All or Nothing
Shopping are one of my favourite bands. They’re a post-punk trio from the UK, and are fronted by Rachel Aggs (also of Trash Kit) on vocals guitar, Billy Easter on bass and vocals, and Andrew Milk on drums and vocals. The band is defined as much as anything by Aggs’ guitar, which is a wondrous hybrid of African highlife playing, and post-punk angularity. All or Nothing is their fourth album since forming in 2012.
To some degree, All or Nothing marks a bit of a shift for Shopping, in that it is Easter’s bass that dominates proceedings here, and some synthesizer has been introduced. As a result, Aggs’ guitar is buried a bit deeper in the mix. And yet, Milk still provides his trademark beats, centred around a Maureen Tucker-esque pound and propulsion. At points, this album sounds like early Cure, from back in the day that Simon Gallup’s bass propelled the band forward. Fortunately, we don’t devolve into the mope and whine of early Cure, as Aggs’ and Easter’s vocals are too bright, and, well, Milk is 1000 times the drummer Lol Tolhurst was.
And so, if this is a shift to a more bass heavy/synthesizer approach, it is also more of the same. Aggs’ voice is distinctive, as is her guitar style. Her voice tends to tower over the mix and also manages to sound alienated from the music, as if she’s shouting from down the block. Easter’s voice is the perfect counter-foil, softer, a tenor, and equally alienated, he brings to mind the classic sound of post-punk. On ‘Expert Advice,’ he takes over the lead vocals, and this completely re-jigs the band. He sings over a shiny riff from Aggs, his bass bopping along, and Milk propelling the song forward in his perhaps most straight-forward playing on the album. Aggs does the backing vocals and sings the chorus, and her voice is layered over Easter’s. And she drowns him out.
I was dubious about this album, worried that the shift away from Aggs’ guitar would kill the band. But it’s not like that at all. Her guitar is still all over the place, and in some songs, most notably ‘Body Clock,’ her guitar sounds like David Byrne’s in early Talking Heads. In fact, the Talking Heads are the obvious counter point to Shopping, because if there is an earlier post-punk band that they are modelled on, it is the 1970s output of Talking Heads, raw, fast-paced, though Aggs and Easter do not have Byrne’s fury
2018’s The Official Body was one of my favourite albums of that year, and remains one of my favourite of all-time. Curiously, the follow-up here, All or Nothing, feels like the logical successor to that album. And at 10 songs and 31 minutes, it doesn’t stick around long enough for you to question your own feelings.