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"Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! review"

If you were to chuck The B-52s' 'Rock Lobster', Life Without Buildings' 'The Leanover' and Pixies' 'Debaser' into a blender, the resulting amalgamation would be Life! Death! Prizes!, the second offering from Brighton based five-piece Shrag.

Though technically their second album, the first was more like a collection of singles, so this could be seen as their first real crack at a long player. It certainly has the excitement and spirit of a first album from a band trying to show us everything they've got in 12 songs. From the opening bass line of 'A Certain Violence' through to the ringing note that closes 'Coda', the energy on this album doesn't let up; creating a riotous, intriguing and messy (in a good way) collection of danceable scuzz-pop. No one can accuse Shrag of not going for broke on this album.

There are moments of tweeness such as 'Tights in August' which are then nicely soured with the jagged guitars and bags of distortion that make 'Ghosts Before Breakfast' the frenzied stand out track . Driving bass and surf guitars create a nice slice of indie pop on 'Stubborn or Bust', 'The Habit Creep' on the other hand is a dark and eerie sounding track and a welcome antidote to the hyperactivity that resounds throughout the rest of the album.

The brattish and talky vocal delivery of lead singer Helen may not be to everyone's taste but the one thing which, in my humble opinion, stops Life! Death! Prizes! from being a 9/10 album are the lyrics. Despite being fairly low in the mix, it's obvious in some parts that Shrag are knowingly trying to sound super-smart and intelligent, although this is a pleasant progression when compared to the obnoxious lyrics of the first album, where they sung about teenage pregnancy and shop lifting with all the intelligence of a snotty 16-year-old. The increase in Bob's vocals is also a development and creates a refreshing counter to Helen's shouty outbursts. In short, this is a more grown-up, interesting and ambitious album - I double dare you not to dance to it.

Reviewed by
katy ledger - Soundblab


"Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! review"

This came out in October but I’m reviewing it now as I don’t want them to be forgotten when we come to think about the year’s best-ofs. And it deserves consideration; while the shouty-punk singles that made up their first album have individual appeal, this first album proper really holds together as the work of a band with smart ideas. ‘Rabbit Kids’ is the jangly pop highlight that stands up against any of those early singles and the hyper-stimulated exultant-voiced ‘A Certain Violence’ harks back to Shrag Mk 1 but they’ve also stretched themselves, from the indie-funk ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ to the elegantly sweeping strings that bedeck the wonderful ‘Coda’, proving that they’re capable of so much.

Lyrically, they’ve built on the likes of ‘Talk to the Hand’, with plenty of verbal joustings between Helen and Bob, especially on the unusually metaphorical ‘Tights in August’, and the lyrically dense but scarily clever ‘The Habit Creep’ which is reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s essays in song. It’s a record I’ve played lots since obtaining, one which keeps revealing new facets each spin (a more muso reviewer would single out the Warrior/Pyne percussive heart that drives the songs), and one that will keep delivering. Their second record shows that they’re writing smarter and more twisted indiepop songs while they’ve not lost the hyperventilating punk-pop kick which made us love them in the first place. - SoundsXP


"Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! review"

Shrag take their name from an apartment block in their hometown of Brighton, England. According to an interview the quintet did this summer with the blog Rhubarb Bomb, one of the band members lived in a building called Sussex Heights, so their unusual moniker is really an acronym for "Sussex Heights Roving Artist Group." Not exactly the kind of thing you imagine they settled on expecting to have to market it all these years later to a wider audience. Was this Joy Division? Not at all. The Desperate Bicycles? Shampoo? Bis? Getting warmer...
Shrag's self-titled debut album was the result of a similarly haphazard process, and it turned out to be one of last year's most enjoyable indie pop releases. Scruffy, heartbroken, and genuinely communicative at a time when bands are increasingly getting by on mood or genre signifiers alone, Shrag collected some of the well-crafted, cleverly affecting singles and mp3s the band had quietly offered up in the past few years, including "Hopelessly Wasted", "Forty Five 45s", and (for those of us still too freaked out by adulthood to become parents) "Pregnancy Scene". With Life! Death! Prizes!, Shrag attempt a sophomore LP that works more like an album than a collection of singles, and they mostly succeed.
When they're doing tightly coiled pop songs that could stand beautifully on their own, the group-- now two women and three men, following former drummer Leigh-Ann's illness-related departure-- can be quite charming. Keyboard-streaked and punk-spiked, boy-girl duets "Tights in August" and "Rabbit Kids" are as catchy and upbeat as the feelings they express are confused and conflicted: "Your love is like your August tights/ It looks all right, but they're impractical tonight." Slowing it down but not turning off the distortion for "Their Stats", Life! Death! Prizes! scores another potential alternate-universe hit, a jagged, jerking anxiety attack that feels like the apt product of a time when "friendship" has become nothing but a number on a Facebook scorecard.
Like so many indie bands' second albums, though, Life! Death! Prizes! suffers just a little from having to be conceived during a year or so rather than a lifetime. The shouty "Faux-Coda" ("miraculous, still not over") and plaintive, poignant "Coda" ("It was a terrible year, though") are endearing and, production-wise, miles ahead of the band's past work, but they don't have the direct-hit impact of Shrag's "Talk to the Left" or "Mark E. Smith". They feel like, well, album tracks. That's fine-- they support the record's overall flow-- but it's still difficult for them to stand out in the crowded field of bands reminiscent of the UK's first big do-it-yourself wave. And the distinctive, much-needed female perspective on the indie scene shown in past singles like "Different Glue" is no longer much in evidence, either. Whether they were planning on it or not, Shrag deserve their own chance to reach a bigger audience, only for now, they're a slightly better singles group than albums group. Given indie pop's 7" culture and their own humble origins, it sort of suits them. - Pitchfork


"Shrag @ Public Assembly: CMJ Friday"

I've got a weeks worth of posts from CMJ, other shows and Europe posts. Let light this candle!

