Posts tagged: shoegaze

Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

By , May 28, 2013 12:00 pm


Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

Warp 2013

Rating: 9/10

The best time of my life was a summer in my teens. The house built for a family was for now just my dog and I and for a few weeks the only thing to worry about was getting to work and getting a tan. The heat was a furnace where the colors seemed at once sharper and more muted by a stillborn haze as thick as a blanket. Florida weather in the summertime is a wonderfully schizophrenic cycle that is nevertheless as predictable as mosquito bites: the mornings lurid and sweltering and the afternoons speckled by thunderstorms that would move in slowly and deceptively, then piss everything away for an hour or two and slouch out with the furtive backwards glance of a few squalls here and there as the sun set. I was in love, whether with the girl or the idea of it I never really figured out until much later, after it spoiled, but that summer was something special and deathless. I can remember the days by the few records I played over and over again, and that effortless recall is something I miss now, when I’m checking release schedules and streams and promotional singles and consuming, consuming, consuming. It’s the music that drags me back into nostalgia that stays with me the longest now, and either that’s just me getting old or getting cynical or both, but what I think it really is is just wanting to go back to a time when that old saw “soundtrack to your life” actually meant something. This is me diving into the pool every morning; that’s all stars and after-work cleanup; there’s the one from the backyard party, never again with the green apple Smirnoff. I’d like there to be a better reason for why I love Silver Wilkinson so much, but that’s really all there is to it – this is a record that doesn’t invite me back but pulls me along with it. It reminds me why I love summer (life).

Where 2011’s Mind Bokeh tried out its dancing shoes in a dozen different genres but never found one to go home with, Silver Wilkinson is a more streamlined yet enjoyably disparate record. It’s still difficult to classify Stephen Wilkinson’s work, but Silver Wilkinson and Bibio in general is less about genre spotting and more about the vibe, a corny way of saying listen to the goddamn tunes. That blurry mix of acoustic folk melodies and vaporous, analog synth work is still the trademark here, dreamy opener “The First Daffodils” as obvious an opening statement as you’ll see Bibio make. It’s a little bit Simon & Garfunkel and a little bit Boards of Canada, that eclecticism apparent in his influences and the song structures, which meander about on tendrils of glitchy keyboards and pastoral guitar, usually before returning to the sparse ambient beauty at the heart of all his work. There’s hints of the hip-hop lover in the choppy, thrusting “You” and it’s mood-perfect Commodores sample; of the pop culture curator on single “A Tout A L’Heure,” where retro synths rustle up against a psych-folk acoustic melody; of the experimentalist, on the shape-shifting “Look At Orion!,” which harkens back to Bibio’s earlier work before unleashing a far murkier electro beast. Even “Business Park,” the black sheep of the bunch, turns a ‘80s horror movie theme into something almost comforting by the end of its herky-jerky loops.

Mostly, though, I keep coming back to the moments, times when the space-age bedroom folk and clipped funk is just a vehicle to take me back where I want to go, when the somnolent beauty of “Dye the Water Green” decides to linger around the synths pooling around its melody or “Sycamore Silhouetting” kindly stretches out on the grass before getting up to groove to “You.” The ellipsis in “You Won’t Remember…” is almost superfluous on a track so beautifully, delicately pensive, the kind of faded photograph that is impossible to look at without bringing back a whole wealth of memories. “You won’t remember, but he wanted you,” Wilkinson sings on a track that is bare-bones Bibio, a lonely acoustic garnished with a faint brushstroke of a synth and an atmosphere that hangs heavy, foggy, enveloping without being oppressive. Like the rest of Silver Wilkinson, it reminds me of the past, the good and the bad, but that latter is strangely muted and the loss is not so much a dull ache but a familiar lesson: “This is you, more than you could know.” Whatever else I forget, at least Bibio was wrong on one point – the music I’ll always remember.

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Release date May 14, 2013.

