Posts Tagged ‘Shoegaze’

Sargent House – 2nd March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

What to make of The Armed? The lineup is immense, comparable to Revolting Cocks, Pigface, or KMFDM, to the extent that you don’t really know who does what on which song or even who’s in the band or who just tuned up at the studio or rehearsal session. The videos for new single, ‘Average Death’ and its predecessor, ‘All Futures’ don’t help: is it even the band we’re watching? And ultimately, does it matter?

This second single release, ahead of the album’s unveiling in April demonstrates that The Armed are master of churning noise, differentiated by an uncommon accessibility. That is to say that I have no idea what to make of this. While ‘All Futures; was a raging, rampant blast of noise that called to mind Nine Inch Nails, ‘Average Death’ spirals into some heavy shoegaze. If industrial shoegaze isn’t a thing before now, it should be as of this release. It’s deeply immersive, a glorious wash of soft edges, propelled by a squalling wall of noise and frenetic drumming.

So while The Armed and their videos are all the questions, there is no question over the killer nature of their songs.

AA

thumbnail_Ultrapopcoverlores

Christopher Nosnibor

Hailing from Hastings, Kids Love Surf came together during the eternal year of lockdown, coming together due to a shared love of dreampop to collaborate remotely from March 2020. Following on from debut single ‘OYO’ which found favour with BBC introducing.

‘Moment’ is everything its rainbow-hued cover art suggests: a dreamy drift of 90s shoegaze, with soft synths and guitars bathed in washes of reverb and effects. The drums are muffled beneath the layers while the bass strolls around amiably, not driving anything, not even holding it down, but simply wandering, and it’s a latticework of jangly guitars that layer away behind a vocal that’s low in the mix and kinda dreamy in a 90s indie sort of a way. There are hints of Stereolab and Disintegration-era Cure in the mix here, and it’s all very mellow and melodic.

As is so often the case with this style of music, I find there’s relatively little to say. That’s not a criticism or complaint, but more of an indication of how, on a personal level, I find myself detached and floating free, how I struggle to engage in the details beyond the effect, beyond the superficial. Because it seems to be less about ]engagement and more about atmosphere, how it speaks beyond words via the medium of music.

The mid-tempo ‘Moment’ is a soft wash of tripping indie that’s easy on the ear, and do you really need a message or much substance beyond that? I’m content to just let it glide….

28th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

VVolves seriously impressed with their debut single, ‘Momentum’, unveiled last June – a heady rush of shoegaze and pop with ethereal vocals and a repetitive groove, it was, well, impressive.

‘Well-Loved Tales’ is an admirable follow-up: rich in atmosphere, but at the same time, a bold electronic pop tune, it’s a magnificently balanced composition. The rolling drums and teetering piano add drama to a guitar soaked in chorus and reverb, and with a rich, luscious production, the sound and the feel and the vibe is every inch the Cure’s Disintegration. And let’s be straight: if you’re going to take your cues from any classic album that has a truly timeless feel, that’s probably a top pick. There’s also a hint of ‘Naked and Savage’ by The Mission in the brooding, hypnotic hues, too.

There isn’t an attention-grabbing hook or an overt immediacy about ‘Well-Loved Tales’ – rather it casts a dreamy sonic spell that draws the listener in with a captivating sense of melody.

The ‘sparse’ version which serves as the B-side lives up to its name: stripped of the drums and the drama, slow-drifting synths provide the main accompaniment to a dreamy vocal that’s almost folksy, and equally, almost part of the instrumentation, and it’s nice. Very nice. As is the mesmerising video which accompanies it.

AA

AA

a4189478984_10

5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Inspired by a passage in the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith, NYC’s Charlie Nieland describes the lead single, ‘Land of Accidents’ from his new album as ‘a dark anthem to not-belonging’. Divisions certainly presents an eclectic mix that doesn’t really belong anywhere, and perhaps encapsulates that sentiment of unbelonging most perfectly within its very fabric. Traversing between a host of styles spanning post-rock, neo-prog, folk, indie, and further afield, if any one genre has an overarching influence, it’s 70s prog.

A stuttering, jittering rapidfire drum machine snare jolts like an electric current through the easy strumming clean guitar that leads the instrumentation on ‘Always on Fire’, the first song on the album. He’s gone all out for the grand curtain opener with this expansive, emotive, cinematic effort that lures the listener into a spiralling, psychedelic experience, and it’s effective – there’s a lot going on and a lot to explore. The same is true of the album as a whole, as it reveals more with every track.

A swell of sweeping strings add layers to the rolling drums and mid-pace melancholy of ‘The Falling Man,’ which contrasts with the uptempo punk-tinged indie drive of ‘I Refuse’ which comes on a like a blend of The Wedding Present, The Fall, and Mission of Burmah.

