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Posts Tagged ‘Shoegaze’

Slowdive is Too Pretty

May 23, 2017 Leave a comment

No band has benefited more from jumping on the trendy reunion train than Slowdive. The shoegaze group, which had been inactive since the mid-90s — when they were basically run out of town by their record label and the music press — has returned to a larger audience than ever while being recast as a festival headliner. And as one of the “original” shoegaze bands (along with the also-reunited My Bloody Valentine and Ride), they’re being credited with innovating a genre that continues to influence a massive amount of current music.

This portrayal of Slowdive is odd, because I never felt like they were a particularly innovative or important band. Their most famous album, Souvlaki, came out well after MBV defined the genre with Loveless, and the band hadn’t even formed when Isn’t Anything was released. Their main innovation to the genre was removing a lot of the rough edges and tension that make MBV such a unique band and instead making music that was smooth and pretty, but much less compelling. I partially blame them for this current strand of indie music like The xx that is very concerned with being “spacious” and “chill,” to the point that the people making it sound disinterested in their own music.

Slowdive’s self-titled reunion album cements their legacy as a slightly above-average shoegaze band. It sounds very pretty and meticulously arranged, but that is part of the problem. My favorite part of shoegaze is how it can sound chaotic and beautiful at the same time when really loud guitars collide with the breathy vocals and melodies. While the genre’s name implied a passiveness on behalf of the performers, bands like MBV have a confrontational element to their music — they’re testing the audience with massive sheets of noise to see if they can find the melodies buried underneath.

Part of why I’m not so enamored with this Slowdive album is that it lives down to the derisive nickname of the genre. It’s very passive music that ends up settling in the background rather than engaging the listener. I’m not going to sit here and act like it’s terrible — the members of this band are very experienced and know how to make music in this style, and I like “Star Roving” and a couple of other songs. I’m just struggling to really care about it or feel like I need to listen to a new Slowdive album in 2017. It’s too quiet and one-note, without the tensions and contrasts that I like to hear in this style of music.

I’ll admit that I might be biased against this album, because I’m so averse to this trend of manufactured nostalgia where everyone gets hyped for some middle-tier 90s band that already had a full career arc. I don’t get this excitement for Slowdive when they have three albums and some EPs that you can listen to at any time, then formed Mojave 3 and released more albums that barely anyone cares about. I wish some of this excitement was reserved for newer bands, or even bands that were around in the 90s and have continued making music instead of breaking up then reuniting.

As for this “shoegaze revival” created by the original bands reuniting, I think it’s a misnomer. Anyone who actually listens to and likes this genre knows that it’s been alive and well for years as tons of bands have added their own spin on the formula and continued pushing it forward. While MBV’s reunion album showed that they’re still the masters of this genre, Slowdive blends in with all the other revivalists and feels unremarkable.

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#7: Rev Rev Rev – “Des Fleurs Magiques Bourdonnaient”

December 19, 2016 Leave a comment

The shoegaze tag on Bandcamp is a mess. Most of the bands that use it don’t really know what shoegaze is, and even the ones that do are often these heinous genre mash-ups, where they’re like “wouldn’t it be cool to combine shoegaze and EDM.” No. It wouldn’t be. Shoegaze is great. Shoegaze doesn’t need to be “improved upon” by your weak attempts at innovation. When I go to the shoegaze tag on Bandcamp, I want to hear shoegaze, not not-shoegaze.

So I have respect for Rev Rev Rev, a band I found on the tag that plays straight-up shoegaze. They don’t really add new wrinkles to the genre or even attempt to innovate in any way. But they nail the guitar sound that makes me love this style of music and have the right vocals and songcraft, none of which is a trivial accomplishment given how many bands attempt the My Bloody Valentine impression and fall flat.

The Italian group sounds like the usual suspects of classic shoegaze bands, with a more heavy and psychedelic take on the genre that most closely resembles You Made Me Realise era MBV with some of the repetitious elements of space rock. The band mixes in some lighter dream pop elements, but for the most part it’s really loud guitars with light vocals. As it turns out, the formula still works, and it takes some skill to know not to mess with it.

