Whether the inspiration is the violence of military states, the hypocrisy of organized religion, or just the wild force of love going always wrong, the Brooklyn-based punk trio Shop Talk heaves and shakes with poetic passion on their debut EP, The Offering (out now on Mon Amie Records). I realize that “poetic” might not be the most common adjective out there to describe punk bands (or even a desired description from the bands themselves sometimes). But Shop Talk’s literary chops— paired with their blistering guitar hooks and their frantic, driving rhythm section—deliver sharp and unapologetic storytelling, where the stakes are often mythic, and the narrator’s heart is almost always hanging out of his ripped open chest, bouncing along on a few tough threads.
The eponymous first song burns creepily bright, like an incantation to a dark power. After a clamor of guitar noise from Jon Garcia, Tristan Griffin’s bass line hypnotizes with slinky zig-zags, and both of them burst into fierce unison vocals: “I’ll set your world alight / with hopes and fears of all the years tonight / creatures of the night / all burning there for you.” Alexander Perelli crashes away on the drums through it all, like a demon afire.
“Black Friar,” the second track, starts out with an insistent bass line, and the guitar rings out under the verse, until the drums really kick in with driving power in the pre-chorus, as the lyrics play with a turn of rhyme that is both playful and disturbing: “and every beatrice is a drip / a bucket of sick / a slip of the lip / draggin’ your brush stroke long.”
“Mirage of Love,” the pre-released single from The Offering, heaves and thrashes, just like the dark waves of the turbulent sea that’s featured in the video for the song. The lyrics run over the roiling ocean imagery, once again putting the band’s talent with words in the foreground: “I’ve searched across the seven seas / i’ve chased each greedy fantasy / la fata she don’t call on me / and she don’t sail for free.” Garcia offered some back story for the track: “The song is loosely based on the legend of La Fata Morgana—a sorceress blamed for luring sailors to their deaths. The narrator knows that the mirage of love ends in catastrophe, but he’s also offended that Morgana hasn’t bothered to seduce him yet. It’s sorta like 53rd and 3rd, really.”
The fourth song and my favorite, “Ramona,” surges with an infectious guitar hook out front in the mix. The moral here seems to be that falling in love with a she-wolf (or a creature of similar ferocity) is a rough road. The lyrics give voice to a desperate guy who will do whatever this lady wants: “I’ll see if you will saw / I’ll abet if you break the law / I’ll see what no one saw / I’ll hear your voice if you come to call.”
Shop Talk (photos by Kyle Ostrander)
The Offering concludes with “Camp Hero,” where the spooky seaside imagery returns, and we learn of sailors being used and abused in the mythic experiment of the USS Eldridge, the song’s inspiration. In 1943, the USS Eldridge sat in the Philadelphia Naval Yard and suddenly glowed with a blue-green light and then disappeared, momentarily showing up in Virginia, and then hours later flickering back to our reality in Philadelphia. The sailors aboard reported various ailments, and the entire affair became known as “The Philadelphia Experiment,” where the US government used its navy as guinea pigs. Although various sources now call the entire thing a hoax, the tale provides fantastic fodder for Garcia’s lyrics: “man make the weather / man make your mind / forward and back again / they’re stressing time / they’re bending time / they’re splitting time.” The trio charges through “Camp Hero” like an electric bolt of twisted energy form clandestine government experiments, and boom! The Offering has run its high octane course in a lean thirteen minutes and change, and you might want to relisten to the fever pitch of the five tracks again. And again. Go ahead. I did.
The world is full of dark creepy forces, and Shop Talk weave the myriad stories found therein into some pretty unique and satisfying punk rock. Long-time Guided By Voices producer Travis Harrison recorded The Offering at his Serious Business Studio in NYC; Harrison and Garcia mixed the EP. Shop Talk will be live at Le Poisson Rouge on June 3 in NYC, supporting Pissed Jeans (w/Carniverous Bells).