Stripmall turns from playing a cowboy song to an in-your-face punk assault at the drop of a 10-gallon hat.
To live in a big city in the prairies is to embrace contradictions or waste away. Though Stripmall is from Calgary, I can also see the same intersection of the urban and rural in Edmonton. There are beautiful places in both cities, to be sure, but they butt up against ugliness and emptiness. These two sides coexist, and if you can’t accept them, you’ll never understand why the prairies are the way they are. Other provinces also tend to overlook the prairies, feeding into resentment prairie-dwellers feel towards outsiders.
Stripmall embraces these disparate ideas of beauty and terror and injects them into what they call “Western-influenced prairie punk.” That’s a lot of adjectives to unpack, but essentially it means the band can turn from playing a cowboy song to an in-your-face punk assault at the drop of a 10-gallon hat. On Surrounding Area there’s an almost 50/50 split of punk songs under two minutes and longer songs that expand and contract.
Perhaps the best musical interpretation of prairie living comes on the moody, grungy “Teenies Town”. Whatever the title is referencing, it’s a booming, mildly terrifying song that takes its time to inject fear into you. The song is reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane, particularly in Geneva Haley’s powerful voice, and she imparts a sense of gravitas later in the song with the phrase “There is no nighttime.” Fun fact about prairie living: the sun only sets for about six or seven hours in the summer. All that daylight can feed into anxiety. Then there’s “Christina’s World” which wildly moves back and forth between high-octane aggression and western gentility over three minutes.
Though all of the Surrounding Area is fascinating to behold, it’s towards the end that Stripmall distinguishes itself. “Meat” is frankly horrifying in its verses, sung not like phrases but as fragments: “Streamline/fast car/road sign/high gear/inline/scared deer/stockyard/turn around.” The story is yours to try to arrange. There’s something strangely relatable when Haley sings “I’m far away all the time” in the chorus. There’s also closer “Shotgun Fetish,” which is far more fun than a song with that name should be. The high energy and the repeated “I’ve got a shotgun fetish” hook is impossible not to scream along to, and Haley really illustrates the “fetish” part of the title with certain, ahem, noises towards the end.
I suspect Calgarians and Edmontonians will relate to this album on a deep, spiritual level. But even if you’ve never been out west, you’ll still be fascinated by this album-length stroll through streets both repellent and mesmerizing.