Music Reviews
Drunk Tank Pink

Shame Drunk Tank Pink

(Dead Oceans) Rating - 8/10

Shame vocalist Charlie Steen is the kind of performer who soaks up every moment when he's on stage. Nothing about his furious sneer feels forced or contrived, as he throws in some polite banter over sweaty, energetic performances that tap into the angrier side of post-punk. The South London band's promising debut, Songs of Praise, was also an exercise in soaking up all the influences they had acquired over the years. While lacking in novelty, the band made it up by alternating enough melody and space into their arrangements—showing signs of outgrowing the anger in their music with a constructive passion.

See, Shame are too skilled to stick to primal fury. And on Drunk Tank Pink, they make a giant leap towards the avant-garde side of post-punk—taking a more contemplative look as they adjust to their post-tour blues mixed in with surreal undertones. The band doesn't intend to speak to the moment but speak specifically to theirs, figuring out what comes next when everything stops after a period of constant movement. While Steen was keen on addressing his and the band's identity, guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith took to listening to 70s post-punk trailblazers like ESG and Talking Heads as he explored new ways to play his guitar.

Steen's desperation is palpable as he shouts, "Are you waiting/to feel good" on Alphabet, taking matters into his own hands instead of waiting for some divine feeling or motivation to come his way over Cyle-Smith's bent, serrated guitar hooks. March Day and Night Hitter reshape the manic intensity of their debut's Concrete with funkier, tightly-coiled rhythms, in which bored, dragged-down Steen contemplates life's endless drudgery as his bandmates accompany the sentiment in unison. And yet they make their ennui sound exciting—given they played over 150 shows in 2018 alone, the task of sitting still to focus on writing songs sounds excruciatingly dull by comparison.

If there was any doubt that the band are just rabble-rousing punks, then Shame lays that perception to rest with the romantic idealism and compassionate poeticism of Human, for a Minute and Station Wagon. Slower and more deliberate, the band intertwines dark, heavy-hearted lyrics with a sensitive touch reminiscent of Interpol's sophomore leap Antics. On the swiftly paced yet elegantly rendered Snow Days, Steen translates his inward-looking melancholia over tenebrous spoken-word: "You see I know what I need/ I just haven't got it yet." There's something compellingly jarring about the song's twisty contours and metallic groove, akin to short-lived art-rockers Women—and though it doesn't quite hit the mark, they bring their own disposition at all costs.

And through it all, that good ol' Shame sound remains—best represented in urgent two-minute blasts like Great Dog. But make no mistake, the band's loose, brilliantly-conceived sketches sound reckless, visceral, and undeniably infectious. Sometimes, their excessive contemplation makes it seem, well, inessential in the grand scheme of things. Taken out of context, though, it's still a truth that may resonate in this time of pause and self-isolation. But Shame could've settled when, instead, they've outsmarted their post-punk contemporaries with their apolitical, yet powerfully-charged message about sticking it to the doldrums.