Last time we caught up with Shrug Life frontman, Danny Carroll, he was lucid but pensive. He mused on the inspiration behind their then latest single, Strangers, an ode to his own social anxiety:
“If you stay still, and you stay silent, it only gets worse. There’s negative coping mechanisms such as gripping your phone, drinking alone… That’s where the song is framed.”
Strangers was a tone-setter for what was to come from ‘Maybe You’re The Punchline’. While debut album ‘¯?\?_?(???)?_?/?¯’ was hailed for its witty lyricism that poked fun at the bedlam of modern life, this follow-up from the Dublin-based outfit is more navel gazing, addressing themes of social anxiety, artistic insecurity and the precariousness of life in their hometown.
Recorded with Girl Band bassist Daniel Fox (Paddy Hanna, Silverbacks), the album does see a progression from their debut – featuring backing vocals and keys from the idiosyncratic Naoise Roo and Jonny Fun respectively – but retains the band’s passion for power pop and dry, acerbic wit.
Carroll ponders “the gig that kill[s] me” on Art For Sale, scaldy youngwans and lads burning down tents at an apocalyptic Electric Picnic on Last Gasp Of Summer and the pitfalls of modern communication on Ghosting and Sour Opinions.
All the while, however, is a persistent theme of self-improvement and acceptance; whether it’s in doing reps at the local gym in time with shit pop tunes on Hobbies or forcing yourself to be more social on Strangers.
Sonically, while still rooted in idiosyncratic power pop and ‘90s college rock, Shrug Life add more strings to their bow. Sour Opinions features Thin Lizzy inspired twin lead breaks in between vocal quips while Hobbies and Strangers are driven by the type of choppy, angular riffage that saw post-punk and new wave icons like DEVO and Wire make their bread and butter.
‘Maybe You’re The Punchline’ is not without its faults, however. Despite having such an in-demand musician at the helm of the project, Shrug Life make these diverse influences sound somewhat homogenous, and while there’s no denying the unique perspective of Danny Carroll, the reliance on irony and dry humour grows tiresome. Perspective is all well and good but seems futile when no alternative to the way things are is offered.
Shrug Life remain an interesting band, and ‘Maybe You’re The Punchline’ is a solid effort but one can’t help but feel that for all its introversions, it’s a bit sterile and lacking in any true grit or feeling.