, July 20th, 2012 09:38
Do you remember the episode of Friends where Rachel makes a trifle? Alas, the adorable scatter-brain that she is, she gets her recipe muddled up with Shepherds Pie and ends up putting a layer of beef mince between the custard and the jelly, obviously this makes no sense - (if it’s beef then surely it’s a Cottage Pie?) but for the audience at home it works. Rachel from Friends didn’t produce the new Shrag album, Mogwai producer Andy Miller did, but there’s been a similar result; for under the soda-pop-indie, the pastel(s) shades and the sliced bananas there’s something unexpectedly meaty going on, and unlike poor Rachel’s kitchen flop, this is one beefed-up pudding that’s going to work for pretty much everyone.
You see, Shrag have come on a bit. They’ve always been a little bit brilliant, from their fantastically scrappy debut and it’s more filled-out follow up, 2010’s Life! Death! Prizes! but it’s always been in a “oh-my-(Talulah)-gosh aren’t they adorable” way, a 21st century Bis by way of Los Campesinos! and Sleater Kinney, forever shackled to the international tweecore underground. Well not anymore.
What hits you first is how BIG everything sounds. Bob Brown’s guitars jangle and crunch on opener ‘Tears of a Landlord’ while ‘Devastating Bones’ is built on a thunderous Glitter Band stomp from drummer Andy Pyne; everything towers and shines where sonically previous records have fallen slightly short. Miller has done a sterling job in the production seat, but this isn’t all about him. Canines is the sound of a band assured in their abilities. Shrag know this is a gem, and that confidence radiates throughout. The reverby echoes of C86/Postcard are still here, particularly in Helen King’s nifty turn of phrase, but words like “twee” and “lo-fi” are being pushed forcefully out the door, replaced with the pop sheen of pre-Britpop Pulp, or Lush once they dropped the shoegaze and learned to write singles. These are songs built to last. The triple punch of ‘...Landlord’, indie-floor-filler-in-waiting ‘Show Us Your Canines’ and the gorgeous and hypnotic ‘Chasing Consummations’ are enough to make, say, Tribes pack up the hair gel and finish their A-levels.
It’s not all gold, ‘Tendons In The Night’ is likeable enough but King's excellent words (“something blossoms in the soul when a gymnast cries”) aren’t done justice by a tune that’s a wee bit ordinary and ‘No More Memories is a paint-by-numbers Pavement song. These are shallow dips though. ‘You’re The Shout!’ kicks off with a fuzzy Wipers riff, bursts into into a gorgeous jangle-pop chorus, then hits you with a better one. It’s jaw-droppingly good. The album closes on the beautiful ‘Jane WIth Dumbbells’, nodding strongly to the Morrissey/Marr ballard book as it builds from a fragile guitar figure with King in fine voice, points itself at the stars and takes a running jump, swelling and ballooning and rising until it very nearly reaches them.
Indie bands (and none are more indie) are supposed to crystallize on their third album, and that’s exactly what Shrag have done. They’ve stuck their head over the indie-parapet with a record that is both confident and accomplished, and that, dear reader, is no mere trifle. Heartily recommended.