Holiday Destination is a dark response to a darkening world.
English singer-songwriter Nadine Shah’s third album, Holiday Destination, is at once a brooding lament and a scathing critique of our current geopolitical climate. Reacting to a world riven by insular nationalisms, Shah—a British Muslim of Norwegian and Pakistani heritage—addresses complex notions of “identity” and “home” across a 10-song collection of abrasive post-punk. Singing with a glowering contralto over coarse sonic experimentation, Holiday Destination urgently documents a global landscape marked by refugee crises, gentrification and xenophobia.
Album opener “Place Like This” sets the tone of the record. The song blends a post-punk cacophony of sounds from around the globe—a smattering of guitar jangles and punches, percussive polyrhythms and Shah’s accented vocals. As the song saunters and simmers, Shah grimly details the alienating qualities of having no place to call home, before the song fades out to the protest chant of “Refugees are welcome here.”
The corrosive title track gets at the refugee crises even more specifically. Over a dissonant carnivalesque synth and a fuzzed-out bass, Shah sketches a scene of refugees arriving at a Greek beach filled with tourists. Condemning the privileged vacationers who complain that their increased proximity to suffering has ruined their experience, Shah snarls, “How you gonna sleep tonight?”
As the album continues, Shah brings personal experience to bear on anti-immigration sentiment. For example, “Evil” describes her experience of being demonized and of being “Othered” because of the way she looks: “All these folks, they think that I’m evil/ Like I’m the living devil himself.” The blistering track, “Out the Way” offers a retort to racists who tell her to go back where she came from, when she growls, “Where would you have me go?/ I’m second generation don’t you know.” Shards of brass and shots of snare drum sharpen and bolster the song’s aggression.
The album’s political centerpiece is “2016,” a song that will accrue greater resonance in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia because of lines like “What is there left to inspire us/ With a fascist in the White House.” As synth blips tessellate around noisy guitars, Shah tries to offer some type of empathy after “cruel 2016,” showing her solidarity in the chorus: “Come over here, I’ll hold you tight.”
The remainder of the album swirls with surrealist instrumentation and further lyrical bite. “Yes Men” charges its sliding vocal harmonies with recurrent feedback, while “Ordinary” throws occasional industrial rhythms into the fray of its post-punk punch. “Relief” warps discordant digital loops around Shah’s haunting melodies, while “Mother Fighter” drives a grungy riff into her forlorn wails.
Closing track “Jolly Sailor”—named for a pub in her hometown—is the album’s most sedative. The song imagines a scene of fathers and sons singing together of “battles lost” and “holidays of work that pays” as they become more and more intoxicated. Matching the wooziness of its characters, the song moves in a drowsy sway, helped along by shimmering synths and dizzying bass.
Even as some of the songs on Holiday Destination have the despairing quality of resignation in the face of geopolitical turmoil, Shah remains bold throughout, demonstrating a willingness to stare straight into the face of xenophobia and racism. Lyrically stringent and musically abrasive, Holiday Destination is a dark response to a darkening world, but it contains within it the resolute grit necessary for resistance.