When I was about 14 the highlight of my miserable little virgin week was watching 'My So Called Life', an undervalued tee- vee classic starring pre fame Claire Danes and Jared Leto. The rest of the time I listened to Nirvana and, well, masturbated quite a lot. Like five times a day. Seriously. Anyway, there are moments on 'Life! Death! Prizes!' that create a similar feeling, a rush of joyful abandonment that makes you feel as though you have skipped school and gone to a dirty warehouse to watch some kid's band, with a hot teenage girl. It feels a bit dirty and wrong, but actually it is beautifully innocent, because honestly, how dirty can you be when you are fourteen? This feeling is there in the way 'Stubborn or Bust' rattles along like an unholy train from post -punk hell and then suddenly explodes in an unexpected starburst of melody, and it's in the heartswooning lilt of organs and indecipherable but somehow meaningful lyrics of 'Their Stats'. It isn't the work of a band that have peaked but rather a work of potential uncontrollably bursting outwards -you know the way 'A Northern Soul' is exciting but 'Urban Hymns' is totally boring despite being obviously more accomplished? That's because the sound of potential is almost always more exciting than the sound of potential fulfilled. So Shrag haven't worked too hard to make everything perfect and boring. For every poppy little indie anthem like 'Tights in August' or 'Rabbit Kids' there is something like 'The Habit Creep' or 'Ghosts Before Breakfast', songs which are all bleepy noises and harsh, metallic ringing guitars with not much in the way of catchy choruses but plenty of posh girls shouting in that yelpy way they have. If the decade of pop music just gone by has done one good thing it is to resurrect that 'Oh Bondage, up YOOOOUURRRSSS!!!'' posh girl shouting thing, and elucidate that posh girls shouting on indie punk records is big, clever and cool.
If you fill your records with posh birds yelping then you do run the risk of sounding a bit too much like Los Campesinos, but Shrag have thrown in a bit of Nuggets compilation style everything- louder -than- everything -else production and just about gotten away with it. I wouldn't be surprised if this album was one of those accidental masterpieces that the band didn't even mean to do and can't repeat, but I haven't been this into a record since I heard Comet Gain's 'City Fallen Leaves'-they have a similar mix of pretty melodies and half- arsed pretend punk posturing, and it all combines to make a whole which feels like records feel when you first start listening to records. Rather than write one huge attempt at a 'this is the LAST SONG everybody!' type anthem to finish their record, these guys decided to write four and finish their record FOUR TIMES. So the end run from 'When We Go Courting', through the synth string laden waltz of 'Furnishings', the mental freak out messiness of 'More Than Mornings' and the actual last song 'Coda' all becomes one huge arm waving, funny face making internal moshpit of the soul where you go bonkers in your bedroom. It's a bit like drinking cider with Jarvis Cocker and Sarah Bernhardt when you are actually supposed to be at work i.e. it is fucking brilliant, in a totally messy, beautiful but not bothered kind of way.
Know who is cool? Jean Paul Sartre. He turned down the Nobel Prize TWICE. The first time is cool enough but then, when they come back, to go 'I thought I told you to stick it up your arse?' is MEGA COOLZ. Fuck albums of the year and awards ceremonies, and fuck Pitchfork and their stupid little marks out of ten. I never give anything marks out of ten. Those stars at the top of the review, the editor just makes them up. All that being said, every year, instead of posting my top ten albums on message boards like everybody else, I have an imaginary awards ceremony in my head where I present the winners of the Jonny Dartz Album of the Year with a big shiny trophy and an imaginary cheque for ten squillion imaginary Euros (My imagination is a republic). 'Life, Death, Prizes!' is an outright solid gold indie classic and it is neck and neck with 'Romance is Boring' for this year's imaginary prize. And the sad thing is I will genuinely agonise over this until December.