Widowspeak – Almanac

By , February 12, 2013 12:00 pm


Widowspeak – Almanac

Captured Tracks 2013

Rating: 8/10

Widowspeak specializes in a sort of burnt-hued Americana, a nostalgic blend of singer Molly Hamilton’s ethereal heroin-chic aesthetic and the dusty, widescreen guitar-rock courtesy of bandmate Robert Earl Thomas she delicately navigates. For two people, Widowspeak makes an awful lot of noise: guitars whip-cracking smartly along skeletal melodic lines, robust, rattling percussion, a cloud of reverb that seems to have been transplanted straight from Jim James’ silo. Their old homes in Washington never seem too far away, licks and harmonics obscured by the damp and the foggy, a sense of green filling everything up with crackling vitality. It’s curiously obscured provincial music, whether that’s by Hamilton’s melancholy vocals, always seeming to sigh along rather than push forward, or Thomas’s hazy instrumental work, muscular riffs, dyed-in-the-wool rock and chunky blues filtered through a Jesus and Mary Chain-worthy level of fuzz. “I’m afraid that nothing lasts, nothing lasts long enough,” Hamilton moans on opener “Perennials,” a song that belies that sentiment with buildup that seems to revel in its own deathless sounds, the hints of Fleetwood Mac and that thunderous roar that Thomas builds up carefully, cacophonously. Almanac is a more appropriate title than it first appears.

The classic rock influence is more obvious on certain tracks – “Dyed in the Wool,” “The Dark Age,” and “Devil’s Know” all revolve around particularly striking riffs, bluesy and appropriately country-fried – but where Almanac distinguishes Widowspeak not only from its influences but from its own fairly rote past is how it comes across as uncommonly of its own time. Not 2013, really, but something lost and remembered, like how the sinister accordion and echoed halls of “Thick as Thieves” may have you relieving an old Ray Bradbury story. It’s a unique feeling that is achieved through how authentic everything sounds – that aforementioned accordion, the AM fade of campfire sing-along “Minnewaska,” the paranoid psychedelic dissonance and threatening Deerhunter-esque hum of “Storm King” – as well as how Widowspeak distinguishes itself with the attention to detail, to mood and tone, to managing a sound so beautifully out of focus as Almanac is. It’s a wonderful trick that culminates in album centerpiece “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” a runaway train of a track that escalates from an insistent acoustic strum into a watercolor of intertwining steel guitar and Hamilton’s wistful vocals. It’s a lovely, urgent representation of rustic Americana before the chorus, which then proceeds to turn that deceptive guitar motif into something dark and dangerous and desperately urgent, transforming Hamilton’s smoky declaration of “we can never, stay forever” from a lovesick entreaty to a forlorn warning. It’s a song that has its tracks in many different eras and sounds, each as timeless as the next, but never fails to leave an impact that is indelibly its own. Widowspeak’s greatest accomplishment is maintaining that same sense of simmering, uncertain wonder over the course of one wonderfully blurry album.

Widowspeak is an American band comprised of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, known for its dreamy, western-tinged take on rock and roll. Their self-titled debut was praised for its reverential spaciousness, Hamilton's haunting voice, and Thomas's sinister Morricone-esque guitar lines. On their second album, Almanac, the duo explores denser arrangements and new sonic territory, from Saharan rhythms to Appalachian-inspired melodies, all delivered with stoic, wistful restraint.
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Wild Nothing – Only Heather

By , September 18, 2012 10:00 am

I never got around to listening to Wild Nothing’s critically acclaimed debut Gemini back in 2010, but that will shortly be rectified. The shoegaze/dream pop brainchild of Blacksburg, Virginia native Jack Tatum just released their sophomore effort Nocturne at the end of August, and it’s a warm, hazy indie pop record with some sparkling production values and the kind of blissed-out melodies that Washed Out would appreciate, with less reverb. “Only Heather” is a succinct representation of just how Tatum can make an unassuming melody sound crisp and full and like you heard it first on one of your parent’s records, on a vinyl forty years old.

