Updated: Jan 25
Favorite Track: "6/1" Least Favorite Track: "Alphabet"
One of the prevailing underground music trends of the last decade has been post-punk, no question about it. Bands like black midi finding success seems like a long shot to many, with their inaccessibly manic brand of rock music ushering in some of the most freakish sounds possible, yet they are somehow still finding some form of mainstream success. Post-punk, according to Wikipedia, is defined as “a broad genre of rock music which emerged in the late 1970s as artists departed from the raw simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock, instead adopting a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and non-rock influences.”. This ethos of experimentation suggests a dissatisfaction with the simple tropes of modern rock and punk, and instead, post-punk bands far and wide have been aiming to push the envelope with unusual sounds and wonky musical ideas.
However, the genre has a tendency to reward conformity. The somewhat scrappy guitars, off-kilter vocals and drum beats, and vibrant bass are all foundational to the sound, but when bands rely solely on the basic tropes of the genre and nothing more, the aim to innovate collapses in on itself. This simple reliance on basic tropes are quite present on the new shame record, Drunk Tank Pink, with little to no avail. While the constant reliance on the basics of post-punk are the driving force behind the record, it is not without its experimental and musically intriguing moments, but at large they are more few and far between than should typically be true for a post-punk record.
Take the opening track “Alphabet” for example. Lead vocalist Charlie Steen offers some energetic, albeit uninteresting, vocals over an incredibly up-tempo rock instrumental, and while the track has its moments, it is consistently flying below the radar and rewarding simple formulas that fail to grab the attention of the listener. The freakish cries of “Are you waiting to feel good?/Are you praying like you should?” in an attempt to create an anthemic chorus just fall flat, as the instrumental does little to change during the chorus and Steen is punching under his weight vocally as well. The instrumental performances themselves are well played and airtight, but the lack of form switchups does the performances little to no justice.
The greater issue with Drunk Tank Pink lies within the same gripes that come with “Alphabet”. Anything that can be said about one track on the record can be loosely applied to any other given cut, with the majority of the tracks running on the similar low-effort ethos that stems from post-punk conformity. The vocals are slightly shouty and manic, the guitar tones seemingly never change, the drum performances are all remarkably similar, and much of the song structures seem to be rinse and repeat. On great post-punk records like Pain Olympics by Crack Cloud, it is no challenge to find new musical ideas from track to track, with the implementation of a wide variety of musical styles, a sentiment that is nowhere to be found on Drunk Tank Pink.
However, Drunk Tank Pink is not without its highlights. Take the incredibly loud and freakish “Great Dog” for example. Steen’s vocal performance on this track is absolutely stellar, the instrumental is incredibly noisy and reminiscent of black midi’s debut album Schlagenheim. Everything about the song is aggressive, grotesque, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The following track “6/1” has some of the best musical ideas on the record, with the unsettling guitar riff being complimented perfectly by the ominous shouts of “I pray to no god/I am god/I am every thought your mind has ever held”. The eventual breakdown of the track is cathartic to say the least, with apocalyptic background screams and roaring guitars all coming together to create what is easily the best track on the record.
Overall, Drunk Tank Pink just feels like missed potential. The best ideas presented on the record are absolutely stellar, and if the mediocre cuts managed to match the energy of the highlights, there would be no doubt that shame is a band in the post-punk scene to watch. Unfortunately, they consistently fail to add anything particularly new, and are often derivative of other conformative acts such as Fontaines D.C. and Protomartyr, and the end result is a record that is deeply flawed. Beneath the flaws, there lies a multitude of ideas that are intriguing and leave a lot of hope for shame’s future, but in the meantime, they continue to underperform and fail to impress.