#14: Lorelle Meets the Obsolete – “Balance”

December 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Balance is a fitting name for a Lorelle Meets the Obsolete album, as the duo from Mexico is all about juggling various psychedelic influences, dropping them in a pot, and brewing up a sound that is both original and familiar. When I listened to this album, I felt like I was watching a beloved old movie that I barely remembered, and all of my favorite parts were coming back to me. “Oh yeah, the My Bloody Valentine part! I love this part!” Repeat for Stereolab, The United States of America, etc.

Lorelle Meets the Obsolete uses that nostalgia and familiarity to its advantage. The opening title track starts as a normal-sounding rock song, but then has a seemingly random synth part that initially sounds out of place, then a loud guitar part that comes out of nowhere. The band does that a lot, mixing in different styles of music to surprise any listener who is expecting them to paint by numbers.

Balance starts out with that style of noisy rock, but evolves partway through with some surprisingly affecting, almost ambient pieces. “Father’s Tears” is a minimalist folk-inspired tune that sounds like something from Tender Buttons era Broadcast.”The Sound of All Things” is a spacey song with a motorik beat that builds on itself for over five minutes before fading out with an emotional coda — it’s the best example of how this band assembles memorable songs from recycled parts.

 

Spotify Playlist: “Loomers”

February 1, 2016 Leave a comment

In a post last year, I mentioned how My Bloody Valentine’s “Loomer” sounds exactly the way I want all music to sound due to its contrast of heavy guitars and light, feminine vocals. This playlist is a collection of songs that feel similarly to me and are the basis of my theory that “Loomer” spawned its own micro-genre of music that falls somewhere between shoegaze and metal. The songs range from artists that are doing essentially My Bloody Valentine tributes (Fleeting Joys) to bands who push the principles in “Loomer” as far as possible to explore more adventurous musical ground (metal groups like SubRosa and True Widow).

For most of music’s history, loud guitar noise has been strongly associated with machismo and was considered ugly or abrasive. I love this style of music because it twists those preconceptions with the vocals, resulting in songs that have fascinating dualities: they are ugly and beautiful, strong and fragile, masculine and feminine. These themes all get blended together in the music and start to blur these arbitrary gender lines. (I just read The Left Hand of Darkness if you can’t tell.)

On a less academic level, listening to these songs always makes me think of the apocalypse. The image the sound creates in my head is of a lone voice singing while the world crumbles around them.  

#24: Pinkshinyultrablast – “Everything Else Matters”

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Pinkshinyultrablast hail from St. Petersburg, where I like to imagine they’re part of a booming Russian shoegaze scene. Everything Else Matters is their first proper album, and it’s clearly indebted to the usual shoegaze suspects, with songs consisting of the familiar wall of sound guitars and indecipherable vocals (from Lyubov Soloveva) that blend into the music. Pinkshinyultrablast feel more like they’re gazing into the sky than at their shoes, as they put a spacier spin on the genre with some longer songs that contain remnants of their beginnings as a krautrock band.

I’ll be honest: shoegaze albums are like pizza for me. Some are better than others because they have better ingredients, but I pretty much always like them unless I run into the rare Papa John’s equivalent. Pinkshinyultrablast don’t reinvent the wheel, but Everything Else Matters hits the familiar, satisfying notes I want out of shoegaze, and the band puts enough of their own spin on it that they don’t sound like pale imitators. It’s a simple crowd-pleaser for any loud guitars aficionado.

No Joy – “Wait to Pleasure”

April 24, 2013 Leave a comment

The biggest challenge of writing about music is trying to describe why I like what I like. With some artists, it’s not too hard, because something about their music or personality lends itself to narrative, or they played a role in my life that makes for a decent story. Others are more difficult — the music might just sound the way I like music to sound, in which case there isn’t a whole lot to say other than “This is really good, in my opinion. Maybe you will like it too.” These bands may not make for the most interesting blog posts, but they are a large part of my music collection, and really define my taste more than the bigger name artists.