Wild Nothing – “Only Heather”

Tilly and the Wall – Echo My Love

By , September 6, 2012 10:00 am

Arising out of the same scene that gave birth to such indie mainstays as Bright Eyesthe Faint and Cursive, Omaha, Nebraska natives Tilly and the Wall tended to look at the world through more rose-colored glasses than their contemporaries, as you’d expect from a band with a tap dancer fulfilling the primary percussive role. It was a perspective that fit in nicely on Saddle Creek sister label Team Love, which specialized in the kind of jangly indie pop Tilly and the Wall specialized in, and one that continues to this day after a hiatus of four years from 2008 release OHeavy Mood, their fourth album, is more of the same snotty power pop the quintet have been known for, with back-and-forth boy-girl vocals, gang choruses, and the signature tap dancing of Jamie Presnall (wife of singer/guitarist Derek Presnall – so indie of Montreal played at their wedding). Heavy Mood won’t be released until October 2, but for now check out “Echo My Love,” which takes things in a more shoegazey, contemplative (think ’80s teen romance) direction than much of their more sugary material.

Tilly and the Wall – “Echo My Love”

Moonlight Bride – Drug Crimes

By , March 1, 2012 10:00 am

Chattanooga quartet Moonlight Bride just released a new EP this past Tuesday entitled Twin Lakes - the four song offering sounds like the logical progression for the band from their 2009 full-length Myths. It harnesses their noise-rock take on shoegaze with a carefully directed melodic aim. All those cacophonous guitar squalls and atmospheric effects coalesce into memorable melodies and a pleasing cathartic release; frankly, it’s a shame this EP is only five songs long. RIYL: noise-rock with a purpose; Women; Crocodiles; the Pains of Being Pure at Heart; fuzzy walls of sound.

Moonlight Bride – “Drug Crimes”

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School of Seven Bells – Ghostory

By , February 27, 2012 10:00 am

School of Seven Bells – Ghostory

Vagrant Records 2012

Rating: 8/10

The concept surrounding Ghostory is flimsy at best – the running narrative of a girl named Lafaye and all the ghosts that one would expect to surround a girl with such a Victorian name. The loss of Claudia Deheza robs School of Seven Bells of one of their most distinctive characteristics, the angelic, unearthly harmonizing between Claudia and twin sister Alejandra. Yet Ghostory, the band’s third record and their first as a duo, is uncommonly strong and surefooted, a remarkable transformation of their gossamer-thin dream pop into something vigorous and visceral. Where 2010’s lackluster Disconnect from Desire was all style and little substance, Ghostory is surprisingly forceful and direct in its message, one that melds almost seamlessly the sublime drone of My Bloody Valentine with the nostalgia of M83. It’s dreamy and hopelessly untethered from straightforward pop, like School of Seven Bells have always been, yet for the first time Ghostory sounds like the work of an organic, spontaneous band, rather than the determined sculptors of hypnotic, icy shoegaze they had seemed content to remain.

Ghostory carries with it connotations of magic and spirituality, and if there’s an ideal word to describe Alejandra Deheza’s vocals, a good place to start would be “otherworldly.” Hers is a voice that prefers to soar rather than coo, speeding along through a storm of synths or layering on top of itself many times over, a more ethereal Florence Welch or a druggier Natasha Khan. At times it seems fragile, like on the soft, sprawling “Reappear,” shimmering above waves of reverb, but that’s an illusion – Deheza has never sounded as confident yet so tempestuous, more in touch with what she’s singing than ever before. School of Seven Bells have always tended to focus on the trees rather than the forest – as a result, the music they crafted was, more often than not, opulent but uncomfortably empty, something beautiful that could be admired but never touched. Opener “The Night” swiftly puts that notion to sleep: “our meeting lit a fuse in my heart / devoured me, devoured me,” Deheza sings, and it’s lovely and airy, as she always is, yet there’s a passion and a sensuality here that has been hard to find with this band.