At the BrooklynVegan daytime showcase at Brooklyn's Public Assemby, there was a who's who of establish acts and upstarts. I think it was a daytime because the windowless backroom made it feel like 2am.

I caught the always intense Times New Viking in the main room and then headed over to the backroom see Brighton, UK's Shrag make their U.S. debut. I must admit I had not heard of them before the marathon, so more the reason to them.

Like fellow post-punk, ultra-poppy Love Is All, Shrag make twitchy-off-kilter music that's bouncey and believable. You have high-pitched lead singer Helen King leading the yelps and shouts against harsh guitars and a heavy bass line. Not everything is peppy in the Shrag world, many songs have a slow, dark and angry mood. On "The Habit Creep", Helen speaks out of rage backed by a deep bass groove. You'll find that tune as well as the crowd pleaser, "A Certain Violence" and their latest release, Life! Death! Prizes!

After seeing their set, I made a b-line to the merch table to pick up a copy. As much as they resemble Love Is All and Comet Gain, I still found their energy appealing. You can either bounce around to their uptempo tracks and slowly knod your head to their more somber, moody tunes.

After Shrag, I caught one of the 12 CMJ performances from Oberhofer. Yawn. Wake me when you don't sound like Wavves stupid cousin. - Music Snobbery


"Life! Death! Prizes! - Album Review"

On emerging a few years ago, Cribs-supporting Brightonians Shrag couldn’t decide what they were. Electro vamps? Kenickie-like pop-punk smart alecs? Shouty riot grrrls with messages? Last year’s self-titled debut album tried all those hats on for size, but then it was to all intents and purposes a compilation of their 7? output to date. Now they’re charged with recording songs as an album, they’ve learned to straighten out a bit. Helen King is less yelpy, the dual keyboards are relegated in the mix and most of the melodies are stronger without giving out to all-out commercialism. It’s art-pop, kids.

Art-pop, that is, very much as we know it. Liberally picking from post-punk’s rhythmic edge, C86 indiepop and day-glo pop (not in the electronic revival sense, despite the buzzing synths), there’s a new found swagger to Shrag’s sound that decries their DIY past and instils in its place a sense of wiry purpose. The enormous hook in the middle of single ‘Rabbit Kids’, flirting openly with the Long Blondes while retaining its jangly purpose, isn’t something they could have pulled off before now. Similarly the meaty, menacing bassline underpinning ‘A Certain Violence’, leading into the sort of angular attack Ikara Colt specialised in before it all dissolves into everyone singing/shouting over everyone else. If that’s not enough to demonstrate their comfort in uncomfortableness, ‘The Habit Creep’ has King delivering lasciviously quixotic spoken word verses, the tense, almost mocking air matched with a dense stew of needling guitars that gradually grow in intensity and break out for a chorus of sorts. Eventually, between ‘Tights In August’, relocating Heavenly to Sheffield’s fertile ground of indiepop loucheness via a becalmed Prolapse, and ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ dragging Life Without Buildings to the electro-New Wave dancefloor it clicks that Shrag haven’t so much pinpointed what they’re best at as grown in confidence at reassessing their strengths into something more coherent and less artful for the sake of it.

After that spell of excitable, quite sinister inventiveness within its parameters, the slump sets in. The second half after ‘Rabbit Kids” breezy greatness can’t match up, going over old ground listlessly – here a Manda Rin shout, there a song reminding this listener of nobody so much as late 90s also-rans Linoleum, the preceding intrigue for the love of the form increasingly whittled away until we reach ‘More Than Mornings” Fall-like thrash in search of a Fall-like point. Also anyone else who came across the debut album by the Kiara Elles earlier in the year might find their opinion coloured, given Slide Over was a not all that dissimilar but mildly superior mesh of strident female vocals, tripwire bass and subtle synth (‘Stubborn Or Bust’ particularly guilty on this score), although I’d put it down to coincidence.

Which is a shame, as for seven tracks it seems Shrag have hit their marks. The ADD eagerness to please of their first record has not so much been smoothed out, despite the exclamation mark-friendly title, as sieved thoroughly. Instead they’ve taken a spirited run-up at their influences, often frenzied and on edge, sometimes something more carefully crafted without losing the essential urge to pull their garage melodies and standard vocal lines apart. If they can become more consistent without losing their keenness to explore, we may not have heard the whole of their abilities yet. - The Line Of Best Fit


"Rabbit Kids - Video Of The Week"

There’s nothing better than waking up, switching on your computer and after a quick check to make sure your friend count hasn’t gone down overnight, discovering a favorite new band. I’d heard about Shrag but hadn’t really checked them out. Maybe it was the name or the nagging suspicion that they might be dodgy, because really every band that gets some good buzz can’t be good, can they? A friend posted their video this morning and I decided I’d give it a play. Wouldn’t you know that it turns out Shrag are nothing less than wonderful. Male/female vocal dynamics, mopey but tuneful songs and a decidedly non-dodgy indie pop sound! Kind of like a Los Campesinos! who aren’t quite so terribly impressed with themselves… “Rabbit Kids” has been out for a long while, and the band released their second album Life! Death! Prizes! earlier this year. I’d suggest you do like me and get cracking on tracking it down! - All Music Blog


"Rabbit Kids Single Review"

Brighton, UK-based quintet Shrag, like many of their 1970s indie-punk forebears, are one of those bands whose tunes and natural charisma could easily endear them to a wider audience, but whom the vagaries of record release dates, hype cycles, and airline prices have so far conspired to keep a well-loved secret. The shouty, synth-charged group's "Punk Grammar", from a compilation for a local club night, first appeared on our own Matthew Perpetua's Fluxblog way back in 2004. Two years later, breakup ballad "Hopelessly Wasted" made its way onto a couple of Pitchfork contributors' year-end lists. Shrag's 2009 self-titled debut LP, drawing mostly from prior 7" and mp3 releases, proved they had in them a whole album's worth of songs at nearly that high level.

