Posts Tagged ‘shoegaze’


Recent Releases Rounded-up: Black Hearted Brother, The Stargazer Lilies, Youth Code, Wooden Shjips, Sean Proper, more

November 21, 2013

More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.


Black Hearted Brother: Stars Are Our Home

As if knowing the debut album by alumni of Slowdive (!) and Seefeel (!) could hardly live up to expectations, Black Hearted Brother decided to far surpass them. Quite simply, this might be the best shoegaze album I’ve heard all year. It very well might even be the best indie/rock album I’ve heard in the last ten, but that would risk committing some pretty bold hyperbole. So let’s leave it at the best 2013 has to offer.

Drawing from krautrock, shoegaze, space-rock and 60 years of pop music traditions, soaring melodies glide over expansive sonic landscapes that somehow manage to be evocative of the past without being derivative (though “If I Was Here To Change Your Mind” definitely takes a page from the Spiritualized songbook). Ironically, this might be the only shoegaze record in the last few years that doesn’t bear almost too-strong a Slowdive influence. At times the album toes the stadium rock line (Verve and Suede are hinted at), but the mood is kept intimate and sincere.

Bands like Arcade FireColdplay or Muse could take a lesson here on how to paint with broad, epic strokes without coming off as brash poseurs and do gentle without seeming like ineffectual drips—but I doubt they’d have much interest in doing so. Anyway, Stars are our Home is a ball hit way out of the park.

5 Space pop masterpieces out of 5 Master shoegazers back at work

The Stargazer Lilies: We Are The Dreamers

If you were, say, a shoegaze stormtrooper, We Are The Dreamers is the shoegaze you’re looking for. Don’t let any strange old dream-pop Jedi hermits tell you otherwise. Do these ex-Soundpool members lay it on thick as honey? Sure, they do. They may as well have named the band The Shoegazer Lilies. But thank god. Melodies! Washes of filtered reverb! Sweet as nectar vocals! It’s everything great about nu-gaze front-runners Soundpool (and Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, naturally), but refined and distilled into a tonic to rival the best releases on 4AD and Creation in their heyday. If not for Black Hearted Brother, this would be the shoegaze record of the year.

4.85 Languid psychedelic waterbeds out of 5 Dream ships aloft on solar winds

Youth Code: Youth Code

This could very well be my new favourite record of the year. The year in question being 1987. Though in that case it has some stiff competition with Front 242‘s Official Version and Nitzer Ebb‘s That Total Age. Not to mention Skinny Puppy‘s Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate. These are all artists referenced by the brilliant EBM revivalists Youth Code who take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the genre. Gloriously regressive and devolutionary. True, there’s nothing quite as immediately catchy as “Headhunter” or “Violent Playground” on the LP (though “Let The Sky Burn” is pretty damn close), but it’s not entirely necessary to have earworm hooks in EBM—just that jackhammer, chest compressing, beat and that mechanical bass sound peppered with guttural screams and old movie samples. Plus, it gives the duo somewhere to grow on the next album which I’m already salivating for.

4.875 Cyberpunk jackhammers out of 5 Howling emaciated Belgian canines

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Medicine: The Buried Life (1993)

August 8, 2013

Medicine Buried Life artwork

Roll: 4-2-15
Album: Medicine: The Buried Life (2CD reissue)

In my previous post on Lilys I detailed how in 1992, late to the party, I got the shoegaze bug. Once I was infected, I started dosing myself with all the albums where My Bloody Valentine were mentioned in the reviews. Taking this metaphor to its logical conclusion, I should now say Medicine‘s The Buried Life was the cure for my new affliction but, if anything, the album made me a terminal case.

In 1988, if some reviewer was going to describe MBV’s Isn’t Anything, they might have said it was a combination of Cocteau Twins’ dreamy atmospherics and The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s primitive white-noise pop. That would be an apt appraisal but it even better describes the extremes of Medicine’s music.

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Lilys: In The Presence of Nothing (1992)

July 26, 2013


Roll: 4-1-1
Album: Lilys, In The Presence of Nothing

Everybody has this experience. There’s records that used to be your favourites you just can’t listen to anymore. Not because you overplayed them, but because they conjure a painful memories of a specific time in your life. They place you back to some bitter situation as surely as if you’d been teleported in some infernal time machine. For me U2‘s Achtung Baby (1991) and Depeche Mode‘s Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) both play like soundtracks to a rich and varied selection of bad memories surrounding my first serious girlfriend, Tikki. To this day, the opening guitar noises of “Zoo Station” fill me with an odd mix of dread and nausea.

Other albums, such as Lilys’ 1992 shoegaze classic In The Presence of Nothing remain unmarred by such associations. Perhaps because by the time I’d immersed myself In The Presence of Nothing, the halcyon days of constantly listening to those U2 and Depeche Mode tapes together were long past us.

As things got worse, as simple communication became a minefield of passive aggression and resentment, I retreated further into my own private headphone world. And if  I wanted an album to sweep me away into the depths of oblivion, there aren’t many better suited than In The Presence of Nothing with it’s swells, swirling eddies and multiple layers of fuzzy haze.