Aforementioned single cut ‘Land of Accidents’ packs it all in, and has the twists and turns and explosive dynamics of Oceansize at their best and builds into a muscular wall of sound, with dense waves of guitar dominating. ‘Tightrope’ is pure REM, only it’s probably a better take on REM than many of the band’s own later years work, and spins into a soaring shoegaze climax that is nothing short of absolute gold. It’s one of those songs you could easily play on repeat for hours – but then that would be to underexpose the broody magnificence of ‘Skin’ which immediately follows. ‘Some Things You Keep to Yourself’ has hints of Mansun but also later Depeche Mode about it with its dark brooding and also its soulful feel, not least of all the backing vocals. Things continue to get darker and starker on the synth-led closer ‘Pawns’ that goes all weirdy as it stretches and twists out of shape.

Neiland sustains the interest and the variety throughout, and there’s no let-up in quality either: there’s not a throwaway or duff song on Divisions, and with thirteen tracks, that’s no small achievement. That Divisions is almost impossible to pigeonhole is no issue: after all there are only two kinds of music – good and bad. And this is most definitely good.

AA

Charlie Nieland - Divisions (LP cover)

Lo Bit Landscapes – 3rd December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

A New Kind of Weather was composed in New York City in the first months of the pandemic, against a backdrop of global panic, and with refrigerated trucks were parked at the hospital a few blocks away from the band’s residence while the city racked up in the region of 1,000 deaths in just a few weeks in March and April. Around the same time, the brother of Nihiti’s primary songwriter committed suicide. This is the bleak space in which the band found themselves – one which, to varying extents – we can all relate to.

Here, at the end of December after an interminable year, the spring of 2020 feels like another lifetime. If anyone thinks we’ve adjusted to some ‘new normal’, they’re simply thinking wishfully. Yes, we may have been ground down into trudging through the day-to-day, existing, but the separation and isolation, the ongoing restrictions and mask-wearing has a cumulative effect. Unlike the curve, our moods may have flattened out and we may well have all but erased the spasm that was late March and early April as lockdowns began to be enforced around the globe, and what had seemed like a distant issue in distant countries suddenly became the reality on our doorstep.

The title tracks sets the tone, but also represents an early album peak as a dark, blank monotone reminiscent of Michael Gira, croons against a woozy, eerie bassline – again reminiscent of Swans: ‘There are words on Christmas day, just living right in your eyes / Asking you if you will fall to the ambulance’s siren songs’. Painting a scene of tension and claustrophobia, it grows in darkness and density with rolling tom-based percussion and layered guitars. If a track ever captured the creeping paranoia that swept so much of the western world via the news media and social media in those first few months, this is it.

Slow-oscillating synths spin slow ambient mists at the start of the twelve-minute epic that is ‘Shudder into Silence’, robotix vocal snippets cutting through the cascading crystalline digital droplets that fall like dew. A heavy throb pulses low in the mix, but rises and falls again in an ever-evolving transition of sound layers. Turning, soft, smog-like, a slow-wailing siren rings out a lonely cry. The tension is palpable.

The more conventional post-rock instrumentation of ‘Into the Sands’, with it’s metronomic drums and chiming guitars marks a significant shift – if it’s gentle and vaguely shoegazey / psychedelic it’s spun through shades of Jesu, and a maudlin, almost sepulchral feel casts a long shadow over its gothic melancholy.

The percussion-free interpretation of Roy Orbison’s ‘I Drove All Night’ is different again, and perhaps the least comfortable fit on the album – if comfortable is a word that’s appropriate for describing any of the heavy atmosphere of A New Kind of Weather. Following on, ‘The Practice of Injury’ builds heavy swirls of ambience that washes and eddies in abject desolation.

Despite only containing five tracks, A New Kind of Weather clocks in at around forty-five minutes, and fill this space with a remarkably broad range of styles, while making every moment count in terms of maintaining the darkly oppressive atmosphere throughout.

AA

LBL012_front

20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

So often, less is more. Lyrics that are personal and specific yet vague have the capacity to convey as much more than lines that are direct or explicit. And so it is with ‘Wander & Lost’ that Kin speak of loss and yearning, of distance and sadness and that sense of feeling cut off and alone.

As much as ‘Wander & Lost’ is ostensibly a pining, post-breakup song, it equally stands as a summary of the sense of loss that the distance so many are feeling from friends and family under life in lockdown. Maintaining closeness simply isn’t as easy, and everyone, everything has changed, is changing.

Wander & Lost begins with a wistful, minor-key guitar, picked and chorus-laden, and it provides a delicate backing for the dreamy, contemplative vocals. The drums are distant and everything is balanced, the instruments and vocals all infusing to form a cloudy aural drift. There are shades of melancholy lingering on the peripheries, and it’s never easy to determine if this is the music or projection – but then again, this is why music resonates beyond its immediate boundaries, and ‘Wander & Lost’ transcends its immediate aims on account of a certain musical intuition.

This is one of those songs that’s all about the slow build, and it doesn’t suddenly erupt or explode, but instead gradually swells into a soft, rippling wash of introspection. It’s a sad song that hits that perfect sad song sweet spot.

