For all the extreme dedication that defines music lovers, when it comes to categorizing what we love, we truly are a lazy bunch. We try to push music into boxes and if a sound doesn’t fit, we slap a new label on it and call it a ‘trendsetter.’
IDM is a great example of this. Calling any electronic music that isn’t dance, house or techno “Intelligent Dance Music?” Now that is pretentiousness to a level that can only exist within art criticism.
Another great one is just putting the “post” prefix on anything remotely boundary-pushing. Interestingly enough, the “post” prefix seemed to be of particular use when describing each new wave of rock: post-rock, post-hardcore, post-punk — all of which lead to where we are now.
I tried my best to avoid calling shame’s sophomore album Drunk Tank Pink post-punk. I thought I might be able to call it indie rock, or math rock or even 21st-century progressive rock. Even though it does contain all of these elements and more, at the heart of it, this album is post-punk.
That doesn’t say as much as it might seem to, though. Post-punk only really surged back in the 2010s with bands like IDLES and Protomartyr leading the charge, and the sound was basically an amalgamation of whatever remnants of rock were left. At this point, everybody has to acknowledge that rock — at least as it once was — is gone forever.
It’s pretty clear that the copious amounts of genre offshoots that have spawned in the last 20 years are a direct recognition of that fact. Shame seems to understand this as well, as they don’t hold back at all in putting together a record that takes every kind of sound from those last 20 years and before.
Recent influences are pretty easy to find on Drunk Tank Pink, with the aforementioned IDLES and Protomartyr, as well as Women and many other indie rock bands, squeezing their way in. Older influences are a bit less obvious. There seems to be some Talking Heads, as well as Television and Wire. There’s a little bit of Fugazi that makes its way onto the track “Born in Luton,” a towering triumph of a song on the album.
With so many influences though, is there any originality coming from shame themselves? At what point does the amount of influence become so great that the sound itself becomes unoriginal? Arguably, shame has passed that threshold.
Even disregarding this, there is not a single borrowed sound on this album that doesn’t feel improved or updated in some sense. The track “Great Dog” sounds like the IDLES I wanted to hear on their last record. It is not an exaggeration to say that the band came out firing on all cylinders, and that type of synergy alone can often make for an enthralling listen. Not to mention shame-member Charlie Steen’s lyricism, which is nothing but deeply personal, using many of the songs to reference a sense of isolation and of being trapped within one’s own mind.
At the same time, the music depicts a group that feels indebted to post-punk. Perhaps it represents the antidote to their insecurities. Regardless, they managed to create something that not only does the genre justice, but also hints at a new era of it as well.
But where do they go from here? In the album’s last song, “Station Wagon,” they seem to have an idea for themselves. Steen talks about reaching up to the clouds, soaring to attain something greater. He references Atlas, comparing himself to the titan whose task it is to carry the weight of the world.
It creates a hopeful moment. A moment in which you truly believe shame can achieve the lofty goal they are setting for themselves. And what goal is that? I think it’s pretty clear shame wants to extend the boundaries of not just post-punk, but rock in general. If Drunk Tank Pink is anything to go by, they seem up to the task.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at email@example.com.