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“Penny Pills” by Shiadanni

Shiadanni has been scoring some good press in indie circles lately, but with her new single “Penny Pills,” she challenges critics to keep up with what is by far her most creative and intriguing work thus far. “Penny Pills” couples electronic pop themes with industrial accents, an isolated, minimalist pop influence and a heady nod to the neo-psychedelia trending across the underground right now, but while this might sound complicated on paper, the sound she produces is rather streamlined and surprisingly captivating. For longtime listeners, Shiadanni is rewarding us with an impulsive yet controlled experiment here, and for mere observers, this track is a test of their ability to follow her conceptualism.

The percussion is by far the most aggressive element in this mix, made up of both organic and synthetic textures that clash with the smooth surrealism of the melodies beautifully. Juxtaposition yields a lot of the magic in “Penny Pills,” but there’s never a moment where it seems like Shiadanni is relying on contrast exclusively to tell us a story here. She’s painting a picture with blunt force, which is ironic when taking into account just how barebones a structure this song is crafted around.

Industrial pop, especially in a post-punk context, hasn’t been as fashionable in 2022 as a more gothic-toned pop sound has been, and this could be why it sounds so chillingly original in “Penny Pills.” Shiadanni is ghostly with her vocal but surrounded by a grinding mechanical melodicism that could seemingly crush her under its heel at any given moment. Her lack of urgency amidst the sonic hellfire she’s straddling is beautiful and tragic, making the lyrics she’s singing almost balladic by the time we get into the latter half of the track. It’s cerebral, but it’s not abrasive in the way a lot of old-school industrial music would be.

Overall, it’s difficult to describe the instrumentation in “Penny Pills” as anything other than cold and cryptically condensed within the mix, but this was very important for the vocal to have the kind of preserved vulnerability it has in this instance. A potential club remix could expose the beat a little more than it is in this version of the song, but I don’t think that we’re meant to be dancing to this track – at least not with our feet. It’s controlled chaos of the most surreal variety, and it makes me think about its concept more than it provokes me to move with the beat.

Breakable harmonies and nocturnal grooves are fused in “Penny Pills” for one of the most anti-decadent listens I’ve heard in the indie pop scene this spring, and if Shiadanni experiments with this look a little more, I’ve got a feeling she’s going to break into the mainstream with a band this year. She’s unrestrained here, completely disconnected from previous works of reserved pop execution, and she sounds like an artist who is going to demand her share of the spotlight through creativity as much as she does cosmetic charm.

Mindy McCall



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