vocal combination of Helen King and Stephanie Goodman that steal the show.
As if to illustrate this, ‘Their Stats’ slows the pace and leaves more room for the vocals that are always sung in the band’s local dialect – glottal stops and all. ‘Tights In August’ has a bit more of a Sixties feel to it throughout the verses, although when the contrasting, deep male vocals enter it sort of morphs into a bit more of an Eighties electro sound.
The next three tracks are arguably the strongest of the twelve. ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast,’ is pretty fast and furious, with girly shout-back vocals heavy on the chorus. ‘The Habit Creep’ is probably my favourite. Slow and moody, it leans on the slightly eerie and creepy side. The spoken female vocals over the top of the dark bass line erupt in a bit of a fury at the point of the chorus. (But it still sounds kinda cute!) ‘Rabbit Kids’ (video below) reverts back to the bouncy and chirpy type of song that was more prominent on the earlier album. There is a sort of child-like innocence about the vocal delivery (as with several other songs on the album) and this is what now really defines the sound of SHRAG.
‘Faux-Coda’ has an Eighties electro feel (I think it’s the change to one of the lads taking on lead vocal that makes it thus.) ‘When We Go Courting’ is a zippy little guitar / synth based number with a hooky chorus and danceable beats before ‘Furnishings’ slows things down considerably. If there is ever a point at a SHRAG gig where the crowd hold up cigarette lighters / backlit mobile phones (perish the thought!) then this is it. The song sort of rises and falls in beautifully undulating waves of anthemic verse. The bass-line in ‘More Than Mornings’ is fast and furious… kind of like some of The Fall’s work, before final track (and the longest on the album) ‘Coda’ closes out with girl / boy vocal combinations, breaking down into a, well …. coda, I guess, that incorporates a prolonged piece by a string section. It’s a grand (as in ‘big’) finish, but a little surprising, given what’s gone before.
I know the band love experimenting with new songs and methods, so maybe it’s the realisation of the need to expand their sound that led to ‘Coda.’ Maybe we can expect a gradual / subtle change in direction on album number three? Good on them, I say!
Would it be fair to compare ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ with their debut album? Probably not, since there is a good deal of difference in the song types. But for what it’s worth, although it perhaps lacks some of the urgency and (obviously) ‘surprise’ factor, I think this one stands up to their first… and you know how much I loved that one.
(Released through Where It’s At Is Where You Are on 4th October 2010)
(8.5 / 10)