The music seems effortless, which is an accomplishment in itself given just how complicated School of Seven Bells makes things. There’s a veritable blizzard of effects here, washing tones out while they brighten others, coalescing in misty bursts of guitar and mesmerizing drum attacks, a steady, mutating bass line bubbling constantly underneath. Benjamin Curtis’ former work as a member of The Secret Machines informs every aspect of the production here – that space-rock trio specialized in widescreen, full surround sound operas, the proggiest of the prog. That love of expanse, of wide open sound filling every space and constant shifts into lulls and crescendos, is what defines Ghostory. Deheza’s vocals are the driving force, of course, but the way Curtis makes the music dive into your headphones – at points rolling to an ecstatic high on the frantic “White Wind,” at others reducing things to a narcotic lull on “Show Me Love” – is pure feeling. There’s a heavy goth influence on things here, even as sparkling and lush as the production gets, and the drone of Cocteau Twins and the haunting new wave of Siouxsie and the Banshees, not to mention the hazy landscapes of My Bloody Valentine, are much in evidence throughout. Atmosphere is the priority here, yet it’s a testament to Curtis’ work and Deheza’s renewed fire that the songs on Ghostory stand well enough on their own. “The Night” might be the best track the duo have penned to date, concise by their own standards yet voluminous in its sound, with a hook that is as compelling as any in the band’s catalog. “Lafaye,” meanwhile, is haunting and vaguely foreboding; its melody calls to mind Florence’s “What The Water Gave Me,” but its chorus and the unexpected tonal shift are, simply put, enchanting.

It’s hard to explain what kind of emotions these songs engender, and I can imagine it will be different for everyone – that’s the beauty of this kind of dreamy canvas, where the words are much less important than the spirit of the vocals and the nebulous music. There’s the general ghost story conceit, of course, but that’s as much a smokescreen as it is a real narrative. At times I hear Alejandra talking to her twin, and there’s loss and regret, while at others, most noticeably the triumphant closer “When You Sing,” there is a simple catharsis, the culmination of a relentless drum pattern and a blizzard of instruments, not the least of which is Deheza’s vocals spinning wondrously out into a psychedelic haze. It reminds me a bit of M83’s latest, where lyrics were second to the vital, intense feelings the music offered up. It’s also incredibly hard to pin down without resorting to an embarrassing array of adjectives and metaphors. Dream pop, goth, shoegaze – call it what you want, but what School of Seven Bells have ended up with is a genuinely gorgeous record by any standard.

School of Seven Bells – “Lafaye”

2012 release from the acclaimed Indie outfit. Recorded in-between tours, Ghostory exemplifies a fervent progression of SVIIB's growth as artists, preserving the common themes found on their last two releases but exposing them in different fashions. The familiar ethereal and enigmatic tones are omnipresent, surrounded by layers of influences from `80s Pop, Shoegaze and Ambient Electronic sounds. However, Ghostory comes with a story in mind; the tale of a young girl named Lafaye and the ghosts that surround her life. Ghostory is truly their defining work, beautifully crafted and haunting, with the story of Lafaye permeating the psyche long after the music stops.
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The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

By , August 10, 2011 10:00 am

The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

Secretly Canadian 2011

Rating: 9/10


I can call Slave Ambient rain music and not feel bad about it. Unlike the kind of music you’d usually tag for the rain, the sad stuff, it is a completely drenched record, taking its worn lyrics and pouring down on them. The War on Drugs has, in this sense, always been an intriguing band, able to do more than simply complement their lyrics with music. As musicians, they know the themes they sing inside-out, ready to take the Americana influences they have and invert them with all things “shoegaze.” They add in harmonica for good measure, but be it one genre or the other, The War on Drugs, and Slave Ambient in particular, is the work of a band already perfectly in control of itself, and so early in their career. They know how their music sounds, and I guess it sounds like it’s pouring.

Still, beyond that, it’s hard to write about this band. And I guess that’s because there’s no “angle” to write from. In one corner, they have a master-class lyricist, able to reflect with the pen as jumpily and worryingly as “wondering where my friends are going / and wondering why they didn’t take me” and then throw the line away. Granduciel’s lyrics always carry an indescribable kind of tone which can only really be called self-kicking, but even if this kind of lyric seems simple, no one else could write it, or sing it, in the way he does. He waves away the deprecating lyrics of “Brothers” so easily, and the music around it- the album’s second corner- refuses to play in any higher ground. The music on Slave Ambient moulds songs to feel perfectly for an atmosphere that plays on a hundred little details at once. That’s why there are only eight actual songs on this album, because the guys in the War on Drugs are so obsessed with the details and so ready to leave them their space.

