Between the release of Shopping‘s 2015 album Why Choose and recording their third album The Official Body, drummer Andrew Milk moved from the band’s hub of London to Glasgow. This brought an added logistical challenge to the band. Some groups can make distance work for them—in the aughts particularly, occupying the same physical space hasn’t been a requirement to create compelling recordings—but that’s not how Shopping operates best. On their first two albums, the UK post-punk trio formed a power triad that was at its strongest when operating in unison. This is a band that needs to work together in order to work at all—they’re a band in the truest sense.
Whatever stressors have occurred in the time since their last album—which also include Brexit, the end of local DIY spaces and the general unraveling of any sense of order in the world at all—Shopping have only tightened since. Whereas much of the 21st century crop of post-punk has borrowed most liberally from the darkness of bands like Joy Division or all things dancepunk, Shopping’s greatest antecedents are the taut dynamics of Au Pairs or the punchy interplay of Delta 5. They’re not so much concerned with 1978 cosplay as they are the ability to turn guitar, bass and drums into constantly changing rhythmic shapes, their momentum driving a deceptively intricate minimalism.
The Official Body was recorded with a genuine legend of post-punk, former Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins, and one needn’t squint too hard to hear that band’s jangle pop sensibility in the band’s technique. Yet unlike that band, Shopping are seemingly always headed somewhere in a hurry, and it’s hard not to want to follow them on every detour they take. The reggae-tinged percussive open to leadoff track “The Hype” immediately recalls the reggae-punk scratch of The Slits, though that’s only a brief teaser before the group disco-punks their way into system-questioning chants: “What’d they teach us? Procrastination/ What’d they teach us? Indecision.” The addition of a synthesizer transforms “Wild Child” from an ESG-like funk-punk vamp into a proper new wave dancefloor jam. There’s a surf-rock undercurrent to the riffs of the standout “Asking for a Friend,” while the fat synth bass to “Discover” radically transforms the band’s sound while somehow holding on to a kernel of their art-punk scratch.
Much as the band’s previous albums have been, The Official Body is steeped in critiques of institutions—the title itself is a play on the idea of governing bodies as well as that of body images as dictated by society. And yet “amping up the party vibe” was a stated goal for the band in spite of their continued awareness of a disintegrating sense of order. But Shopping, much like a lot of the best political music, are effective because they build community through melody. If we can dance together and bring up our frustrations without losing our sense of fun, then maybe there’s hope after all.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.