Panic Shack – ‘Baby Shack’

By Ian Kenworthy

Attitude can get you a long way. If punk was a reaction to glam, Panic Shack are a reaction to groups of cocksure lads clogging up the Cardiff music scene. They embody the ethos perfectly; anyone can be in a band, everyone has something to say and these five, fiery upstarts have been tearing up the local scene with their accessible, lo-fi tunes. Their debut EP ‘Baby Shack’ collects six unruly songs, each reinforcing the idea that being in a band is like hanging with your mates, and you won’t be able to resist its easy charms.

While some bands describe themselves as ‘artists’ and delight in throwing around exotic guitar scales, Panic Shack are proud of their limited ability and freely admit that upon forming back in 2018 they could barely play. Guitarist Romi Lawrence even says that when writing the songs they would just “chuck a few notes together”.  It’s a direct and honest statement, reflected in the music here, which might be simple and straight-up but is also very satisfying. Whether it’s the easy strums of ‘Who’s Got My Lighter?‘ or the slicing chord riffs of ‘Ju Jits You’ it’s all urgent, bright and effortlessly catchy.

Five of the songs here are already available, so in many ways ‘Baby Shack’ plays like a compilation but that’s no bad thing, especially as it is structured to some degree with the almost experimental ‘I Don’t Really Like It’ opening things up. Beginning slowly and powered by a simple drum beat the song almost feels like a Meg-led White Stripes until it explodes into the jaunty guitar sound that defines the rest of their work. It’s a biting sound for sure, without being jangly, making for a lively weighty tone that distances them from indie-rock. It’s definitely not pop-punk polished or lacquered and there’s a layer of reality to their work that more abstract bands lack.

The band’s defining feature is Sarah Harvey’s spoken word vocals, which have the advantage of being both fun to follow and easy on the ear. She throws out some great statements on ‘Ju Jits You’ and there is something undeniably brilliant about a song that builds up momentum only to collide with the opening phrase of ‘Umm…’.

In many ways, the EP has a lot in common with the Arctic Monkeys’ first album only with a feminine zest, and the songs play out as conversations between friends. It’s not quite as brash musically but it’s a fair comparison as the two bands feel very similar, their work crammed with observations and clever lyrics. Where the Arctic Monkeys record depicted a lads nights out in Sheffield, here the stories are more specific, focusing more on people encountered in daily life, be it the strange living statue of ‘Mannequin Man’ or the woman assuming maternal instincts on ‘Baby’. Only ‘The Ick’ directly addresses romance and even then it plays out like a discussion amongst friends, albeit using a coffin nail as both a metaphor and a slick pre-chorus. While not being explicitly feminist, songs like ‘Baby’ challenge traditional gender assumptions and are wryly humorous. The best example being the line “Kids are not for everyone so ask before you give me one” which is a throwaway hook, a statement of intent and a cheeky swing at male listeners.

Tom Rees of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard has guided the band’s career so far and as producer has really captured their vibe. This is important as Panic Shack’s whole schtick is their personal chemistry. This is explicit on the outro to ‘Ju Jits You’ which descends into a high energy-chant, but is threaded through all their work. It’s difficult to think of a record that is such a joyous celebration of friendship and this gives the record its strength. Similarly ‘Who’s Got My Lighter’ coasts on an uncomfortable verse as the words are close enough to a rhyme that they feel awkward every time they’re repeated. Luckily the song retains the band’s breezy energy and there’s a hook in the chorus to hold it together, making for a surprising hit.

Bubbling with undeniable chemistry ‘Baby Shack’ is an exciting, witty debut EP collecting the band’s work so far. Keenly crafted, with a simple sense of fun and a tonne of great observations it makes for a great listen.

IAN KENWORTHY

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