I could talk about both the lyrics and music separately, of course, because they’re both such brilliant aspects for one band to have, but what would be the use in that? There’s no moment in Slave Ambient better than the opener “Best Night” to prove the point that without one the other wouldn’t exist: without the music tracing the words around it, the guitar notes copying Granduciel’s singing, the distortion drenching every moment, there would be nothing that makes the War on Drugs as brilliant as they are. You listen to every moment of Slave Ambient, the part where he sings “wondering where my friends are going” and every noise, big and small, that deals with the thought.

As a result, Slave Ambient is an album you play loud. The War on Drugs have, until now, been a very meandering band, with songs such as “A Pile of Trees” moving through eight minutes of what felt like improvisation, or else “Arms Like Boulders” mouthing off to cover a half-constructed song. Here, there’s a pattern set. And it’s a pattern so strong that every tiny moment counts: a song such as “My Love Is Calling Your Name” is impossible to appreciate quiet because of the layers the War on Drugs now lace it with, nearly all of them created with an assortment of clashing guitar noises. It is impossible to be distracted from the music by Granduciel’s lyrical mumblings either, so where the ambiance would take the centre-stage before this album, or, if not the ambiance, the lyrics, Slave Ambient moves the song with the pattern. As a result, “My Love Is Calling Your Name” feels connected with a song twenty minutes away from it. The flow is that good; sometimes I forget if I’m listening to “The Animator” or its actual song counterpart, “Come To the City.” And then things get going. Granduciel’s lyrics start thrusting the song forward. The noises twist the Americana around and around.

It’s so strange to think of this record as the band’s second. Slave Ambient is the work of a confident band and an articulate lyricist, both who always seemed so on their first record but never really cared. Here, they seem to know where everything goes, and it’s as if they always did but never really felt the need for things to fit. Now they’re ready to put it all together. The melodies on Slave Ambient know when it’s their turn. So does the noise. Granduciel knows where to kick himself. Slave Ambient is the work of a band making us listen for every piece of them. And it drizzled a little while I wrote this. So I played it loud. And I heard everything.

The War on Drugs – “Best Night”

The Horrors – Dive In

By , August 9, 2011 10:00 am

One of my favorite records of the year gets its proper US release today after being out in its native UK for about a month. If you haven’t heard Skying yet and are even a slight fan of anything shoegaze related, grab it immediately. Poppier and much more accessible than their previous efforts but still drenched in vivid textures and waves of sound that call to mind a more modern My Bloody Valentine.

The Horrors – “Dive In”

The Horrors – Changing The Rain

By , July 13, 2011 3:00 pm

English five-piece The Horrors have always been a bit hard to love for me, considering their hit-or-miss last album and those haircuts/press photos. But third LP Skying takes everything that the Horrors did well and adds a whole palette of colors to the sound. Where past efforts have been dreary and almost overwhelmingly gothic, Skying is bright and hopeful, still heavily indebted to shoegaze and My Bloody Valentine but with a surprisingly pleasant pop foundation. “Changing The Rain” opens up the album and is a clear indicator of the rest of the record’s direction.

The Horrors – “Changing The Rain”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now

By , March 31, 2011 8:00 am

Shoegaze/fuzz indie band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s second disc Belong dropped just this past Tuesday. It sort of reminds me of new Raveonettes or if My Bloody Valentine had a much more fined sense of melody and an appreciation for pop songs. “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” is my favorite track right now – get the album if you like the sound/having fun.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now”

Serena Maneesh – Ayisha Abyss

By , December 15, 2010 8:00 am

Off-kilter shoegaze from Norwegian band Serena Maneesh, whose No. 2 – Abyss in B Minor was one of the better records of 2010. Check it out if you like your dream pop aggressive and not liable to put you to sleep.

Serena Maneesh – “Ayisha Abyss”

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