We live in the age of offence. As we’re all pushed, like it or not, to think twice and thrice before putting any kind of opinion or statement out there, and artistic expression is increasingly constrained by a generalised concern with the risk of offending someone, brazenness may in the right circumstances become a virtue, and we might find ourselves yearning for an injection of the old punk spirit. Enter Shelf Lives, out of South London and now offering to the world a mini-album with a title that is in itself a defiant declaration. Yes, offence is disruptive, relentless, and intensely lively, and it doesn’t care for your feelings – in the best possible ways.
It is a mini-album by duration, if not by number of tracks. The eight songs it comprises are short and punchy, another way in which this record fits in with the tradition of old-style punk and hardcore punk especially, delivering musical bites which come fast and hit hard, high-energy and adrenalinic. That is not to say that they are without sophistication: on the contrary, it is remarkable how much Shelf Lives manage to do with the constraints they’ve imposed upon themselves (see for instance ‘I Don’t Like Me You,’ a track with a structure that makes it feel like the song is having a conversation for itself, or single ‘Shock Horror,’ a tightly woven fabric of rough guitar and sharp electronica). Even so, when the punch lands, it lands heavy: a perfect example of this is the closer, ‘She Gon’ Kill Ya,’ which incorporates almost techno suggestions with its deep base and well-executed drop.
The hardcore punk suggestions are certainly strong throughout the record, but beyond that there’s so much more: certainly a great deal of electronica, with ripples of synth music adding a very personalised feeling to the otherwise classic structure of some of the tracks and even a hint of acid house incorporated in some of the more experimental songs (most notably ‘Mark Twain,’ quite possibly the most intriguing, strongest in the mini-album, somewhat strategically located exactly at mid-point). Opener ‘Shelf Life‘ reminded me of the textured hard rock recently offered by the likes of Nova Twins, and ‘Fighting That Bitch‘ starts with a snippet of guitar which could have come out of a Plague Vendor track and continues with vocals which have something of the later Marianne Faithfull to them.
When Shelf Lives start to play around with different types of sounds and blending them together, something very special happens: ultimately, it is in these tracks that their voice emerges strongest, with a clever use of repetition generating an almost trance-like feeling which is perfectly suited for their electronic affinities, matched by and lending even more powerful to lyrics which are blunt, direct, but at the same time insightful, gleefully abandoning any restraint in speaking their mind. ‘Call Me,’ another stand-out track, does exactly this, and perhaps even more so ‘I Don’t Think I’ll Go Out Today,’ which has instant classic potential both in its unique vocal delivery, its danceable beat (here, too, a little pinch of acid house seeping in), and the very relatable mood it evokes.
Yes, offence is punk for 2022: going back in many ways to the roots of the genre, without the baroque embellishments of post-punk but at the same time with an awareness of the EDM scene and the way it is a perfect match for the rough edges of that original punk sound. It is relevant to the times in every possible way, in the themes that it tackles with its lyrics, in the mindspace it explores, in the direct, merciless way it paints its picture, in the scratchy, abrasive, unrepentant voice it finds for itself. Its format has something of the experiment, and experiment is what Shelf Lives do, holding nothing back. The result is short, bittersweet, and full of angry energy, a record with many things to say and some very clear ideas on how to say them – and no fear of giving offence whatsoever.
Photo Credit: Stewart Baxter