Somewhat ironically, it was Tikki who discovered the album for me. At some point around ’92, when things were still pretty good between us,  we were shopping in Nanaimo’s Fascinating Rhythm record store (in their first Country Club Mall location). They were playing In The Presence of Nothing on the overhead and, though it now seems out-of-character, Tikki said to me, “This is the kind of stuff I like.”

I hadn’t been paying any attention to the drifting waves of white noise but, of course, as soon as she said that I decided I liked it too.

It reminded me vaguely of the Posies, Teenage Fanclub and House of Love tapes I’d been enjoying but mixed with a little bit of the fuzz-obscured dreaminess I loved about Hüsker Dü‘s New Day Rising (1985). Not knowing My Bloody Valentine except as a name that got dropped in reviews of bands I didn’t particularly like or know (at the time), those were my closest reference points. And maybe not knowing its direct lineage made In The Presence of Nothing all the more mesmerizing that afternoon. It was dense and shimmering and soft and harsh and melodic and magical and like nothing I’d heard before. It threw the shutters off the windows of noise rock and let in the bright, hazy light in a way Sonic Youth hadn’t been able to do for me.

In an instant, primarily just to impress a girl, I became a shoegazer.

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Totally Not Weekly Recent Release Round-Up: Colin Stetson, Valleys, Fear of Men, Hanni El Khatib, Life Coach, No Joy

May 16, 2013
More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

Colin Stetson New History Warfare 3 artwork

Colin Stetson: New History of Warefare Vol. 3: To See More Light — Well, this is either the end or the beginning for Stetson. Can he take his Philip Glassy cascading solo saxophone arpeggios anywhere beyond what he’s done with these three volumes? Probably—he’s clearly an amazing fellow—but this set feels pretty refined and perfected. Epic, deep, expansive, apocalyptic, emotive… perfection. Time to move on. Perhaps the clue is in the surprisingly fruitful collaborations with Justin Vernon (save perhaps “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?“). With the right small ensemble, Stetson could wreak some pretty awesome havoc. In the mean time, this is a gorgeous and harrowing post-every-genre release.

4.875 Saxophones of the Apocalypse out of 5 Epic trilogies


Valleys: Are You Gonna Stand There And Talk Weird All Night? — Well, Valleys win the “Best Album Title of the Year” award in my books. Otherwise this is your (above/below/perfectly) average vaguely retro moody, breathy, dreamy, synth-gaze/indie-rock album. Very pleasant, if not a tad gloomy. Sort of like a really bummed-out M83. Nothing is ever quite bold enough to be terrible which means there’s nothing particularly memorable on here either—though it is growing on me pretty hard. The strength of the album is in the mood and atmosphere (David Lynch meets 90210?) which they do quite well. Think of this as soundtrack music for an imaginary Ryan Gosling movie.

4 Teenage dreams out of 5 Neon-lit ’80s nightmares

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Swirlies: They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons (1996)

April 26, 2012

Roll: 7-5-6
Album: Swirlies, They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons

The Swirlies inhabited that odd, slightly ignominious landscape of the American shoegaze band. The Brits may have thrown in the towel after My Bloody Valentine released Loveless in 1991 but on this side of the pond it took the haze a little longer to dissipate. If our neighbors to the south are famous for anything, it’s beating a dead horse and then milking it dry.

And thank god The Lilys and The Swirlies were there to carry the torch for a few years because MBV only made Isn’t Anything once and once simply wasn’t enough.

Swirlies’ third album, the ponderously titled They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons, is essentially an amalgam of Isn’t Anything and Slowdive‘s Souvlaki. That is to say, it’s sort of a rockier version of Slowdive’s remake of Loveless, with a few traces of Sonic Youth and Stereolab inserted to fill up this time capsule of the best of early-90’s indie rock.

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Seefeel: Quique (2-disc resissue)

April 13, 2011

Roll: 3 – 4 – 17
Quique (2-disc reissue) by Seefeel

Few artists have ever achieved recreating the sound of time folding in upon itself—like a fluffy cotton towel buffeted on the line—quite as well as the UK band Seefeel did with their 1993 album, Quique.

Seefeel either had the distinct good fortune, or possible misfortune, to be lumped in with two popular movements of the ’90s music scene—shoegaze and ambient electronica.

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Cocteau Twins: Treasure

July 12, 2010

Today’s roll: 1 – 5 – 19.
Treasure by Cocteau Twins.

Upon rolling the bones, I realized it’s been ages since I’ve listened to a Cocteau Twins album and it struck me that I might actually be done with them. Which is a little sad since they’re one of my all-time favourite bands. They’re sort of a security blanket held over from my quasi-goth youth I keep around to wrap myself in whenever I need something to pick me up and send me soaring into the stratosphere. But I now feel could live quite happily never hearing their painfully beautiful, shimmering, icing-slathered music ever again.

As I listen to it now, I even feel a slight anxiety. As if the music is going to slink down my ear canals like rivulets of mercury and give my teeth cavities or perhaps I’ll conflagrate from the sheer ecstasy of it all. Maybe I simply still adore Cocteau Twins’ music too much. This feeling of anxiety isn’t helped by the fact I’m listening to one of their best, Treasure.

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