Written by Maurice Marion
Punk outfit Shaanz’s new release, This is an EP, is much more than its humble, ironic title implies. Balancing angsty punk ferocity with emotive, well-crafted melodies, the three-track EP packs a fiery punch, delivering what might be called a controlled fury. The solo project of Shanna, Shaanz brings to mind the raw sounds of nineties indie. Her infectious Kim Gordon-esque vocals are as pained as they are seductive, conveying an attitude both youthful and weary. And when her voice breaks one minute into “Come Home,” it’s as chilling as any time Pavement passionately ruptures their vocal cords.
The effectiveness of Shanna's delivery is aided by some terrific production. Scott Craggs and James Meder, working behind the boards, manage to bring out a certain lushness on the guitars during the songs' choruses. When her songs hit their emotional peak, they have the same moving grandeur as any great shoegaze hit, even though her sound, with its controlled distortion and lack of chorus, reverb or delay, couldn’t have any less of a shoegaze feel. Also of note are the clean, crunchy drum sounds on the record — recording engineer Meder seems to have put the snare mic at just the right place. The drums have a powerful, John Bonham bite present on Tame Impala tracks, without the artificial, sample-like quality. The mixer must have used one hell of a compressor to get that sort of crunch.
And I would argue that this high quality of production doesn’t take anything away from Shaanz’ claim to a punk aesthetic. These days, so many new bands throw thirty low-quality demos up on their Bandcamp to create the appearance of being both prolific and “legit,” chocking it up to a deliberate aesthetic decision to be “lo-fi.” But while many bands capitalize on this lo-fi brand (because it really has become a brand), Shanna doesn’t seem to care about that facade. Her pristinely produced EP derives value from its content, not its presentation.
The record’s brevity works to its advantage, emphasizing her songs’ satisfyingly tight, well-planned structure. This is an EP is all about the elation of the build. Track “8 feet tall” has a perfect proportion between its loud and quiet sections, holding back just long enough and lets go at just the right time.
In an essay on story structure, writer George Saunders talks about a good short story having little “gas stations” throughout the plot, which keep the reader going, periodically keeping him interested in something new. Likewise, a good song must continually go somewhere new before the listener loses interest — whether that’s to a bridge with a different texture, a verse with more spare instrumentation, an instrumental solo, or any number of other possibilities. The best songwriters, the McCartneys and Dylans of the world, have a masterly appreciation for these gas stations in their songs.
While it's probably hyperbolic to say Shanna’s writing is McCartney-level in quality, it’s certainly comparable. This is an EP contains some of the most polished, well-executed songwriting to be heard in the past year. Either Shanna spent a obscenely long time writing and rewriting these three tunes or she’s some sort of freakish songwriting prodigy, someone who naturally just knows how to slowly cultivate an ecstatic build from the verse to the chorus of “furR” or to reduce the instrumentation two minutes into “8 feet tall."
In the end, what’s so great about This is an EP is that it uses everything appealing about the punk aesthetic (its bone-chilling ferocity, its anti-establishment sentiment) while omitting its less attractive attributes (its often poor production quality, its frequent absence of catchy melody). Shaanz’s music isn’t in service of being punk. The punk aesthetic is in service of her higher musical aspirations, aspirations she will no doubt achieve. A project this good can’t go unnoticed for long.
Listen to more Shaanz on her Bandcamp