This Music Could Be My Life #3

February 2023 – The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other

For much of February, I was quite worried about this column. My listening habits were pretty much unchanged throughout the month, until its final week – and it took an incredible new album to shake them. Shame’s Food for Worms was released when I was on a late-night coach down to the band’s hometown of Brixton, and since that midnight hour little else in the way of indie has occupied my ears. Staring at the digital clock at the front of the bus, watching the little I could see of the road ahead, the record began, and the further time ticked on, I found myself connecting ever more closely with the new music playing in my headphones.

In Food for Worms, Shame have created a collection of love songs for friendships. I’ve often bemoaned how much modern music is dominated by professions of romantic adoration or sexual angst – perhaps it’s because I’m not exactly a ‘Casablanca’ (a nickname I was rather ironically given as a teenager), but it seems that this lyrical deluge doesn’t match up with most of our day-to-day lives. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for them; Interpol’s debonair, Cavalier-poet antics (fans will see what I did there) never fail to impress, and I often find myself fascinated by the crooning lechery of Wild Beasts’ sensual early work. Nevertheless, the evening that I set off from London to return to Glasgow, I discussed with a friend how harmful it is that we frame singleton life around the goal of partnering up, not only to our own self-worth but also to our platonic and romantic relationships. If your entire purpose in life is simply acquiring a mate, then what do you do when you find said partner? It is so easy to plateau in a relationship because of this, to fail to become a better person, or even become a worse one, because this false life goal is purportedly fulfilled. 

Shame have produced something incredibly mature and heartfelt by avoiding these conventions, showing a far deeper understanding of what actually matters in life, and putting platonic love – something so minimised that it is often entirely ignored – in the spotlight. Diverging from the more polished and introspective tone of sophomore shine Drunk Tank Pink, the band chose to record live in studio with none other than Flood, who also produced Interpol’s masterfully moody 2022 release The Other Side of Make-Believe (redeeming Fridmann’s controversial work on prior record Marauder). While pretentious nerds online refer to the result as sounding “muddy”, I would contend that the warmth and more cluttered overall sound benefits the band by better embodying their tremendous live sound – not to mention enhancing the intimate and even comfy feeling that Food for Worms’ artwork, lyricism, and jangly guitar tones already provide.

Indeed, sentimentality appears to be the word of the day; “Orchid” employs acoustic guitar, “All the People” feels like the pub ballad that Oasis wish they wrote, and “Yankees” dials down the energy with a slow-paced intro. The third and final single, “Adderall”, is the most evident manifestation – a passionate song about a friend in addiction (or, perhaps, a similarly unhealthy and dependant relationship[1]), at once admonishing and sympathetic. 

“I know it’s not a choice…

As you say that it’s fine

That word you use all the time”

yells Charlie as the song crescendos into a heartfelt climax, as if his relationship was straining under pressure in real-time.

To describe Food for Worms only as being twee, however, would be a disservice. Fingers of Steel, which opens with a delicate piano introduction that could’ve been picked from any number of 2000s Pitchfork darlings, draws on the frustrations of supporting a struggling pal;

“You’re complaining a lot

About the things that you’ve got given…

There’s a sun outside but you don’t see it”

We’ve all been there (in both positions, I am sure) – Food for Worms isn’t about glamourising anything; in that sense, it is incredibly grounded. The music is no stranger to grit, either; in the pounding, homoerotic “Alibis”, Charlie Steen screams the chorus over a surprisingly chaotic squall that resembles the noise rock outbursts of fellow post-punk visionaries Protomartyr, the song’s momentum almost toppling into total collapse. Even the initially mellow “Orchids” concludes with a vicious explosion of sound. Thanks to this dynamism, there are few records so rewarding upon relistening – different songs become more relatable over time, fitting the daily micro-dramas of those close to us, and lyrical motifs that surface across the album (especially the phrase “I sold my life for you”, delivered on both sides of the record, raw both times) becoming more obvious.

Building upon the energy of a wickedly electric duo of songs (“The Fall of Paul” and “Burning by Design”), the most powerful track on the album, and perhaps a song that tops Drunk Tank Pink’s Women-style masterpiece “Snow Day” for both artistic talent and sincerity, is “Different Person”. Charlie’s narrator watches a friend adopt a 

“different accent for fun”

as their personality and style alter over time. He, too, is lost in flux, at once arguing that

“You can change your hair, change your clothes

Change your friends, but you’re still the same to me”

While also reasoning with himself, realising he must

“Let my fingers relax

Around your former self

I guess you’re changing

It had to happen eventually”

There is a unique loss in seeing a loved one change drastically, perhaps even losing interest in things you both bonded over, and there is nowhere where this happens more frequently than in university. Just as Steen describes, hometown friends are at once the same as you always remember them, conversations picking off from years ago, and yet, somehow altered in ways it can be hard to reconcile with, perhaps more cynical or less ambitious thanks to years at the grindstone, wrestling with the problems Food for Worms’ describes – isolation, addiction, and depression to name a few. The music itself follows these contradictions, at once soft, then – with a phenomenal bassline – picking up the pace, then silent, then swooningly climactic, Steen’s scattered thoughts meeting their sonic match. It’s a chaotic but cohesive ride every time, emotionally resonant and musically engaging. A perfect encapsulation of the record as a whole.

I must cheat the monthly nature of this column a little, for the sake of closure; on March 3rd, I once again managed to see Shame, this time in SWG. I went with a close friend, and we had an absolute blast. Steen’s charisma was utterly intoxicating, and very quickly the audience was jiving and perspiring so much that the vapour of sweat was drifting up into the rafters. The room became a sauna, and thanks to the almost transcendental energy of Shame’s music, the entire gig manifested as a great cathartic union of strangers. Stumbling out into the cool air, new scarf in tow, on the way to pick up our vinyl copies from Strip Joint Records, my friend and I experienced a rare euphoria, exhausted yet regenerated, detoxified by music and humanity.

And so, with this uplifting image of the shared joys of friendship, I leave you with the words of wisdom imparted in the album’s rousing conclusion; 

“All the people

That you’re gonna meet

Don’t you throw it all away

Because you can’t love yourself.”

[1] Stole this interpretation from a certain Qmunicate cinephile

Toyah Stoker

(This Music Could Be My Life is a monthly literature column by Toyah Stoker, exclusive to the Stay tuned for more installments!)


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