What Still Gets Me by Shit PresentRelease date: May 5, 2023
Label: Specialist Subject.
After seven years in the wilderness Shit Present came back swinging in January with ‘Fuck It’ a speeding pop-punk banger with its blood up and a “burning desire for a fight”. The next track to trail the album ‘Voice In Your Head’ further tweaked my interest with its smart relatable lyric and loud/quiet dynamics but I was, at that point, still grumbling darkly to myself about “cookie cutter emo punk nonsense”. I resolved to mend the hole in my cynicism fence before things got any further out of hand.
Too late. My weakness for retro blends of female vocals and buzzing guitars soon had me returning to certain musical moments and the punch of particular lines until eventually… “Fuck it, I’m gonna end up writing about this one, aren’t I?”
Because while my shallow, dismissive, description of the sound of What Still Gets Me stands, it doesn’t stop it from being a really brilliant example of the form. Indeed, songwriter Iona Cairns admits “I was trying to let my 13 year old self out, the one that loved all the embarrassing pop-punk”. Everything works just as it should, palm muted guitar chug verses exploding into soaring choruses, wrapped in a comfort blanket of tried and true song structures, the nostalgic security of familiar moves. Safe space indie-core.
“She’s lost all of her friends, doesn’t blame them at all. They watched her climb to the edge and couldn’t bear the fall…”
The reason Shit Present’s debut album comes seven years since their last EP, and a good share of its subject matter, is related to Iona’s bipolar disorder. The opening song, ‘Cram The Page’ was the first she wrote in three years following a hospitalisation. It’s pretty stark in outlining the situation but never self pitying, and has her repeatedly claiming “I wouldn’t have it any other way”. Iona has a way with the rush ‘n’ tumble of words. There’s no flowery images or kitchen sink details, her lines are plain and ringing with unadorned emotions. She delivers them in a translucent voice that never stands between you and her songs, despite them being so personal. There’s a generosity about that. Her words flow in deceptively simple phrases often bearing sharp moments of recognition that can cut you.
This isn’t trauma porn. Not a performance of heightened states of distress. It’s a calmer reflection, a candid and open discussion. Attempting to learn lessons in sunlit rooms when the storm has passed. ‘Voice In Your Head’ is perhaps the most direct and universal in that way. If you shuffle through your day hating yourself and cursing your own stupidity, as many of us do, it’s a blunt reminder you can resist that negativity. On the fierce ‘Unravelling’ Cairns splits the vocal with guitarist Thom Weeks to make a duality of mind explicit. Elsewhere subtler shifts of perspective sometimes make it unclear who is being addressed.
This is particularly true in the album’s second half where the songs drift from mental health to a more relationship autopsy bent. ‘Too Into It’ is a bright acoustic ballad, dressed in chiming melody and soft summer clothes it sounds for all the world like a lovesick swoon but undercuts itself, “you’re getting way too into it, you want that love story perfect ending shit” working equally as rebuttal to potential suitors or note to self.
The title track is unequivocal though, Cairns joined on vocals by Camp Cope’s Georgia McDonald in calling out the shady behaviour of men, “It’s not always a stranger in the dark, it’s the person you trust that goes too far”. It’s followed by ‘Crossed The Line’ about confronting someone close in the aftermath of such an event which, although powered by a simmering anger, doesn’t just blindly rage. It’s complex, adult. There’s a cold fury in these songs, a kind of retrospective anger that comes from the strength of a new sense of self. They are not love songs.
There’s a pleasing flow across the album with the songs underlining and complementing each other. From the very start the sudden acceleration of ‘Fuck It’ is framed anew by coming after ‘Cram The Page’s setting of the scene. Through this continuity seemingly ordinary lines gain weight from context. The iron fist in a velvet glove trick is one they pull repeatedly. At the album’s centre is ‘The Pain’, the most bouncy and joyous gallop they can summon up it breezes by with arguably the most fatalist truth balled in its fist. From break up to break down in but a short step “Remember when you thought you couldn’t climb out? Remember it now. ‘cos it’s not up and down, it’s round and round” and into a spiralling guitar line that spins you like a roundabout under the wide blue summer sky so fast you don’t notice you’re bleeding.