Words: James Frostick
Band image: Gus Hunt
Cover art: Jill Wilkinson
In just over a month’s time, Eora Country/Sydney group Shrapnel will release its new long-play effort Alasitas. Lead single ‘Orpheum Protocol’ showcases a sonic departure for the group, which builds upon existing guitar-centric foundations and accentuates them with some charmingly off-centre instrumentation – hinting towards a newfound freedom and flexibility in sound.
The near-decade evolution of Shrapnel from Sam Wilkinson’s solo vehicle to top-line underground mainstay has been terrific to witness. What started as solo offshoot for the Day Ravies/Mope City mainstay has matured from its unadorned home-recorded 90s-indie-indebted origins into something a bit more dynamic. If one were to go back and listen to the sunken-eyed slacker-fuzz of 2015’s Carpet Yankers then follow it up with 2016’s Tranceplanetsugarmouth, you’d catch traces of Sam’s gradual lean towards glossier, smoother and faster music (particularly on ‘Frozen Rock’ and ‘Chicken Fantasy’). While 2018’s compendium of punchy compositions Wax World 5 dipped back into crunchier sonics, the brevity of each track hinted at impulse-driven experimentation – a conscious eschewing of overwrought and overthought practices that boded well for future efforts.
Fifteen seconds into Shrapnel’s new track ‘Orpheum Protocol’ I had to double check I was still listening to the same band. I didn’t expect a stylistic departure of this magnitude – it’s as if someone’s opened the windows, pulled back the curtains and cleaned up a little (or just went outside entirely). I think it’s the instrumentation that most clearly contributes to the aesthetic pivot – the addition of acoustic guitar, synth, clarinet and flute create a peppy, fizzing energy that hums within each brassy note, while the percussive tempo makes the whole piece feel nimble and pliable, like it could go in any direction. While the addition of Day Ravies alums Caroline de Dear and Lani Crooks is a big contributing factor to the shift, it’s important to stress that this isn’t a Day Ravies reboot. Shrapnel isn’t peddling the same jangle jams, there are a few more ‘far-out’ ideas here that put it closer towards the 70s psychedelia end of the aural spectrum. I also catch a sense of cleansing, or fresh beginnings – lyrical motifs of emptying out the dregs and putting them to the torch, which all seems fitting. It’s probably too early to say, but it seems Sam and co. are entering this next phase with bright-eyed enthusiasm, which is great to see, especially when the world has given us so much to be down about lately.