AA

Kin press shot

16 November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest six-tracker from GHXT goes for the slow-building intro with the low, slow ‘Shimmer’, where the murky, distorted guitar drone and twang cascading out over a retro drum machine stutter that’s backed off in the mix but cuts through sharp as a whip. It’s the Sisters of Mercy’s Reptile House EP slithering into a stranglehold of The Black Angels on ketamine with a dash of Barbed Wire Kisses era Jesus and Mary Chain.

Two years on from the appropriately-titled Gloom EP, the New York duo return with another batch of weighty, dark material which demonstrates their continued evolution, and the fact the EP format is one which suits them particularly well.

While operating from a comparatively limited sonic palette – dense, overdriven guitar that’s got a big, thick valve sound, minimally-programmed drum machine, and reverb-swamped female vocal they manage to do a lot with it: ‘Come Home’ is Curve-y shoegaze, while ‘It Falls Apart,’ released as a single in October, is a big, bollock-swinging swagger of messy blues, boasting a monster lead solo that sprawls over the entire track. Gloom and blues and murk dominate, casting heavy shadows and a hint of goth over the mood, but there’s so much more besides: the rich timbre of the guitar as it spins a slow-unfurling picked riff on closer ‘Die High’ calls to mind recent works by Earth and Dylan Carlson.

As the nights draw in on the approach to winter and the world feels like an increasingly apocalyptic hellhole, there’s something comforting about GHXST’s brand of immersive darkness.

2nd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Back in July, elk impressed with the Beech EP, a magnificently understated work of haunting grace. The project of 22-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly, elk has now evolved into elkyn, which comes with certain connotations of what elvin is to elves, and is certainly easier to find on-line.

This first release under the new moniker features re-imaginings of the songs from beech by family and friends, including Miles. (brother Mikey), Mark Peters, S.T. Manville, Tim Wright, and others.

It’s not entirely surprising that the artists who’ve reshaped the songs have focused on their dreamy quality, and Mark Peters’ soft, soporific take on ‘yue’, which was aired in advance of the release is representative.

With the exception of ‘something’, which on this release is retitled as ‘here’ (which sounds like a Depeche Mode doing dreamwave), it’s the same songs in the same sequence, but such a very different record.

Although being twice the length of the original, ‘avenue’ is perhaps the least radically altered, at least in terms of the song itself between an extended intro and outro. Elsewhere, Miles. brings some stark synths and waves of ambience, not to mention sampled narrative to ‘Seventeen’, and it’s a radical transformation as the softly-picked acoustic song becomes a wistful dapple-shaded shoegazer, with Joe’s voice floating on a cloud above it all. Shed Seven’s Joe Johnson retains the brittle fragility of ‘winter’, and the last song, ‘stupid world’ sees Tim Wright introduce some grinding, wheezing organ drone and some stuttering to add more weight and tension to the cracked melancholic introspection.

What makes this release is just how sensitive and considered the reworkings are, completely transforming the songs – in very different ways – while preserving their essence and integrity.

AA

AA

a2856295865_2

23rd September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Just two days before the release of their new album, Forever on the Road, Healthy Junkies have dropped a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way.’

To my ear, the Nevermind version was a shade lacking, and while it works well enough in the overall context of the album, the hard-to-find electric version has not only more bite, but also more passion and, perhaps unexpectedly, more atmosphere, the howling feedback that form the lead guitar line bringing a whole new dimension.

I can’t help but wonder if this was, at least in part, the template for Healthy Junkies’ take on the track, which places a unique stamp on it and adds a whole load of layers – and noise – in comparison to the version everyone knows.

It’s something of a departure for the band: instead of the punky grunge sound that’s their signature, they’ve adopted a decidedly shoegaze style here. The guitars cascade in deep, washing blurs, layered and rich in texture, and Nina Courson’s ethereal, breathy vocal is more Toni Halliday than Courtney Love. The result is haunting and possesses a real depth that draws the listener into the heart of the song. Understated, but strong.

Like so many acts, Ryan and Pony’s plans were stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lifted from their upcoming album, Moshi Moshi, ‘Cinematic’ is accompanied by footage that was shot at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis before COVID took it’s grip over live music venues everywhere.

By way of some background, the press release informs us that ‘Ryan is a workaholic multi-instrumentalist who has been playing lead guitar in Soul Asylum since 2016. Pony is a flamboyant performer and artist raised by deaf parents.  Together they have made numerous albums and toured internationally leading The Melismatics.  On Moshi Moshi they fuse Dream-Pop, post-Punk, Brit-rock, EDM, and good ol’ fashioned Rock ‘n’ Roll into a sound all their own;  irony, weirdness, and melody are at its heart.  Peter Anderson (The Ocean Blue, Run Westy Run, The Honeydogs) adds his killer drum skills to the mix.’

‘Cinematic’ lives up to its title, binding together the best of Garbage and Curve into a breezy burst of alternative pop. Watch the video here: