Posts Tagged ‘Shoegaze’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

17th July 2020

James Wells

Given that I’ve barely left the house other than to go to the supermarket and haven’t seen family or friends since March, it’s been a seriously fucking lonely summer, and a lonely fucking spring before this. Crying Swells’ new single may or may not be about this, but the press release suggest is may be, outlining how ‘Crying Swells is the project of East London-based Musician / Producer Daniel Armstrong, born out of lockdown. He also performs and records with UK psych-rock collective Frankie-Teardrop Dead’.

I miss bands and all that stuff, although I suspect bands miss bands even more, and in content, it would stand to reason that Armstrong would launch a new project while unable to record or perform as normal.

‘Lonely Summer’ is a really neat tune that’s a bit indie and a bit post-punk and broods hard, with a multi-tracked vocal and a bursting chorus that’s a blast of guitar that’s grunge and shoegaze exploding in a kaleidoscope of sound. Too full-on to be breezy, it’s nevertheless catchy and soars while it broods.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Pierre Massé, the man behind the Paramestre project, threatens ‘Electronic-ish music with human vocals, guitars (played by a human), and far too many effects (along with a healthy dose of digital manipulation)’. It’s an intriguing proposition, and is it even possible to have too many effects, at least when used well?

As Massé explains in the liner notes, ‘As stated by the opening track, it is nothing “perfect”; there are artefacts from tortured source material, there is noise, there are glitches from randomized effects processing, and there is no pitch correction. But there is also warmth, groove, melancholy, and hope. I hope you find something that speaks to you amidst it all.’

This is, to my mind, a succinct summary of why any artist creates; in the hope of there being a shred of commonality with the receiver in the work. But, at the same time, creating not with the audience at the forefront of the creative process. This, ultimately, is what differentiates art from entertainment. The latter is primarily commercial, designed for the (perceived) audience. Art exists for its own sake, and any audience it attracts finds it.

Rippling post-rock guitars with an almost Spanish vibe cascade softly over a dislocated beat that bumps and bounces and flickers on the aforementioned opening track, providing a supple, mellow backdrop to Pierre’s dreamy, soulful vocals, and it’s a smooth, Gallic air that permeates the lilting synth pop of ‘Elle’. It’s pleasant, but it’s not an instant grab by any means, and much of Conditions Initiales feels in some ways exploratory, tentative. It isn’t that the songs themselves feel incomplete, because they certain don’t: it’s more that one feels Massé is still working towards a sound that is one he’s entirely comfortable with, that translates his sonic ambition into the final recorded output.

‘Conceal/Reveal’ goes a shade darker, but it’s the subdued waltz of the seven-minute ‘Madeleines’, with its echoing sampled background conversation that creates a subtle but clear level of juxtaposition, that really draws the listener in, in search of its evasive heart amongst the layers.

And it’s when Massé goes still darker and brings thudding beats to the fore that Conditions Initiales really becomes interesting: ‘Carry’ and closer, ‘Endless’ are both sparse but feature more prominent percussion, the latter worthy of favourable comparisons to Depeche Mode.

Understated as it is, Conditions Initiales contains no shortage of detail, and it’s an intriguing debut that hints at even better to come.

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7th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I suppose I’m fortunate to move in the circles I do. In both the real and virtual world, I’m surrounded by some remarkably talented creatives, working in all fields. Many seem to have found new outlets for their creative leanings under lockdown, in many cases probably for the sake of their sanity.

The emergence of a brand new act, VVolves, proved as welcome as is was unexpected, because the duo’s debut, a blend of shoegaze and cool synth pop, is a belter.

‘Momentum’ is a brilliantly kinetic, driving tune that kicks in solidly after a gentle, spacious intro. I’m a sucker for a song that locks into a groove and feels like it’s surging forwards because of, not despite, the repetition, and ‘Momentum’ absolutely does that: a repetitive chord motif, overlaid with chilly synth stabs and a propulsive drum track which contrasts with the ethereal vocal delivery. In combination, it’s an exhilarating rush.

We need more of this, please.

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Only Lovers Records – 27th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This is an album I’ve been on the edge of my seat for for quite some time: their debit, Observed in a Dream was fully four years ago, which feels like an eternity. The two preceding singles set the bar for expectations for Prepared For A Nightmare – preparing us not so much for a nightmare, but a haunting set of songs that built on the foundations of its predecessor, flexing new muscles, pushing new boundaries.

The title track raises the curtain in grand style, brooding drama filtered through a misty haze of reverb. The guitars wander in and out of key along doric scales that spin a gothy twist to the echoey psychedelic surf vibe.

After a mid-tempo opening salvo, ‘Ludwig Meidner’ steps it up with full-tilt rolling drums reminiscent of The Danse Society circa Seduction, blended with The Cure on Pornography. There are cold, needling synths in the mix undulating across the thunderous barrage of percussion and the sound’s filled out by a low-slung bass groove while Trond sings about ‘dancing on your grave’: the lyrical themes and musical style remains unchanged, but what is different is that there’s more space, which conjures a different darkness.

‘The Night Before’ is a doomy, gloomy trudge, sparsely set and more about layers than rive – which is perhaps true of the album as a whole this is more focused on detail, on nuance, on atmosphere. Closer ‘Endless Shimmer’ hints at all the shoegaze, even op, and it’s in the mix, but it’s taut, dense, and dark and there’s a tension that simmers beneath that’s hard to pull apart. The fadeout on ‘Goldmine’ seems a little odd, but perhaps that’s as much about fashion as anything. The 80s… This is so reminiscent as to be a repro in some way. But it’s ok: there’s no sense that any of this s forced or artificial. Prepared For A Nightmare oozes song quality and a richness of performance and appropriate production. It’s seriously hard to fault any of it.

Prepared For A Nightmare is definitely darker and deeper and less immediate than its predecessor, but it’s all the better for it.

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