No Joy is one of those tricky bands. Built on the songwriting duo of Laura Lloyd and Jasamine White-Glutz, they play music that basically has everything I like: very loud shoegaze guitars that unleash sheets of noise, melodic songwriting and (of course) female vocals. Wait to Pleasure is their second full length, following 2010’s vastly underrated Ghost Blonde and last year’s Negaverse E.P, and it represents a huge leap forward for the band, who have now developed their own identity while continuing to refine their songwriting. It’s not an album that will have any sort of broader narrative attached to it, but fans of the band and this genre will almost certainly be very pleased.

No Joy separate themselves from the horde of bands mining similar influences by doing everything just a bit better: the guitars are louder, the melodies are catchier, and the production is cleaner. This is a band that understands what makes shoegaze great and why people listen to it. Songs like “Hare Tarot Lies” sum up their strengths well, combining noisy riffs and hooks, which with their indecipherable lyrics make the song accessible and mysterious at the same time. “Lunar Phobia” sounds different from any song on Ghost Blonde, with more emphasis on keyboards and a programmed drum beat that helps the band step out of the shadow of their influences a bit.

It can be easy to write off a band like No Joy as an imitator of earlier groups that have explored similar territory, but Wait for Pleasure is an album that actually doesn’t sound like much else — it has a pop sensibility that some other shoegaze groups lack, and the decibel levels separate it from lighter noise-pop bands like Best Coast. It’s basically non-stop jams, and I recommend it a lot to anyone with an interest in loud guitar rock. You can buy it from their label, Mexican Summer, here.

Lotus Plaza – “Spooky Action at a Distance”

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Atlanta indie-rockers Deerhunter initially gained notoriety for frontman Bradford Cox’s flamboyant personality, wild stage antics, and experimental pop songwriting. But while Cox has always dominated the headlines for the band, their most recent album, 2010’s Halcyon Digest, showcased their secret weapon: guitarist Lockett Pundt, who stepped out of Cox’s shadow and produced the best song on the album with “Desire Lines,” a 7-minute spacey shoegaze centerpiece that managed to sound epic without really trying.

Spooky Action at a Distance is the second album Pundt has released under the Lotus Plaza moniker, and it’s about what you would expect from the guy who penned “Desire Lines”: non-stop guitar jams that make skillful use of repetition to turn tunes that seem like they should be ordinary into epic, surprisingly catchy rock songs. Deerhunter fans like me that prefer their anthemic guitar-rock side to their bedroom pop side are sure to love it, and it’s probably my most listened-to album of 2012 so far.

Pundt doesn’t have the big personality that Cox does, but he has a quiet confidence that suits his laid-back style, and his lyrics that are often about nostalgic yearning are also a nice match for his bright, summery guitar lines. Songs like “Monoliths” and “Remember Our Days” are about simple themes like friendship and childhood, but Pundt infuses them with just enough personality and hooks to make them into effortless anthems. Pundt never sounds like he’s trying too hard, even on a song like “Jet Out of the Tundra” that launches into a lengthy, repetitive instrumental similar to that of “Desire Lines.”

Nothing on Spooky Action at a Distance sounds that groundbreaking, particularly with this summery guitar-pop being trendy in recent years. The shoegaze style always will bring comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, but Pundt mixes it up a bit with some acoustic strumming on songs like “Black Buzz” and “Dusty Rhodes.” Some of the songs also have a driving rhythm reminiscent of Stereolab, which pushes the music forward and helps keep Pundt’s specifically defined style from overstaying its welcome. Mostly, Pundt separates himself from the competition by simply executing the songs better and with more consistency. There are no weak songs on the album, and they all seem to get better the more you listen to them. He has a style that is relaxing but also engaging, and I find it difficult to stop listening to the album when I only intended to play a single song off of it.

Overall, Spooky Action is a significant step forward for Pundt, who deserves to be more than just “that other guy in Deerhunter.” In fact, I prefer this album to any of the Deerhunter or Atlas Sound albums so far. It’s not trying so hard and doesn’t feel labored over, and it’s not caught up in trying to be “important.” Much like the man who made it, it seems to succeed and transcend effortlessly.

Listen to it on Spotify