New single "Rabbit Kids", due in December, is another fine chance to get acquainted with the band's charms. The oblique title and muffled production-- or is that just my mp3?-- again suggest the early English DIY movement. The surging boy-girl chorus and exposed nerves could almost entice you to visit MySpace again. We don't hear the full story, but the scene is one of painful departure: "Why don't you just stay?/ It's hard to see you fall apart that way." Little details-- "The hand in palm/ The coral dawn"-- help what sounds like personal heartache resonate for a wider world. It doesn't hurt that the song is bright, scrappy, and exuberantly melodic enough to rank alongside tracks by Love Is All, the Long Blondes, or early Los Campesinos!. A few more like this, and Shrag might break through yet, though you get the sense they're happy just playing in a band with their friends. - Pitchfork


"Life! Death! Prizes! - Album Review"

Shrag‘s first album, out a couple of years ago, was nicely summed up by one of its more throwaway songs, ‘Mark E. Smith’. Aside from the title, which gave a pretty brazen nod to their post-punk heritage, its trebly guitars and aggressive delivery provided a template for the rest of the record. It was good, yeah, but pretty unvaried. In that sense this new one (N.B. terrible album name) is a huge improvement on the first. The tempos are down, and the calmer songs are mostly the best: ‘Their Stats’, which for Shrag is almost a ballad, is lovely, finding the perfect balance between melody and emphatic delivery on the chorus. That’s not to say they’ve entirely mellowed, though: Helen still shrieks like a banshee on opener ‘A Certain Violence’, and the fuller instrumental sections have a more satisfying weight to them than they used to. The band’s new-found maturity gives them more interesting and clever subject matter for their songs, too: ‘Tights in August’ is a nice duet showing two sides of a relationship with some clever lines. ‘Furnishings’ is the highlight, building from melancholy guitar chords to a chorus with some of the best vocal delivery on the album and lyrics which remind me of the Coppola film “The Conversation” (probably not entirely what they had in mind when they wrote it, but oh well). It’s still not a perfect record: the yelps are still a bit grating and sometimes overused, and the lyrics are occasionally overdone (as on ‘The Habit Creep’, an interesting idea for a semi-spoken word piece which unfortunately fails to really click). But overall this is a real improvement, and points towards better things to come: hopefully by the next one they’ll have ditched the less effective of their riot grrrl pretensions in favour of more of the introspective stuff on here. - Under City Lights


"Shrag Interview"


courtesy of www.underexposed.org.uk There are no shrinking violets in Shrag. I’ve never heard as much noise and banter from a band as when we met them in December before a SoundsXP gig at the Windmill in Brixton. When it’s not laughter they’re arguing about influences (the cause of their most heated debate), taking the piss out of each other, and showing a band solidarity that survived the departure on health grounds of their much-loved drummer Leigh-Anne. The band line up is now: Andy – drums, Russell – bass, Stephanie – keyboards, vocals, Helen – lead vocals, keyboards and Bob - guitar and vocals. Their initial singles releases were compiled on an eponymous debut album last year and this summer sees the release of their second album, Life! Theft! Prizes! prefaced by the excellent 7” single ‘Rabbit Kids’ which is out now. All are released on indie-impresario John Jervis’ wonderful label, Where It’s At Is Where You Are. We spoke to Shrag in December 2009.


SXP: After you play here you’ve got a trip to Europe. Have you played there before?

Helen: We’ve played Paris once, I think. This is our first proper tour.
Russell: We’ve made it as far as Scotland, which will soon be abroad. And we’ve been to America.
Bob: We still get really excited when we go on the road. When we went to Glasgow for the first time we had to stop at the “you are entering Scotland” sign and take a picture with the kilt-wearing bagpiper.
Russell: And on the other side is a “welcome to England” sign but no-one does a song and you don’t get a pearly king or queen or anything. I’ve got mad ambitions [for Shrag]. I’ve often considered that an English band should represent England for people travelling down from Scotland. It’s either that or a Mediterranean cruise band. The indie client group is going to get older and older and eventually get into cruises, and ATP will own a boat, I swear.
Andy: If we don’t make enough money on the European tour, we might actually have to do this on the ferry on the way back! *laughter*

SXP: Does this represent a more ambitious Shrag? I ask that because in some places like Pitchfork there’s a suggestion that you’re a great band that lacks ambition.

