May 22, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

Pinkshift’s music spikes pleasure with pain

3 min read
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While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the shortcut sometimes works for a record. Take the artwork of “Saccharine,” the debut EP by Baltimore trio Pinkshift: A switchblade cuts through a lollipop, and a red liquid — syrup? blood? — splashes out. In kind, the music behind the evocative cover spikes pleasure with pain, adding sharp edges to songs that make sing- and scream-alongs cathartic.

Inspired by, among other things, ’90s alt-rock radio heavyweights like Nirvana and No Doubt and turn-of-the-millennium punk acts like My Chemical Romance and Pierce the Veil, Pinkshift’s music could easily be described as pop punk. Singer Ashrita Kumar bristles a bit at the descriptor, even if she recognizes most bands branded with that scarlet genre tag share the same knee-jerk reaction.

“Punk with pop sensibilities is cool, and pop with punk sensibilities is also cool,” she says. “It’s cool to find a middle ground where we feel comfortable.”

For Pinkshift, comfort is relative. Kumar mostly sings lovesick lyrics, taking a detour on standout track “I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist on You” to blast the shortcomings of mental health care. Her heart-on-sleeve melodies are joined by razor-wire riffs from guitarist Paul Vallejo and a hand-in-glove rhythm section anchored by drummer Myron Houngbedji. While the angst is palpable, “Saccharine” showcases Pinkshift’s sweet songwriting sensibilities.

“There’s always going to be a big attraction to pop stuff just because it’s so fun to participate in,” Kumar says. “Everybody in the room can be a part of it, even if they haven’t heard it before.”

That “hey! you’re part of it” energy continues to be a defining factor of pop punk, which has ebbed and flowed for decades and seems to be cresting. This time around, however, the scene is less centered on angry young White men and more on women and people of color, like the members of Pinkshift. That change is often reflected in the audiences as well.

“It’s honestly a wide net of people who come through, although we’ve noticed that … Indian teenage girls have come through for Ashrita,” says Vallejo. “It’s kind of wild seeing that our presence has actually brought people to a show that maybe they wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming to before.”

On their biggest tour yet, in support of like-minded Toronto punks Pup, the members of Pinkshift are relishing the feedback of the crowd, whether the audience is there for them or not.

“Even when they don’t know who we are, we’re able to win them over,” Vallejo says. “Afterwards, they come to the merch table and say, ‘I didn’t know you guys before this show, and now I’m a fan.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, we did that.’”

Opening for Pup on May 7 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. $30. Proof of coronavirus vaccination or a recent negative test required for admittance.

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