Shoun Shoun: Monsters & Heroes – album reviewShoun Shoun

Monsters & Heroes

28 January 2022 (CD/DL)

Annette Berlin’s Bristol quartet Shoun Shoun self-release a memorable debut album filled with lo-fi lockdown anxiety and raucous tales of bad behaviour.

Buy from Bandcamp.

Guitars churn. Bass rumbles and drums pound. Hi-hats hiss, creating a storm of sibilance. “I was lying drunk on the floor,” Annette Berlin sings sweetly into the void. “I think somebody was speaking to me.”

It’s the sound of the morning after.

A squall of guitar interrupts her reverie, then fades away as the song lurches onwards. “Don’t know how I got here,” she sings, the music swelling towards its conclusion. “Did I play games? Did I have fun? Please just tell me.” We’ve all been there. It’s quite an opening to Monsters & Heroes, a debut album whose title captures the yin and yang of a record that deals in contradictions: loud and quiet, light and dark, tension and release. Diery fury one moment, sweet seduction the next.

This is Shoun Shoun: Annette Berlin (vocals, guitar), Boris Ming (violin, synth, vocals), Ole Rudd (bass) and Giuseppe La Rezza (drums). The four-piece from Bristol emerged with their 2019 EP A Hundred Trips, followed by two standalone singles in lockdown that were championed here at Louder Than War. Both of them – the moody, melancholic Refresh & Replay, which we described as “the bastard child of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave”, and the anxiety-filled lockdown anthem Stuck – are included here on Monsters & Heroes.

Perhaps as a result of its lo-fi DIY origins, beginning life in Berlin’s garage and reaching fruition when they were mixed in her loft, it’s a record that fills the listener with a sense of disorientation and discombobulation. It’s like listening while you’re drunk, or stoned (even if you’re neither); the mix makes the instruments swirl with a giddy, dizzy, freewheeling abandon that’s often at odds with conventional production – a trebly blizzard of cymbals creating a kind of analog white noise that sets you on edge.

Shoun Shoun are the sum of their parts: Berlin has spent years battling ferocious noise in Bristol bands like Big Joan, Male, The Final Age and Rose Kemp, but finally felt an uncontrollable urge to connect with music in a more intimate way. The result is a set of songs of alienation, redemption and the emptiness at the end of the party, brought to life by musicians whose collective CV includes other Bristol legends like The Moonflowers, The Fantasy Orchestra, Mooz, Patrick Duff and Chikinki.

Lyrically, too, there’s a sense of confusion that echoes our lockdown experience, sometimes literally: “We’re stuck together through good and bad,” Berlin sings on Stuck. “We tell the truth and we lie,” she declares on the terse, tense Toxic. “You love me / You hate me / And you want me / And you can kill me.” Even adopting the role of seductress you’re never quite sure if it’s safe to go along with her. “Follow me,” she sings invitingly on the titular song over a slow, slinky and sinister backing in which drums beat out a tribal rhythm, a tambouring shakes and a squelchy bass guitar underpins a screeching electric guitar. “‘Cause when you’re dead, you’re dead.”

Even when she sings about her daughter, to a tune that’s as close as Shoun Shoun get to a conventional pop song, there’s a warning at its heart: “When my daughter strides along / with a stern expression on her face / well you’d better keep out of her way.” We don’t doubt it. Their sound is hard to categorise, moving between abrasive garage rock and soporific dream pop, playful psychedelia and carnal post punk, embracing the duality of darkness and bliss, melody and noise. Those contradictions again.

“The album is a fractured collection of songs reflecting how fractured a period of time the last two years have been,” says Berlin, who wrote and recorded half these songs before the lockdowns began and the other half as soon as the band could be together again. “Some of the tracks were written in my loft during lockdown as a way to cope with the loneliness. It was all done in complete DIY fashion; I’m really inspired by bands like Bob Vylan and Du Blonde who fiercely protect their independence.”

Over the course of an arresting debut album, Berlin’s vocals span the range from whisper to a scream, even incorporating some semi-spoken word on the hectic Much Sweeter before melting into a seductive murmur on the intoxicating (and intoxicated) shuffle of Sway With Me. Shimmering with synthesised strings and a lonesome guitar from a cowboy song, it lurches like a late-night cab ride home when you’re spinning in the back seat.

Which is a feeling that comes around again when the song is reprised at the end of the album as Schwing Mit Mir – no google translate necessary – with Berlin giving the same song the full-blown Weimar cabaret treatment in her native German tongue. All that’s missing is the bowler hat.

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All words by Tim Cooper. You can find more of Tim’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He is also on Twitter as @TimCooperES

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More of Shoun Shoun at Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud.

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