Helen: It’s not ambitious in terms of wanting or expecting wider recognition, it’s just ambitious for ourselves. We’ve just recorded our second album and we’re a lot more confident about that than we have been about things for a long time.
Russell: I’d say we’ve always been ambitious to try to make the next song better.
Helen: We’re not careerist though.
Bob: It’s fun doing it. It’s fun to get better – that’s the thing that drives us.
Russell: I’d argue that it’s even harder to work full-time and be in a band, it costs money and effort and we’ve been really dedicated to keeping things together and keeping going. So I think that does show ambition and desire. It’s just that we’re not being looked after by a record label.
Bob: When you talk about a hard working band, we are a hard working band because we work as well! These “hard working bands”, they’re the laziest people in the world! They get driven around everywhere.
Russell: There are essential things where we fall down like getting a picture of Andy. Andy’s been in the band how long? We’re not very good at organising.
Steph: So: ambitious but poorly organised!
Russell: Demoniacally ambitious but lazy! We’re the Stewie Griffin of bands, the toddler who wants to take over the world.
Helen: It’s different this time round. The last album was Jervis saying: “we’ll put out a single”. And then he said: “do you want to put out some more singles?” And then: “shall we collate this into an album?” But there was no masterplan whereas this time, not that there’s a masterplan, we thought: let’s write another album.
Steph: What happened to the masterplan we had?

SXP: Leigh-Anne’s no longer in the band?

Helen: No, she left.

SXP: One of the reasons for asking is that, in another interview, you said that Leigh-Anne had a phobia about beans and I was sure that must be a lie.

Steph: No, it’s totally true! We used to go out for breakfast and because Helen’s vegan, the only protein that she’d be able to eat is beans. So if Helen had beans on toast, Leigh-Anne would have to put a menu around it so she couldn’t see the beans.
Helen: As a child, she didn’t eat her beans or something; her parents did that thing where if you don’t eat it they’d bring it out cold the next day. She got really traumatised by it!
Bob: I used to live with her and I found that in order to stop her stealing my parmesan, I’d form a wall of beans around the parmesan. *laughs*
Andy: You’ve actually hit on the real reason why Leigh-Anne is no longer in the band!
Steph: We’re really bean-crazy!

SXP: Your momentum is building. The first album came out this year (2009).

Helen: I think it feels weird to us that the album came out this year – it feels like it came out 3 years ago because you do it in bits. I’m pleased with that album. I like it. But it doesn’t feel as exciting as the one we’ve just done. We’ve been writing it as an album, not an accidental compilation of stuff we’ve done before.
Russell: That’s the big idea: make pretty good songs at roughly the same time.

SXP: And when is the new album coming out?

Helen: It should be either May or early June.
Russell: It’s frustrating because we’ve done our bit and we’re constantly promoting songs that aren’t available yet. So if anyone is here and has heard the (first) album we’re not playing any of that because we’ve not played that for a year.
Steph: And that’s the good thing as well about not being a proper professional band. If we were in that situation people would be: “it’s an outrage – why aren’t you playing the stuff we know?” We don’t have to.

SXP: What do we have to look forward to? Is the single representative of the new album?

Helen: Yeah, I’d say so. I think we’re better than we were and there’s a lot more going on and there’s not so much shouty yelping stuff as there was on the first album. But that’s still in there!
Russell: Three quarters of the way through we panicked and thought: it’s a bit too mature, we need more shouting!
Steph: In a way, this is our first album. It’s the first time we tried to create an album. The first one was just a collection of singles really. It’s been really fun to do.
Bob: I think we’re happy with it. It’s hard to say because we haven’t got it back, It hasn’t been mixed yet. It’s all recorded though; I think we’re excited about it.
Russell: The songs were recorded in roughly the same 2-3 months which is an improvement. Some of the songs have existed for longer. Obviously Leigh-Anne leaving meant we had to start again a little bit. We had some stuff recorded, we started from scratch but that happens. Leigh-Anne’s a friend of ours and she left honestly for health reasons and we still know her and we still love her. It was hard [to replace her] because we‘re not a band who are going to recruit people or audition people. *murmurs of assent*
Steph: It was a difficult point: what are we going to do now?
Russell: Andy had been stepping in for gigs that Leigh-Anne wasn’t able to do during the year so it was a natural progression for us. But because we liked the songs so much that helped us to get through the difficult stuff ‘cause they had a bit more depth and there were more peaks and troughs in them rather than 3 minute bursts of ARRRRRRRGGH-AY-AY-AY! Then we thought it was a bit too grown up so we put a few of these in there as well.

SXP: Talking about being grown up, do you like the model of band that you are, releasing records and promoting them on an indiepop circuit?

Helen: We’ve been treated very well. We’ve been invited to a lot of great things so we’re dead happy about that. I think it’s a really healthy – I hesitate to use the word “scene” – at the moment. Everyone is very supportive, there’s a lot going on, and it’s exciting. I think it has a different momentum to other scenes, which suits us as we have no momentum at all!
Russell: Leisurely momentum! We particularly like Twee As Fuck, and Sean at Fortuna Pop! and obviously Jerv. He’s been consistently good to us and we’ve been asked to do things which have been so much fun! So, yeah, absolutely pleased to be part of it: whatever “it” is!

SXP: One of the highspots of Indietracks two years ago was when you did Not Comet Gain. *the band laughs and groans simultaneously*

Steph: I think some people might disagree and say it was one of the low points.
Bob: I think there were people not so into it thinking “what the fuck is going on”! And they don’t normally get that animated!
Russell: I’m always really impressed when people have heard of us. [One punter] was really angry and hated it and I was really happy as he said: “you’re in Comet Gain, but that’s the girl from Shrag, that’s the girl from Shrag AND that’s the girl from Shrag. I’m watching Shrag!”
Steph: David couldn’t make it but he has this theory that Comet Gain should be a franchise. There was a French Comet Gain for a while and he wanted an American Comet Gain. The difference is it normally features David or Rachael – one of the two! But then Rachel and Steve at the last minute couldn’t make it so we thought it’s best to have something than nothing.

