by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
Nostalgia is rampant. It doesn’t take much of a deep dive to see that the past saturates the present. Movies and music are rife with filmmakers and musicians who wear their influences out in the open. Fans sport shirts and toys from their childhood. Their previous years mined for artifacts that can transport them back to times they look back on with affection, a time they wish was still around. This has led to a larger discussion on if all this “retromania” is a good thing or the result of a group of people who refuse to grow up, to move on.
East London trio Shopping are a band that clearly love the post-punk of the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, rather than simply repackaging the past, their second album Why Choose makes the case that there is still plenty of fresh ideas left in that sound and that maybe it’s a genre just as relevant and needed today.
The album wastes no time in stating its objective to get you moving. Picking up where their first album Consumer Complaints left off, the first three tracks continue the Gang of Four vibe and move with a quick, steady, head nodding pace. Andrew Milk’s pounding toms and muted, flattened out snare almost makes the drums sound electronic. Billy Easter’s bass drives the tracks and provides the melody. Rachel Aggs’ bright, jagged guitar riffs spike the songs with accented surgical precision. Everyone sounds like they’re acting independently and that at any moment the songs are going to lurch out of the defined space and fall into chaos, but it all works together to make it impossible not to find yourself tapping along, if not full out dancing. The lyrics are shouted out, each phrase with the potential to become a fan favorite sing-along chant.
Where the album starts to come into its own is with track 4 “Time Wasted,” which funny enough is the second longest song on the album. Things slow down and get a touch moodier. For a band that tends to be pigeonholed as a political band, much of Why Choose feels personal. The lyrics turn inward. “I’m left with nothing but the time that Im wasting. They’re trying to take it away.” Aggs sings. The struggle of enjoying the freedom doing nothing provides while also feeling like life is passing you by. “No Show” deals with a one-sided relationship. Lead single “Straight Lines” is a companion piece to the song “For Your Money” from their first album. While that song dealt with someone in a relationship with a sugar daddy, “Straight Lines” is the sugar daddy’s side of the story. Once again, Milk takes over the vocal duties and asks us to ponder who is really using who in that kind of agreement or is it mutually beneficial? While the band might get more personal on Why Choose, the album never goes into a confessional mode. Shopping provides the thoughts in outline but the listener has to do the heavy lifting. The lyrics are their own instrument and the way they’re sung sometimes feels more important than what is sung.
If the sound of feelings makes any wary, rest assured there are political themes such as “Why Wait” with its shout along ending of “Why pay for what you never really wanted? Why pay for something they’re giving away? Why pay for what you never even needed?” but it’s the personal politics that shine on the album.” In every way, Why Choose is a step up from its predecessor. While it may be a moodier affair than their first album, it’s still an energetic one that will keep you wanting to move, dance, and pump your first along. It never dawdles or loses its way in what it wants to accomplish.
Post-punk was a reaction to punk still being rooted in the rock of the past. The bands of the time were interested in the deconstruction of music. They tended to strip away, to “rip it up and start again.” As a result, some may wonder about the current crop of bands going back to the sound of the past. The music still sounds as fresh as it did back then and Why Choose effectively makes the case that there is still plenty of life left in post-punk and that it’s a genre that was ahead of its time and the present has finally caught up.