ShameFinger has been shredding about the Memphis punk scene since 2015. In that time, the quartet has produced two EPs: Good, Clean Fun and more recently Manifesto. The newest installment and the band’s first full-length LP is Sorry Mom – 16 tracks of honest, home-brewed punk rock. Front man and guitarist Party Pat returns along with guitarist Gallows and bassist Farmer, while Ryan Saucier makes his ShameFinger studio debut on the drums.
The burning question for any good pedant who gazes upon the title is “should there be a comma?” It’s a fine line between apologizing to one’s mother or saying she herself is a sorry sack. One little grammatical notch—or rather its absence—leaves a hovering ambiguity between the disappointed and the disappointing, which is wholly fitting for themes found throughout the album.
In fact, the record opens with the four-man punk outfit chanting “Happy Birthday to you. You disappointed your parents. Happy Birthday to you.” Like a cheeky Shakespearean chorus, the group vocals sum up what you’re about to hear: a celebration of hating growing older, coupled with the substitution of anxiety for identity.
Most notably in this theme is the titular “Sorry Mom” where the illustrious Party Pat begins by dedicating the track to the band mates’ mothers, calling each one out by name over a mid-tempo doo-wop chord progression. The quaint facade quickly fades as the apologies reveal to be more facetious than sincere, focusing more on the narrator’s decisions to break with his family’s expectations as the guitar gets fuzzier and meaner. You can almost even hear it get more sarcastic.
This is of course buttoned its up-tempo counterpart on the next track, the aptly named “Not Sorry,” where Party Pat declares his gratitude for all the seedy, unsavory, and annoying things he finds himself surrounded by in Memphis. Fitting for our overall all Grit ’n’ Grind attitude, he finds beauty in the mold of our fair city.
It’s a mixed signal, isn’t it? But ShameFinger’s M.O. during this half-hour punk rock odyssey is subverting your expectations. The whole three seconds of “Track 7” is dedicated to driving that point home.
Man vs. Everything, Even Himself
Moreover, you can feel the push and pull of conflicting emotions between songs like “Nostalgia” which seems to express dissatisfaction with having found oneself, versus “February Day” which feels more like an anti-nostalgia for a simpler, worse time. Teetering between wanting to go back to before he had found himself and lamenting his naivety before he did, Party Pat comes off as a grounded, learned punk who has officially realized all stages of life suck. Smashing your rose-colored glasses is its own breed of cynical optimism and can make you happier by freeing yourself of the burden of happiness.
Maybe that’s because happiness isn’t a black-and-white endeavor. It’s got these many illusive shades of grey. The track “Better” takes on the pitfalls of comparative contentment, taking down a notch the haves who condescend the have-not-as-muches. Money can’t buy happiness, and its lack doesn’t demand desolation. The song takes a quirky turn at the bridge, offering a group chant over kazoo that crescendos under tremolo picked guitar. “We’re broke, but we’re not broken,” is the mantra not just of the latter half of the song, but the underlying attitude of the band.
The creeping social pressures aren’t totally absent, though. “Bored to Desk” thrashes against being stuck in a tedious office job. It’s counteracted by the carefree “Nat 20 Lite,” a pop-punk anthem about just playing Dungeons and Dragons with your friends and feeling alright.
The Gallows & The Farmer
But what’s a punk album without a little politics? Along with possibly pro-gun/definitely anti-propaganda “NRA,” guitarist Gallows takes up the mantle of ‘vokills’ on “Change the Channel,” speaking from the point of view of a paranoid conservative Fox News viewer, which again ties anxiety to identity with lines like “I’m addicted to the fear that the TV feeds to me. Don’t you dare turn that off; it’s the fear that sets me free.” It also has the punchiest bass riff, but that feels like small potatoes in comparison.
Bassist Farmer also finds himself on the mic to reprise his role of growl vocals, telling off those who think they’re too cool in the hard-hitting “Septum Ring” as he lampoons some pierced lass’s attempts to gatekeep the local scene. But the melodic grumbles of “Mystery Scrapes” bring the album to a head as Farmer recounts a morning we’ve all had: one where you wake up and your only memory of the night prior is its consequences you must now deal with. It’s like disappointing yourself, which makes the group chanting at the end feel right. We’ve all been there. We’ve all made belligerent mistakes and let ourselves down in the process. The best thing you can do is accept it and “keep moving forward” as Party Pat states earlier in “NYE.”
To Yee One Last Haw
Not to end on too somber a note, the gang rides one last time for a sub-minute romp called “You Yeed Your Last Haw” which serves to remind you that ShameFinger doesn’t take themselves too seriously, ending with a distorted guitar take on “Shave and a Haircut” for one final dose of the unexpected.
The production of the album is noted improvement over the band’s previous EP Manifesto, boasting a fuller, more rounded sound. Engineer Alyssa Moore has long since proven herself as a luminary in the Memphis punk scene, and her mixing and engineering on Sorry Mom are but another feather in her cap. Never has a kazoo sounded as sweet as the bridge of “Better” and for that she must be lauded.
Sorry Mom is nothing for ShameFinger to apologize to their mothers for. Maybe the language, but that comes with the territory. It’s an album about being unashamedly yourself, even if you don’t think yourself is particularly admirable. It’s anti-apology peppered with sincere fears and jovial middle fingers, and buried beneath the fast-paced power chords, we can all find something to connect with.
Required Listening: “Better” “NYE” “Not Sorry”
You can catch the album release party for Sorry Mom at the Hi-Tone on Friday, May 10th with openers Lipstick Stains and HEELS. The show starts at 9pm, and tickets are $10 at the door or online in advance.