SXP: Who are your influences – apart from John Jervis, as your Myspace states?

Bob: It’s his intoxicating presence – you can’t get enough of him! He’s moreish. Not that he’s descended from Moors!
Helen: I don’t know. I think that’s why I’ve always put flippant responses to the link on Myspace.
Bob: If you did a straw poll of the five of us, we’ve got completely different musical influences.
Helen: There are points where we all converge and we absolutely love certain bands. I’m still uncomfortable with a question like that because if I said we all really love the Go-Betweens, there’s no fucking way in hell we sound anything like the Go-Betweens but we do all love them.
Andy: Except for me!
Bob: It always used to be the case, if everyone had no real proper musical background and came together, it would automatically sound like the Fall. We probably sounded like that in the early days but not now.
Steph: There's what you like and what you end up sounding like. And what you end up sounding like is for other people to talk about. Just say the Beatles.
Bob: [to Helen] You did try to describe our influences once in an interview.
Helen: That was a flippant thing. We just tried to do one for each of us: Susan Sontag, Gertrude Stein [Steph’s, I think]
Bob: Yours was really highbrow: tudor barns. Mine was the Simpsons. His [i.e. Russell] was world beers. What was Leigh-Anne's?
Steph: Dogs! ‘Cause she really liked dogs. Andy? It's jazz.
Helen: Andy's a free jazz musician.
Russell: You don't have to pay for him!

SXP: Does the new album have the same concentration of carefully crafted lyrics?

Bob: Most of them were written in the last week. So "concentration" is the exact word!
Helen: *slightly embarrassed* I don't know. I think lyrics are really important. It's the main thing that I do so I try to work as hard as I can. I don't like things that have words that rhyme just for the sake of it, I think it's important to try and articulate something interesting if you can. That's what I'm happy about. But you might hear them and think: "what a load of heartbroken bullshit again". *general hilarity ensues* - SoundsXP


"Life! Death! Prizes! - Album Review"

Where does post-punk end and indie begin? Historically, I guess, somewhere around 1983-84. But as far as describing current bands go, it seems to me that post-punk infers what indie used to mean: primarily guitar-based music that is nevertheless innovative and experimental, and independent from the mainstream. Using the phrase "post-punk" is just another way of saying "indie" without having the person you're talking to walk swiftly away with their hands clamped over their ears. Because indie, actually, has become devalued; a weak thing, a generic term for boring guitar bands on major labels, or their crapper counterparts who just wish they were on a major label, selling their songs for adverts and ringtones, and filling arenas with club-footed, boozy bombast and whiny, insincere love songs. Or middle-class mummy's boys, making middle-of-the-road mumblings with mandolins and maudlin beards, for Jools Holland and Jeremy Vine to patronise and just as soon forget.

It wasn't always like this. And Shrag- an acronym for Sussex Heights Roving Artists Group, dontcha know, referring to the crappy Brighton block of flats where several members once resided- make proper indie of the sort that once made you proud to sport a bowlcut and a Razorcuts badge on your duffel coat. Songs about real life, told with the comic-serious passion of an adolescence never outgrown, if growing up means fitting in and giving up; scorning rock n' roll clichés, in language, licks and attitude; playing to the best of their ability but making use of their limitations; loving noise, but chasing melody and bittersweet emotional expression; direct and unpretentious, but experimental and allusive, poetic; no self-indulgence, no self-aggrandisement; just ordinary misfits, everyday artists, bolshy, laughing, friendly, inclusive, angry, but above all, independent: going their own way, following their own path, self-sufficient, not really caring what you, I or anyone else thinks, and certainly not trying to ruin all of this by making it into some kind of a career.

Made up of five veritable veterans of the south coast DIY scene (musicians, DJs, promoters, fanzine floggers), Shrag's progression over the six years since they formed has been characteristically random and lackadaisical. A limited edition single here, a Marc Riley session there, touring with The Cribs and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; winning over friends and followers every step of the way, but more likely to have a hand-drawn map with crosses marking the nearest off-licenses and charity shops than a plan for world domination. So it's no surprise that this debut album proper has been a long time coming, or that it shows notable signs of development from their previous self-titled singles compilation. The grinning impact of shouty pop rants like 'Talk to the Left' and 'Mark E Smith' has given way to a somewhat more ambiguous lyrical bent, and more sustainable musical constructions, imbued with a degree of subtlety and sophistication, even. Their foundations are solidified by new drummer Andy Pyne, whose musical chops are- and I'm sure they'd be the first to admit this- several cuts above the rest of the band (he also plays, in utterly different style, in avant-garde experimentalists Medicine and Duty, alongside Teeth of the Sea's Mat Colegate).

For sure, there's a muscularity and drive to opener 'A Certain Violence' that makes nonsense of accusations that Shrag are somehow "twee". If anything, it's closer to the twisted, menacing pop of Brix-era Fall, with Helen King's butter-knife vocals mingling with Steph Goodman's strident yelping, Russell Warrior's elastic bass throb and Bob Brown's wall of jangling guitars. 'Stubborn or Bust' adds more melodic light and shade, while harking back to the Bis-like quality of their earlier releases, but 'Their Stats' is the first number that really makes you sit up and take notice. It's a poignant bedsit ballad of resigned rebellion, of the kind patented long ago by Dan Treacy's TV Personalities, but with a uniquely female perspective: "standing outside in your ugly shoes…. their stats mean nothing for us." When the guitars scrape and grind on the chorus it's more like the unshaven lurch of early Pavement, yet evoking rainy British shopping precincts rather than malls and 7-11s. It's a bit of a classic. - The Quietus


"Life! Death! Prizes! - Album Review"

Shrag are five Brighton friends, two girls & three boys that make happy, twee 1980’s soaked indie pop music. Blending distorted post-punk jangly guitars, girl/boy vocals and the odd scream, I pleasantly hear strong echoes of familiar sounds from my youth, the likes of The B52’s, Talulah Gosh, Girls At Our Best and The Au Pairs.

