When it comes to young people, there’s nothing quite so seductive as discontent. Every decade or so a new batch of eighteen to twenty-somethings falls ill with disquiet at the general state of global affairs. That isn’t to say their anger is unwarranted––quite the opposite––in fact it’s more often than not impressively-informed. The youthful gaze has always been that of scrutiny, and necessarily so for the sake of the betterment of our world. 

But youthfulness is sophomoric by nature, and its criticisms of its parents, of its peers, and of the world are bound to lack some self-awareness once in a while. Negativity is good in small doses, necessary even, but it cannot hope to be everything one thinks and simultaneously change the subjects of its aggressions. Such is the dilemma of young people. 

Anger, laughter, brashness, and endearing overconfidence are the name of the game, and a new band has taken up the call. Pastel punk outfit Mary Shelley just released its infectious debut album Look at You. It’s an indulgently delinquent, ten-track set that writhes feverishly, in the throes of youth, from one new wave sound to the next.

The Brooklyn-based trio started as an authentic ‘70s revival ensemble, but there’s nothing vintage about Look at You. The album catapults Mary Shelley into new musical territory, no longer just riffing off the old stuff.  Get ready for dance and disco meets shoegaze and hip hop, all mixed together in a punkish, noise cocktail. In their own words, as if “The Clash went to a Devo dance party and Jack White threw up all over the dance floor.”

But while Look at You belies any specific genre delineation, it is certainly one thing: young. And as is so characteristic of the present batch of eighteen to twenty-somethings, it points a finger at its peers (I mean, it’s in the title). Look at You is bitingly funny and incredibly clever, but one look at Mary Shelley and you’ve got to wonder; do these guys genuinely believe they’re different from the folks they’re lambasting, or is Look at You an intelligently cast, and ultimately self-deprecating look within?

Accompanying visualizer for “Bourgeois de Ville”

The album kicks off with a hard-edged, classic punk track called “Bourgeois de Ville” that Mary Shelley released as their debut single back in September. It’s a punchy opener, and sets the tone for the rest of the album: acerbic, exclamatory, and keenly funny in a political cartoon sort of way. With “Bourgeois de Ville” Mary Shelley offers a sarcastic repudiation of this millennia’s buzzword-infused, social-media-addicted cross section of the bourgeois. 

The next song, “Brother” plays next on Look at You; a predictable yet mordant social commentary on the brotherhood of American fraternities. And while the subject of ridicule is perhaps low hanging fruit, “Brother” is nonetheless just as catchy as the album’s first track. Good enough, in fact, to have scored Mary Shelley a music video grant from the New York Film and Music Foundation.

Accompanying visualizer for “Brother”

“Democracy is Alive” offers some hardcore parody, with lead singer Jackson Dockery channeling his inner David Byrne à la “Life During Wartime” or “Making Flippy Floppy.” And, after a brief talking interlude, “Nursing Home Jig” offers a funny dialogic story about an old man and a young woman. “Nursing Home Jig” was the third single from Mary Shelley.

After “Nursing Home Jig” is the album’s crown jewel “Paddi Smith.” With “Paddi Smith,” Mary Shelley plays to its strengths: a catchy, yet undeniable punk sound with a bitingly-sarcastic, yet intelligently crafted set of lyrics. The Talking Heads make another, more overt appearance––Mary Shelley are clearly fans––as do Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground, Chuck Taylors, and old jean jackets.

With these nostalgic signposts of our modern counterculture, Mary Shelley mocks those of the younger generation who share a not-so-unique stance: the wish to have been young at another time. In this case, “Ungentrified New York, circa 1976.” What’s not as clear is whether the members of Mary Shelley are under the microscope as well.  Is “Paddi Smith” self-deprecating in that sense, or do the young, college-educated, Brooklyn-dwelling music trio consider themselves conscious observers to the ills of their mockable peers? The answer isn’t totally clear. 

Photo Credit: Michael LoBianco

Mary Shelley are certainly readers––the literary berth of their band name is evidence to that fact––and they claim to know a “faux intellectual” when they see one. But are they readers of Freud? Aware of the narcissism of subtle differences? Is Look at You really just that: a finger-pointing outward observance of “you,” the other? Or does the debut album from Mary Shelley go deeper than youthful scrutiny, to look within and see themselves as part of the world they’re angry at? I’m inclined to believe the latter, and can’t wait to see what comes next from these guys. 

In the meantime, “Goodnight, Goodbye.”

Check out Mary Shelley on their Website, or connect with the band on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can stream the latest from Mary Shelley on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, and YouTube.

Carlie Houser Author
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Carlie Houser Author
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