After two 7-inch singles and a demo cassette (recently pressed to wax), Melbourne quintet The Shifters finally unveil their first, proper full-length album Have a Cunning Plan. Recorded at (Australian legend) Al Montfort of Total Control/Terry's home studio, Have A Cunning Plan ups the fidelity a bit, tempering the up-front crunch of their previous demo/LP. The sonic space suits the band, allowing the unpretentious complexity of the songs and lyrics to generate the "oomph" rather than bludgeoning the listener with treble and feedback.
The album showcases ten new tracks by the band at their best; scrappy, self-destructive, stumbling and brilliant pop music that seems tossed off or nonchalant on the surface but is rife with rewards upon further listening. Early bangers like "Molasses" and lead single "Work/Life, Gym Etc" are instant earworms, (as are "Straight Lines" and "Pyramid Scheme," the latter reworked from a recent 7-inch) but it's the simple-yet-sophisticated songcraft of tunes like "How Long?" or the languid strum of "Andrew Bolt" that are heavy on mood and are vehicles for vocalist/guitaristMiles Jansen's erudite lyrics that simultaneously celebrate and decry the banality of life, while also tackling larger issues of colonialism conservatism's effects on society at large.
On the surface, there's no denying the band owe a heavy debt to The Fall, but whatever seeds were planted by the late, great Mark E. Smith, have gestated into an animal all their own. Have A Cunning Plan aims to take them towards a greater plane.
Our take: The Shifters seemed to spring out of nowhere a year ago, and after a spate of releases on several labels they’ve found a home for their debut full-length on Trouble in Mind Records. The jump to a bigger label hasn’t changed the band though. They still sound like a mash-up of early, pre-Brix Fall and Dunedin sound bands like the Clean or the Chills. The full-length format allows the Shifters to spread out, so more repetitive, Fall-esque songs get a little more breathing room, like “Andrew Bolt,” which begins with a synth intro that reminds me of early Tangerine Dream and evolves into the kind of zoned out, Krautrock-inspired excursion that the Fall would embark upon at least one or twice per album. There’s still plenty of pop, though, with tracks like “Molasses” and “Carlisle” bringing memorable melodies to the table. While I liked the more tightly wound aesthetic of the 7”s, if you’re into taking a longer journey with the Shifters you’ll enjoy Have a Cunning Plan.