The album opens with A Certain Violence, with its heavy homage to the B52’s; followed by Stubborn Or Bust which blends elements of B52’s girl/boy harmonies & twangy 1950s style guitar riff while introducing a 1980s indie pop garage edginess. From here on the tracks blend several retro indie pop styles but never venturing into the My Bloody Valentine buzzguitar noise influence adorned by their New York contemporaries, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Life! Death! Prizes! includes the wonderful current single, Rabbit Kids; which would not be out of place on the re-issued Pleasure album from the underrated early 1980s Leeds based group, Girls At Our Best (best known for originally recording Getting Nowhere Fast, later recorded by The Wedding Present).

Furnishings shows a quieter, almost ‘lighter in the air’, side to the sound of Shrag. It reminds me of the very sugar-coated Talulah Gosh and the very gorgeous Amelia Fletcher from the mid-1980s now affectionately known as the ‘Sound of C86’. Whereas Tights In August seems to seamlessly fuse Girls At Our Best, Talulah Gosh and even a slice of Monochrome Set with its deeper male vocal lead and sixties keyboard sound.

Other tracks like Ghosts Before Breakfast introduce a rough and ready post-punk funky element of the Gang Of Four Variety; while More Than Mornings offers a more expansive sound with jagged noisy guitar, and heavier metallic bass line that lead me to believe they were about to burst into a cover of The Fall’s 2 By 4!

Shrag’s debut album was released in 2009, a compilation of the five previously released 7” singles. So for all intense & purpose Shrag actually see Lies! Death! Prizes! as a debut album; and in these times of awfully bland copycat R&B pop stars, X-Factor celebrity nonsense and post Libertines/ Arctic Monkeys so-called ‘indie’ music that has created legends of unpolished waifer-thin ‘also rans’, on the strength of this album I am happy to shout from the rooftops that Shrag are purveyors of good quality ‘real’ pop music for Nintendo DS generation indie kids everywhere!

Following UK tours supporting The Cribs and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Shrag set out on their own headline tour beginning at the end of September to support the album release on 4th October. - Buzzin' Music


"Shrag Album Review"

If you’ve bought the singles, you’ll be familiar with most of the album (only ‘New Favourites’ and the whizzalong instrumental ‘Intro’ are new) but you really haven’t heard these songs before. Properly mastered, the album brings out every nuance of Shrag’s punk-pop and highlights one of their trademarks: the caustic, angry, funny, ultra-quotable lyrics. From the biology horror of ‘Pregnancy Scene’ to incompetent shoplifters (‘Intelligent Theft’) and empty materialism (‘Cupboard Love’), Shrag’s songs are a lyrical pleasure, none more so than ‘Talk to the Left’, a criticism of the over-descriptive sex-partner: “did he really say: baby, now I’m heading South?” The electro-synth-guitar pop music will set your heart racing too, with traces of Bikini Kill, the Fall and Comet Gain all noticeable as Shrag race breathlessly through ‘Different Glue’, get aggressively shouty and synthy on ‘Mark E Smith’ or show their more sensitive sides on ‘Forty Five 45s’. Ill-disciplined in just the right way and full of attitude, Shrag’s debut draws a line under a string of brilliant 7”s and leaves you drooling for more from the seaside noiseniks (and if you’re quick off the mark you can buy a personalised limited edition box to keep your Shrags in too). - SoundsXP


"Shrag Album Review"

During the first wave of UK indie, Gang of Four wrote anti-love songs while bands like the Slits, the Raincoats, and X-Ray Spex rejected not only romance but also traditional femininity. In the Britpop 1990s, Blur snarkily claimed to see no difference between "Girls and Boys", and Elastica made sexual demystification a lot more fun ("You could call me a car lover/ 'Cause I love it in a motor"). Brighton's Shrag are a sharp up-and-coming poppy post-punk band smearing their own dark lip gloss on sex and gender. But you can always tell deep down they're looking for real, vital connection.

They find it in more ways than one on their self-titled debut album, which mostly pulls together songs released on mp3 and 7" going back to 2006, when "Don't Speak"-ably stinging breakup ballad "Hopelessly Wasted" made a few waves. More often the three-girl, two-boy guitar-synth rioters are more bellicose-- hitting the giddy stratospheres of early Long Blondes singles (minus the glamour) while tremblingly shouting down a cheating lover on spiky-riffed "Lost Dog", or holding a "long term grudge" on fast, still-furious "Long Term Monster". Shoplifting is hard on the unrepentantly unruly "Intelligent Theft", but bratty MySpace-quote pop sounds easy. The most divisive track is likely to be Kate Nash-conversational "Talk to the Left", a bare electro-punk update on awkward sex jams ("Did he really say, 'Baby, now I'm heading south?'") from the Au Pairs' "Come Again" to Art Brut's "Rusted Guns of Milan". "Cupboard Love" should get basement crowds belting out requests for W-2 information. You just haven't earned it yet, baby.

