Shortstraw is without a doubt one of the most popular bands in South Africa. They’re an effervescent band made up by a group of fun-loving and gregarious guys whose sole goal is to create music that gets feet moving, and smiles on people’s faces. Their previous two albums spawned countless infectious indie-pop anthems and several songs that went on to dominate local radio charts. This conjured up cynical rumblings from the elitist hipster society of Cape Town that hates it when South African indie bands get mainstream attention. Discontent whispers and rudely muttered accusations of their music sounding the same are spat into their chai lattes and local micro-brewed coffees. Alas, much to their distaste, their complaints fell on deaf ears as Shortstraw skyrocketed to local fame. However, perhaps the complaints of the disenfranchised hipsters where in fact heard by the band.
With their new album, Youthless, Shortstraw has opted to break away from creating nonsensical and whimsical indie-pop anthems. They have embarked down a path of musical maturity as they play around with a sound that is reminiscent of the days when pop punk bands like Good Charlotte and Sum 41 made South Africa their stomping ground in the mid-2000s. There was a time when every 13 year old knew the words to “Fat Lip” and these same bands were capable of hitting South African shores and selling out shows. Those days are long gone, and 13 year olds now know the lyrics to “Anaconda” and “Steal My Girl”.
Seeing as Youthless is a coming-of-age album all about growing up, it is only fit that Shortstraw has decided to resurrect the old school pop punk sound that dominated most of their childhood. The catchy hooks and four chord riffs are combined with a gritty, yet whimsical indie rock sound – there are some things that Shortstraw has to keep the same. The end result is 15 well-produced songs that may scream of maturity, but will don a cheeky smile and commit some sly prank while you’re distracted by the needling Arctic Monkeys styled guitar work on lead single “Heaps Keen” or the jazzy saxophone pieces that undercut “House” – giving it that odd sexy quality that saxophone gives to all songs. The sound of the album is incredibly haphazard as they leap from one influence to another, with influences ranging from Vampire Weekend to Taking Back Sunday.
While you marvel at how vastly different Youthless sounds to previous albums, Shortstraw will hit you with a handful of songs that prove that they’re still capable of pulling off all their old tricks. Songs like “OMG” and “Say Anything” – with its 80s romantic comedy refrences – are tightly-wound indie rock anthems that were developed for the sole purpose of catchy choruses and putting large smiles on people’s faces. Shortstraw shows their true talent for creating nonsense-filled songs with the late 90s pop-punk riot mixed with the lethargic energy of The White Stripes that is “High School” – a song that is a throwback to life at high school for the socially awkward and the not-so academically gifted.
With the South African music year opening with an astounding release like Youthless – one can only hope that the rest of the year lives up to the standard that Shortstraw just set. South Africa may be far from being on the same rank has the UK or USA, but bands like Shortstraw constantly restore my faith in the capacity for South African music being able to rival the major pop artists that major labels import to South Africa.