Shrag, some would have you believe, are the ultimate dogmatically Peelesque-indie band. The latest in a line of proper bands playing excitable lo-fi in toilet venues before loading into a Bedford and heading back to their normal lives of listening to Dansettes and going to the library on rainy afternoons to write lullabies about hair clips and knitted handclaps or whatever bands who believe music stopped on October 25, 2004 do.
That, as a Roger Mellie often said, is bollocks, bile peddled by people whose only festival is Indietracks, or maybe an ATP as long as they don’t having any noisy American stuff on. You see, Shrag’s third disc, Canines, is a vicious post-punk stomp through the set of Walter Hill’s Warriors; a bovver boot gang rampage of happy slaps and shattered ray guns.
From the opening dystopian groan of Tears of Landlord which jarrs into shattered flick-knife guitars, to the Lush through a grinder climax of Jane With Dumbells, Canine’s embodies the edgy claustrophobia of a junky in a bearsuit.
Chasing Consummation particularly exudes this eager tension with phased synths and vocal overlays which build with carnal expectation before blossoming into lush strings. Helen King’s skipping rope chants adding a skewed immediacy as she yelps we “a balance that we’ll never strike, a body coloured garish sight” in what is Shrag’s most aurally ambitions turn to date.
Surpassing their idiosyncrasies to delve into agit-delicacy is a turning point for Shrag; the returning strings on Jane With Dumbells and the driving jauntiness of Flinching at Forever detaching the band from their shouty girl boy expectations, gifting them a triumphalist bite.
King’s lyrics also appear wiser and refined, addressing an outsider view of the UK which tilts towards Jarvis Cocker’s obtuse observations. “Clean tired people who drink gin on the train” and “Something blossoms in the soul when the gymnast cries” accurately portraying Britain in 2012 more than any flag waving propaganda.
This being a Shrag record, a dark menace permeates its DNA. Devastating Bones, takes Gary Glitter’s glam stomps and bares the darkness those songs now hold to create a candy coated dirge march. Tears Of A Landlord likewise takes simple repeating rhythm and staples on a Moss Side bassline, resulting in a visceral street mugging.
More importantly, Canines is simply catchy as hell. Show Us Your Canines is a call and response, almost funk, number with Bob Brown’s wah wah riffing, while No More Memories gives Le Tigre’s Deceptacon a Stranglers make over. Throughout, Canines is lively and exuberant and phenomenally exciting.
Canines gives Shrag a purpose other than simple being indie darlings. It’s a manifesto outlining all they can achieve, whether it’s delicate, sinister or wonderfully pop. The care taken in its writing and recording allows them to break free from the shackles of niche indie and set them as a proper band, the kind who sell loads of records and become stars. Well here’s hoping so because Canines is pretty much faultless.