Like many of us in our increasingly autistic age, Shrag seek not just physical connections, but to participate in shared culture-- the essence of the English DIY movement. Even when they're talking about their bodies, Shrag use the language of fans. Love Is All-ish sax spree "Pregnancy Scene" is the best petulant protest against all our friends growing up and having babies since the Boy Least Likely To's "Monsters"; the only previously unreleased non-instrumental, "New Favourites", obsesses over a clique-changing best mate like she's a once-favorite band; "Mark E. Smith" is the indie kid's "Would you do that if Barack Obama was watching?". My absolute favorite song here, "Forty Five 45s", is a beautifully crafted, basically one-chord wonder sung by a narrator who'd notice every nuance in the mixtapes you give her and then be really fucking pissed when you take off with all her mp3s except Jeff Buckley. You could've at least left the Los Campesinos! zine.

Only connect? Not hardly: "Different Glue" grapples with groping strangers who will make you glad you stayed at home tonight. "Women get hassled at gigs if they're not with a bloke," Gang of Four's Jon King told critic Greil Marcus in 1980. The name Shrag, sort of a nice onomatopoeia for the younger group's tough-talking shambling, is also an actual English word that's obsolete. King's statement isn't-- neither is a good fanmade antidote to pop music that's some dying conglomerate's idea of how much self-expression you can handle. Things aren't perfect, but we've come a long way. - Pitchfork


"Intelligent Theft Single Review"

Second single, and as infectiously good as the first from the Brighton boy/girl fivesome. It's a cheeky tale of unsuccessful shoplifting ("your security just got lucky/ your CCTV was never gonna get me") sung by the girls in a knowingly teasing way - a touch of Girlfrendo there - while the song itself pulses with mighty Fall-type rhythms. The double-A side 'Cupboard Love' is more spiky urban pop built round a killer refrain: "how much do you earn?" Enough to be able to afford this gem, thank you, and you can too, but hurry as there are only 300 of these beauties. - SoundsXP


"New Releases Review May 2008"

Shrag, Lost Dog/Different Glue (WIAIWYA)

Ace cover art. A panoply of canines staring away, almost resentfully, with big, sad, dumb eyes. Presumably intended to mimic the hateful, moping, floppy cuteness of 'I'm sad, LOVE ME' indie boys. At least that's the closest we can decode from the spectacularly bitter indie girls-set-on-stun dual vocal attack, in what is one of the better bands to juxtapose schmindie twee and angered literary abstraction since 1990s unsung legends Prolapse. - The Guardian


"New Releases Review June 2007"

Shrag
Talk To The Left/Hopelessly Wasted (WIAIWYA)

Double A-side singles - a medium where polarity in pop is cherished - now seem like a relic from another age. Hopelessly Wasted doesn't seem cheapened by the bawdy, seaside sex-pop of Talk To The Left (a cute but curiously asexual-sounding indie-bitchslap to verbose love-makers: "Talk to the left ... cos the right hand's busy!" Ew!) but rather becomes more precious despite it. A trad arr 1950s ballad that sounds artificially sluggish, drugged, anaesthetised; Helen Shrag's words circle a void between two people, raining down in tiny punches against a failing, indifferent heart as the song's chorus yawns and swells into a simulacrum of drunken, balletic grace. - The Guardian


""There's Worse Names Than Ours": An Interview With Shrag"

Stuart Huggett talks to Shrag about dog shows, indiepop and changing line-ups - as well as their debut album Life! Death! Prizes!

Shrag formed in Brighton in 2004, at a time when the city was undergoing its last (to date) major burst of DIY musical activity. The band recorded five 7"s for indiepop stalwarts Where It's At Is Where You Are, combining dissonant post-punk shouting with jangly guitar melodies. All five are collected on their self-titled 2009 album, while their first album proper - Life! Death! Prizes! - was released in October, following which the group made a flying visit to New York's CMJ Music Marathon.

Although two-fifths of the band – Helen King (vocals, keyboards) and Bob Brown (guitar, vocals) – have upped sticks to London, the remainder are still based on the Sussex coast. The Quietus met up with Stephanie Goodman (keyboards, vocals), Russell Warrior (bass) and Andy Pyne (drums) in Brighton's Heart And Hand – a traditional pub with a killer vinyl jukebox, which also appears, very briefly, in the video to the group's most recent single ‘Rabbit Kids'. Over the course of a very entertaining hour, the Shrag contingent joked, bickered and generally defined the term ‘self-deprecating'.

Did you all meet in Brighton?


Russell Warrior: I was flatmates with Helen for a while.

Stephanie Goodman: Bob used to live in [Brighton landmark] Sussex Heights. He had an amazing penthouse flat at the top.

RW: With his own peregrine falcons.

SG: Everybody was hanging out and ‘cos he had the nicest flat in town, he'd have these parties. That's where the name comes from – it was Sussex Heights Roving Artists Group and then we decided to change it to Sussex Heights Recording Artists Group.

RW: That classic case of the band not really thinking they'd do more than a couple of gigs. We formed for a laugh with a stupid name and then a few years later you get stuck trying to explain it to your mum at dinner parties.

SG: "Shag? You're called Shag? Shrek?"

Google ‘Shrag' and nothing else comes up.

SG: There's worse names than ours. I saw some of them in New York.

RW: I think the Googling thing is quite important. I was trying to find something out about a band called Women - that didn't go well.



Were you already working on Life! Death! Prizes! when the singles album came out?

SG: Not really. There was always a plan to do five singles and then release them as a CD album. Then we wanted to do something afterwards.

Andy Pyne: When the singles album came out [previous drummer] Leigh Anne [Walter] was still in the band, but she was injured. I stood in and played at the album launch, then she came back in the band, then dropped out again. Some of the songs on Life! Death! Prizes! had been recorded with her. When I rejoined we completely re-recorded everything.

