Shopping – All or Nothing: Punk angst for the digital age

Admittedly, I had only heard one previous song by Shopping before listening to the band’s latest album, the 2013 single “In Other Words”. When that song came on the radio a few weeks ago as I painted a friend’s door, the volume dial got a deferential twist and my paintwork got sloppy due to excess headbanging.

Now the jittery, strutting post-punk threesome has released its fourth album, All or Nothing. A ten track slice of short stomping segments layered with dreamily twanged guitar, murky and sparse basslines, a relentless drum machine and urgent, personal lyrics.

The band has retained its punk strut, meandering woozy basslines and prodding guitar, but has done away with the range of drums apparent on their earlier albums, resulting in a more restrained sound on All or Nothing. This found me occasionally wanting the songs to descend into a bit more carnage that I knew was available, as on Lies, on which the measured ticking harnesses a twenty first century rage and subsequent restraint. This is not to the detriment of the album, as the balance is struck between a grinding repetitiveness and the hectic weaving of guitar and bass.

This swerve and overlap of guitar and bass which define the sound of Shopping are most prominent and effective on the sparse yet buzzing “Initiative”, which paints tail-light helixes of inner-city traffic, and on “Expert Advice”, all needling guitar, chiselled vocal harmonies and laddered bass. Midway through the album, “For Your Pleasure” comes as a ravey, squidgy, loose-sleeved, Breakfast Club-esque treat, with the chorus ‘what you see is what you get’ outed with the urgency of a newspaper headline. 

The short, discordant, frenetic songs offer a critique, almost self-satirical, of modern society, of smoothness, of hegemony. The instruments jostle like a crowd in protest, the drums become a trance-like mesh on which the band overlay lyrics both personal and peripheral. Shopping doesn’t shy away from politics either, with the murky “Follow Me” offering a snarling glare back at the prying digital eyes of the modern world.

Seeking a summary theme of this album leads me to the title track at the end of the album, a flurry of Martha and the Muffins-esque bass fizz and sleepwalk-guitar, in which guitarist Rachel Aggs sings – ‘I hear you laughing/Are you ever gonna take it back/A line a circle.’ This visual imagery epitomizes Shopping’s fourth album, one of opposing forces meeting, of harmony and discord, repetition and spontaneity. The line in the above lyric, the personal ‘I’, sits ensconced by wider societal reverberations, much like All or Nothing’s perpetual drum beat which is flanked by alternating and overlapping ripples of jittery guitar and gurgling bass.

Jack Spacey-Helder

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