In a world where our nuclear demise could come as a result of a tweet, it feels pretty safe to say that one song, one album or even one band isn’t going to do much to alter the cataclysmic state of the current political landscape. Rachel Aggs, vox and guitar for the London post-punk trio Shopping, was left contemplating this same concept post-Brexit as the band was heading into the studio to cut their follow-up to Why Choose (2015). “We’ve always felt like what we do is political in that it’s cathartic and healing in some way,” explained Aggs in a press release, “but at some point it just felt like making ‘political’ music was a bit like putting a tiny Band-Aid on an enormous wound.”
The album Aggs made with bassist Billy Easter and drummer Andrew Milk is called The Official Body—a play on words referencing institutional bodies of government, as well as the limited selection of physical bodies that are deemed “acceptable” by the general society. It’s a fitting metaphor for a band whose stark, jagged, dance-punk music sounds like a giant middle finger to the established order, and whose status as a band fronted by a queer woman of color is in itself a political stand, whether they want it to be or not.
The ten tracks on Body are audacious, funky, and have that element of outsider-cool left over from the heyday of influences like Delta 5, Gang Of Four and ESG. Opening cut “The Hype” is lean, danceable and hi-hat heavy; the funky-fresh bass line and stuttering guitar enough to get anyone in possession of a nervous system out on the floor. It’s a sensation that doesn’t really lift until the album’s over.
This time around, they sparingly embellish their skeletal guitar-bass-drums setup with some new sounds. “Discover” is centered around a fat, fuzzy synth that sounds like the basis of a discarded Backstreet Boys single, “Asking For A Friend” starts out with what sounds like bongos (?!), and “Wild Child” adds Devo-style synth to Milk’s usual tinny, tightly-wound drums.
Though not outrightly political, themes of identity, confusion, and belonging serve as enough of a rallying cry. “You don’t like me/I don’t look like you,” Aggs sings on “My Dad’s A Dancer,” the lyrics and her particular style of vocal berating giving Shopping’s music most of its attitude. At times she and Milk play off of each other, giving songs both an antagonist and an empath. “You’re still lonely/You’re still desperate,” Aggs snarls on “Discover,” as Milk responds mildly, trying to convince himself that he’s fine. “Control Yourself,” sounds like a ‘60s spy movie before turning into a kind of punked-out round. “Hate yourself/Create yourself/Control yourself/And own yourself” Milk sings over and over, the insistence of the mantra matched by Aggs’ “I know what I like/And I like what I know.”
Instead of offering up another vaguely-feminist cash-grab or a haphazard political patch job, Shopping continue to do what they do best, using their bass lines and unique perspective to provide a source of kinship, understanding and an outlet to vent general frustration. After lamenting her general confusion and disillusionment (“Don’t know how to feel/You never tell the truth”), things take an optimistic turn on “Overtime.” Over one of the album’s most infectious riffs, Aggs sings, “I think I finally found a way out,” signaling us to join her in dancing it out as the record fades.