The BBC seem to be on your side now.

AP: Marc Riley's been really good to us.

RW: And Gideon Coe, so we've got the evening sewn up! Stuart Maconie put us forward for a Single Of The Week. We didn't win in the end– I didn't even vote for us.

AP: We lost by one vote!

SG: Yeah, now we're all voting whether Russell should be in the band. I think he might lose by one vote.

How did your tours with The Cribs come about?

SG: I met them in Brighton through friends, before they were big. Gary [Jarman] heard our stuff on MySpace and said, "Would you like to support us at a few shows?" It's been really fun. We got to play the Astoria before it closed.

RW: Glasgow Barrowlands.

SG: That was amazing. There was somebody with a torch lighting our way up to the stage. We were like, "Oooh!"

AP: Spinal Tap style, show us where we're going.

SG: Yeah, I can't use my precious pop star eyes! I must use your torch! It was brilliant.

You were included on the Rough Trade Indiepop 09 album last year.

RW: I've not got one.

SG: Yeah I haven't got one either. I've not even got our own record yet though.

RW: We did a Rough Trade Shop show, and someone who works behind the counter was very excited, saying, "This is a brilliant year, there's been so many good bands", and I didn't know any of them. So I think I feel a little adopted by the indiepop scene in London.

SG: I was really thrilled to be on it - I didn't give a shit about anyone else! I remember seeing a tracklisting at the time, but as I say I haven't got a copy.

RW: Allo Darlin' was on it, something like Veronica Falls was probably on it.

SG: We could guess them; make up our own tracklistings...

RW: Ozzy Osbourne had a new one on it.

AP: Sometimes I'm vaguely bemused as to why certain promoters think we should be on a certain bill with certain bands.

RW: We've all sort of wondered why. I don't think were a particularly indiepop band or that we fit in. We're noisier and stupider than most of the other bands.

AP: And older.

RW: No, don't say that, we're not that much older.

SG: Everyone in indiepop's fuckin' old.

AP: We're much older than the audience.



Are you going back to New York soon?

SG: Hopefully.

RW: We played a show at The Cake Shop. This is why we should have a manager or someone to help us ‘cos this guy said, "I run the indiepop fest in New York, do you wanna play?" and we said, "Yeah, brilliant", and then I didn't speak to him again. So the plan is to find out whoever that person was.

SG: I know that guy, I know who he is.

RW: Great.

SG: I can't remember his name.

RW: There you go.

SG: I can find him, I've got a trail.

How many indiepop fests in New York can there be?

SG: Two?

RW: Imagine if there was two rival ones going on at the same time, one was the corporate one and one was the real one.

Just like West Side Story.

RW: Exactly - a face-off on Ludlow Street.

AP: We need to recharge our batteries first, come up with some new stuff.

SG: Knuckle down, write some new songs, record an album, get the tour sorted, go on the road and wait for the sunshine.

RW: Get the European festival offers flooding in, do all those. Summer fetes.

SG: Any church festival.

AP: I once did a gig with a samba band in Yorkshire and we played some sort of school fete. We were set up next to the ferret racing stall, and the ferret racing had a bigger audience.

SG Well to be fair I know which one I'd be at!

RW: Playing a dog show, that would be good, there's one out in Patcham - Simon Cowell goes to that.

SG: Yeah, nail two things in one. Have a fuckin' good time at the dog show and get discovered... - The Quietus


Discography

Pregnancy Scene/Mark E Smith - wiaiwya30 - 7” single
Released 26th June 2006

Intelligent Theft/Cupboard Love - wiaiwya31 - 7” single
Released 4th December 2006

Talk to the Left/Hopelessly Wasted - wiaiwya32 - 7” single
Released 26th June 2007

Different Glue/Lost Dog - wiaiwya33 - 7” single
Released 26th May 2008

Long Term Monster/Forty Five 45s - wiaiwya34 - 7” single
Released 3rd November 2008

Rabbit Kids/Erratic Fictions - wiaiwya40 - 7” single and download
Released 14th December 2009

Ghosts Before Breakfast/Gutless Wonder/Heart Open, Mouth Shut - wiaiwya - download EP
February 2011

ALBUMS

Shrag - wiacd016 - CD album
Released 13th January 2009

Life! Death! Prizes! - wiacd022 - CD album
Release scheduled for 4th October 2010

Life! Death! Prizes! - wialp022 - Vinyl album
11th October 2010

COMPILATIONS

Under The Beach - A Heart Attack. Released 2004
includes ‘Punk Grammar’

Do Me More Electro. Released August 2006
includes ‘Punk Grammar’

Independents Day ID08. Released July 2008
includes ‘Long Term Monster’

Rough Trade Shope Indiepop 09. Released July 2009
includes ‘Hopelessly Wasted’

Photos

Bio

An exhilarating blend of dirty, distorted post-punk guitars, shouty riot grrl-style vox and fantastic pop songs, alongside nods to everyone from Le Tigre to Penetration. Their debut album garnered comparisons to Love is All, Gang of Four and B-52s, and led to a UK tour supporting The Cribs, appearances at both London Popfest and Indietracks festivals, and a session for Marc Riley on BBC 6music. Their second album Life! Death! Prizes! was released on WIAWYIA Records in October 2010 and was named Album of the Month in Artrocker Magazine. The band are currently working on their third album.

"A spectacularly bitter indie girls-set-on-stun dual vocal attack, in what is one of the better bands to juxtapose schmindie twee and angered literary abstraction since 1990s unsung legends Prolapse." (The Guardian)