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Shake Chain
Snake Chain Jon Buckland , November 14th, 2022 09:49

London quartet throw a series of musical curveballs

In this access-all era of music and the near-constant reinforcing of the status quo into quite narrow parameters, it’s not always possible to stumble upon something that catches you off guard. Hearing something that dares to do things a little differently can be jarring or unsettling. But it’s those outsider peripheries where the more interesting boundary-pushing acts are likely to be found. And it’s precisely where Shake Chain hang out.

Casually dipping into the mischievously titled Snake Chain might, initially, feel as if it’s hardly reinventing the wheel. The Fall-leaning post-punk stylings are perfectly perfunctory with a laudable energy and enough ideas to keep over-eager fingertips from tapping onward. The album opens with distorted recordings of a violent tumult involving Eastenders’ beloved Stacey and Bradley. Pensive percussion scuttles around the soap dramatics whilst a Slint-esque guitar goes wandering amidst low bass vibrato. It’s either one of the most harrowing 4 mins of prime time TV or it’s been cobbled together from various events. Evidently I don’t know my ‘Enders lore well enough to tell it apart.

When Kate Mahony’s vocals butt in during second track ‘RU’, however, things slide sideways. The most accurate description of her voice that I can muster is if you imagine Diamanda Galás repeatedly performing the “I want out” line from Fugazi’s ‘Full Disclosure’ intro in an array of increasingly shrill vocal styles. Her falsetto drawl is a slurring wrecking ball careening from syllable to vowel to ponderous whispers and banshee shrieks, continuing a lineage that cuts from The Slits, through Bikini Kill, into Sleater Kinney. It’s a welcome antidote to the male-centric lad vox of most other post-punk acts.

Lyrically she’s a shiner too. Whether asking important existential questions such as “Do we build memory or does memory build you?” and “Is there a mouth in the middle of the desert?” or getting political, with tongue-in-cheek lines like “The Best of British for people who belong” on the galloping ‘Second Home’, she’s expressing ideas that couldn’t be better said with a picture’s worth of words.

I was needlessly hard on the three lads doing the musical legwork: they play as if the ground is falling away behind them. Their propulsive, forward momentum is the only thing stopping them from tumbling into an ever expanding abyss. The frantic energy of their staccato riffs on ‘Mike’, for example, feels like the gritted jaw gurning and thought-jolts of cheap base. Few tracks make it over the 3 minute mark. Opting instead for a short sharp blast rather than a gradual burn. It feels like you get a taste of their live show on ‘Arthur’, in much the same way as taking a jab to the face gives you the coppery taste of being alive.

The band also go all Brian Wilson on us with extended barnyard samples of cows and horses on a couple of tracks before the chain comes completely off on ‘Duck’s quiet denouement. Like the curveball they are, Shake Chain zig just when you expect them to zag, proving that there is such a thing as a jaggy snake.