Are we defined by who we are, or what we do? This is the question at the forefront of Shopping’s minds on All Or Nothing, an album preoccupied by the tensions that arise between people and their behaviour. This is the fourth LP from the post-punk trio, and represents a slight departure from the chaotic energy of previous outings.
Rarely do I feel compelled to mention the cover of an album, but the artwork for All Or Nothing does a very neat job of foreshadowing the texture of the music itself. At first glance the nature scene depicted seems organic, but upon closer inspection there’s a strange artificiality to it. This perfectly aligns itself with the sound of the record. This is post-punk with all the air sucked out; guitar lines that would typically be expected to dive into distortion remain crystal clear, and many a synth pad is enlisted in realising the group’s ambition. There’s more than a dash of DFA Records in the mix, resulting in a metropolitan take on the offerings of contemporaries Dry Cleaning. Shopping have far more of a pop sensibility than many other bands operating in the same space, but seem unaware of the hooks that they present. It never feels like they set out to make an earworm, rather that they tie themselves in knots with riffs, and just happen to stumble across one.
All Or Nothing begins with a riff that could quite easily be lifted from a Joy Division b-side. Far from the swirling darkness that would typically be associated with such a touchpoint however, the production here, courtesy of one Davey Warsop, is almost clinical- there’s a sheen to these guitars. Rachel Aggs also introduces us here to the spoken delivery that dominates the tracklist here, again reminding of Dry Cleaning’s Florence Shaw. Her measured tone is the perfect complement to the groove provided by Billy Easter and Andrew Milk, and the oblique references to gender politics presented here are this closest this record gets to making an actual political statement. Elsewhere, the lyrics deal with performance, failure and the line between the two- this is an album about what happens when you push people to the edge: on ‘About You’, Aggs wonders again and again “how much can you take?”.
All in all this is a very consistent, almost flat record. The tracks themselves rise and fall, and as a listener you often wind up somewhere entirely different to where you began, but every song starts from the same sturdy foundations. Shopping are frantic, sure, but they don’t deal in chaos. I guess for me the real question is how much of a lasting impression these songs can make when they are this measured and precise? After all, we’ve heard all of these elements before; none of this post-punk toolbox is new. But for now, Shopping have enough tightly wound guitar lines to keep me convinced.